Learning new things

Learning new skills as translators is essential to sustaining our competence and ensuring our survival. It also contributes to the enhancement of our competence not only in the actual act of translation but on a host on other levels as well.

Those of us who received translation-specific training at tertiary level learnt only a fraction of the skills we need to perform the job we currently do. In general, we learnt a massive amount of theory, and some might say philosophy, of translation. The course work of that same university degree I took also entailed 3 years of intensive practical instruction precisely on how to render text from one language to another. It was good training yet, in retrospect, it did not quite manage to cover the tip of the iceberg. In other words, my sound education was vastly inadequate to the task of meeting the demands and challenges I face in my daily work today, just as it was ten, twenty, or almost thirty years ago. This is not a complaint. It is a simple statement of fact.

As translators, effectively, we have to learn on the job; we have to learn on every job. We have to learn new things all the time. What’s more, I should think, all translators love to learn new things all the time. What new things? Many of us started translating before at least half the translators present at the ProZ regional conference in Porto just ended were born.

A good many of those “young translators” already have the knowledge and skills it took me many more years to acquire than it has them. Quite apart from the aspect of developing our skill and effectiveness as translators, there has been a concurrent development in technology over the past couple of decades, and even in the last year, which none of us can afford to ignore. I believe we are standing on the cusp of a fresh new mentality which we have to embrace – whatever our age – in order to maximise the benefit we derive from pursuing a career in the diverse activities which fall under the aegis of freelance translation.

Paula - pearls of wisdom
Pure gold: Paula Pinto Ribeiro, one clear voice of experience talking about working with direct clients. Paula organised this conference, and is President of the recently founded #aptrad, the Portuguese Association of Translators and Interpreters.

This is the primary reason that I am an avid follower of translation blogs, and why I am keen to attend as many conferences as are sensible to include in my annual calendar, not to mention taking advantage of online training courses. In any given week, I devote almost as much time to reading about translation as I do to terminological studies and reading in my areas of specialisation. The latest news on the most recently developed grapevine varieties with Sunday morning coffee, anyone? Strange, but necessary.

This is why I appreciate so much the efforts of such people as Kevin Lossner, and David William Hardisty of the Universidade Nova de Lisboa in developing methods which will help people whose target languages are currently not covered by such tools as Dragon Naturally Speaking, but also offer advantages to those of us who can happily dictate work in English. I have included no detailed links here, since I am on the move. It is a toss up between finishing this blog and catching my train home, or meticulously finding links for everything I have referred to and losing the beat. Use your own Internet search skills to find all related material on Kevin Lossner’s blog, Translation Tribulations, and make your own links, mental and otherwise.

It was great to meet Kevin in person a couple of days ago as he graciously agreed to provide a useful additional workshop the afternoon before the Proz regional conference to talk about the applications of the free iPhone app called “Dragon dictation”. Conference programmes and presentations are ideal opportunities to devote intense time to working out your own way forward. Quite apart from that, there are so very many other conversations and interactions that go on and it is from those that sometimes very good and very exciting ideas spring.

One such idea came from Kevin Lossner’s workflow which integrates the use of the Dragon dictation app into one’s translation method, and combining it with methods one already uses in one’s CAT tool of choice (although I can see that I may well become a MemoQ convert in the near future).

What struck me immediately was how easy it is to use this app. I translated what I have since counted as being just under 300 words in 10 minutes immediately upon downloading the app. I am not used to dictating which means that with the moderately difficult text I chose I could achieve greater speed and productivity, and would have to edit less than I did on this, my first try at serious dictation.

Once you have recorded your dictated translation, you simply send an e-mail to yourself of the recorded text.  Open the e-mail and the text in a .txt file, then align it with the corresponding source text in your CAT tool. This last bit I have not had the opportunity to try, but hey, how difficult can it be?

A similar process can be used to do monolingual precision editing which would be of incredible advantage in the revision of very long texts in particular in MemoQ where (please excuse my vagueness) using a concordance feature in MemoQ to retroactively build up a TM, or term index in this case, results in the ability to revise only those parts of an otherwise perfect text which have been altered. Successive changes to the text from the initial to the final draft can also be saved. Even non translators writing theses, novels or anything under the sun could benefit from this way of doing things, but I shall stick simply to how one little app has the potential to open up translation possibilities, primarily because I am at heart a techno-eejit – and Kevin Lossner can explain it much better than I ever will.

Customising the Dragon dictation app has enormous potential to make our job as translators even more pleasurable. Initial indications from various informal experiments carried out are that it can increase productivity by 30 to 40%. That, in theory, translates into more pleasure and at least 30% more income.

Increasing our productivity, in theory and in practice, means that we free up time to devote in a targeted and systematic manner to those areas of our business which are currently somewhat neglected. Each translator knows which areas those are; this aspect varies from one individual to another and from one week to another. For me, this will boost my motivation enormously. Who doesn’t want an easy learning curve, increased motivation and a real opportunity to develop – all for the price of a free iPhone app? Adding a component such as dictating translations combined with learning another CAT tool to my repertoire sounds very sweet to me, even if it is something I shall have to add to a list of priorities.

I suppose because I live in Portugal and have a moderate degree of immersion in Portuguese life,  I find that the fluidity of transfer I experience with the Portuguese to English language pair is far greater than my other two language pairs. With almost all except the most complex of texts in Portuguese in fields of knowledge beyond my ken, I find it is quite easy to read a Portuguese text and almost automatically speak the English translation out loud. How wonderful it would be to cut out the bulk of typing usually involved in the process!

I know many people have already made the transition to dictation and some translators have been doing it for years, but this particular method is so slim on the additional equipment required and has the added feature of being mobile and versatile as to the language in which the dictation takes place, so allow me a few minutes of excitement at being privy to what is a novelty for me. My initial impression is that the app coped admirably with my southern African accent (about 95% accuracy) right off the bat, while I was sitting in a crowded cafe with a lot of loud chatter and noise all around me and spoke in rather low, even tones. The text transcribed by the app had no strange interferences whatsoever from background noise; most inaccuracies were because of incidental mumbling and the occasional lack of a well-modulated voice on my part.

This ultra-modern, on-the-move or in-your-hammock method shares a similarity with the days of handwritten texts followed by typing on a manual typewriter. The similarity is this: in the semi-dark ages one would formulate an entire sentence, sometimes two, in one’s head before writing it or typing it. The same is true of dictation. CAT tools and word processors have made us somewhat lazy in this regard, with the “polishing” of the texts tending to occur afterwards, rather than beforehand in the days when Pa was busy falling off the bus. The lack of draconian vigour induced by CAT tool and word processing usage means that there is a lot more work to do on the “flow” of the text in the revision and proofreading phases of one’s draft translation.

Based on the 10-minute dictation test I gave myself, I imagine the greater fluidity achieved in the text in the first draft can be attributed to the fact that the act of speaking your translation means that on a conceptual level you are hearing the word in your head split seconds before the translation solidifies into speech to text: the transformation in your head is not unlike the mental processes in the mind of the original writer of the source text. That seems to me about as close as you are going to get to the heart of a source text. Some may argue that they “hear” the words in their head before typing already. I do too, and my experience is that “hearing” and typing uses a different set of neural connections that “hearing” and speaking. The latter has an incisive immediacy about it to which I may well become addicted. Why don’t you try it for yourself?

As to the 8 excellent presentations at the very intense one-day ProZ regional conference mentioned above, I am still busy admiring the gems given and gathered, which I am keeping to myself for the time being. I shall put them to work as soon as humanly possible. ©2015 Allison Wright

761 dictated words Sent from my iPhone via the Dragon dictation app, then edited and augmented to the final tally of 1,791 words.

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