Community translation; crowdsourced quality, or cheap and nasty?

CrowdsourceAnyone who has started shopping around for translation services is likely to have encountered crowdsourcing as an option: a new approach that has come about largely as a result of the internet. Best described as obtaining labour from a large number of people, usually for free or almost-free, it is an idea with obvious attractions. Wikipedia’s community-based information service is an obvious success story, and those in favour of the method say that crowdsourcing is a little like peer review, insofar as a large number of operators will effectively police each other’s accuracy, and ultimately get the best result. If you are sourcing from a good crowd, you are likely to have some very proficient speakers of the target language in there, and maybe even some truly bilingual people, so you could assume that the cream will rise to the top.

But in the bearpit that the internet can be, it is more often the case that he who shouts loudest will best be heard, and so the most obvious answer will always gain more traction than something more refined. A true native speaker will be keenly aware of nuances in tone and language; they will know that a professional services agency should speak differently from an all-night venue advertising Happy Hour. An enthusiastic amateur, however, will most likely be taking a baldly literal approach, using the most basic tools that the target language offers (to them).

There are more arguments, both for and against crowdsourced translations, and no doubt there are companies and individuals who are happy to go down this route. And there are wannabe translators and hobby linguists who will take up the opportunities offered with relish. But is it worth the risk?

In the role where your translation choices have a financial impact, it can be easy to start by looking only at cost, and not at value; the appeal of getting something for nothing can be too much to resist. Are your customer communications worth nothing at all? As you would expect, the language specialists at Yestrans believe passionately that communication should be fluent, natural and personal.

We want to understand how you talk to your customers, and we want to address them the same way in other languages. For them, we want to be reliable, consistent and reassuring. For our clients, we want to be professional, trustworthy and collaborative. You don’t get that from a crowd!

How do you know if a translation is accurate?

RightYou’ve sent a text off for translation, received the final version back from the translator or agency, so it’s just time to hit publish or print, and then to sit back and wait for responses to roll in…

At this point, if you’re unlucky, the first indication that something has gone wrong may be when a reader points out a fault with the translated text. It shouldn’t ever have to come to this, so here are a few options for checking the accuracy of your translated text.

1) Obvious as it sounds, the first thing you should do is find a native speaker (if you aren’t one yourself) to read through the text carefully. Not all translation mistakes are mistranslations; it can be the case that a translated text is technically accurate, but sounds odd, or reads clumsily. This is particularly true for spelling mistakes and grammatical errors, so don’t forget to take a good hard look at translated texts.

2) Proofreading by another translator will weed out errors, if there are any. Yestrans offers proofreading services as an optional extra or standalone service; get in touch if you’d like a quote. Our basic service always includes thorough proofreading by the translator, but we would always recommend proofreading by a second translator for the best quality.

3) Back-translation is the process of reworking an already translated document, back into the original language. Obviously this method could effectively double your costs (in time as well as money!), but in some situations it is the right way to go. The output is never likely to be identical to the original document, but the meaning should clearly be the same. If you find yourself in need of a back-translation, let us know.

Have you had any amusing or awful experiences with mistakes in translation? What do you wish you had done differently?

Skype Translator – looks can be deceiving

Skype is the latest company to reveal its attempt at machine translation as a helpful, language-barrier-breaking tool. The demo video looks great – unless, that is, you can speak German. On the surface, Skype’s prototype of its translation tool looks fantastic. Most of the translated English subtitles seem adequate, if not especially accurate. You can also see the Skype expert chatting away, the translated German subtitles appearing, and the German-speaking woman seemingly understanding them. However, all is not as it seems. The German woman is talking painstakingly slowly – nobody would speak that slowly or pronounce their words so clearly in a real conversation – and she isn’t speaking with a regional accent or using slang.  She’s also using simplified sentences that often sound very similar to their English equivalents (see the first screenshot below). Given all this, it’s not that surprising that the English subtitles are pretty decent.

“Hallo mein Freund” = “Hello my friend”. Perfectly accurate translation.

Hallo mein Freund” = “Hello my friend”. Perfectly accurate translation.

“Ist es wahr dass du bald nach London umziehst?” should be “Is it true that you will be moving to London soon?” – close but no cigar.

“Ist es wahr dass du bald nach London umziehst?” should be “Is it true that you will be moving to London soon?” Not perfect, but you know what she means.

The man speaking English, on the other hand, is talking quickly and has a regional accent. He also isn’t taking adequate breaks to let the subtitles appear, and is using idioms that won’t translate literally into German. The German subtitles that the woman is reading are nothing but a word-for-word translation of the English, so they don’t make a lot of sense in German.

Literal translation of the German subtitles: “also Skype has its headquarters in London. So I want to be closer my team and you are. Right. Indian food is fantastic. I have some fantastic restaurants there is told”

Literal translation of the German subtitles: “also Skype has its headquarters in London. So I want to be closer my team and you are. Right. Indian food is fantastic. I have some fantastic restaurants there is told”

Literal translation of the German subtitles: “So what the things. So, what spends you in the USA additionally, of course helps me with this demo?”

Literal translation of the German subtitles: “So what the things. So, what spends you in the USA additionally, of course helps me with this demo?”

Although this demo seems great to the untrained eye, Yestrans doesn’t recommend using this tool with international clients in a business setting just yet. It’s an amazing piece of technology with a lot of potential – but it doesn’t work well enough yet to be sure that your message is getting across. Google translate can work some of the time but can’t be relied upon to be accurate when it counts. The same seems to apply here: the technology is good, and can be useful, but isn’t yet at the right level to deliver consistent and accurate results.

Tips on going international – choosing a target market

Many factors can influence which countries you start with for exporting –  geography, language, personal connections… If you’ve already got a target market in mind, the first thing you should ask yourself is: “Will people there want what I’m offering, and what will influence their decision-making process?”

Consumer tastes and attitudes often differ across borders – sometimes significantly. Although success in the domestic market can provide an excellent  framework to build on internationally, it’s important to take these differences into account.

Take the US cereal Lucky Charms. You’d think that a children’s cereal would sell equally well to kids and parents either side of the Atlantic. Apparently not! It seems the cereal contains too many genetically modified ingredients for the Brits’ liking, and parents were outraged to find supermarkets selling the product. More thorough market research is key here in order to understand how attitudes differ on an international scale.

You might want to think about the following issues relating to your product when considering exporting:

  • What are the prevalent attitudes to key features of your product?
  • Are similar products or services available in the target market?
  • Is there an appropriate level of demand?
  • How much do the products currently on the market cost?
  • Who are your potential customers – are they the same groups as those you target domestically?
  • Could you do some market research – what do local people think of your products and services?

All of this is also important in making decisions about pricing and marketing, and whether any changes need to be made to your products or services before taking this step.

Options include visiting the country in question for research purposes, and carrying out surveys to get your questions answered by potential consumers. This may seem like an expensive option, but it’s worth it if it means getting it right when expanding your business!

What are your tips for deciding on a target market? Do you agree with the steps we’d take? Let us know!

Subtitling – not as easy as it looks

Language students are often told to watch lots of foreign films to help them pick up new words and phrases. During my degree I followed this advice, and started noticing that what I could hear was different from what I could see in the subtitles. I told my friends “That’s not right, it should have been…” or “They missed half a phrase there!” – after all, if a student just starting out could see things had been missed out of the subtitles, they must be rubbish, right?

Well, not quite.remote-control-1-683635-m

Turns out, subtitling is harder than it looks.

The nature of subtitles means that they have to be condensed. Picture a scene where five people are raging and yelling at each other at high speeds. Somehow, in two lines of subtitle every 4-6 seconds, the subtitler needs to give an impression of the emotions and standpoint of each character. It’s no wonder that there often isn’t room for the specific details of what was said.

Subtitling is a fine and complex art – especially when you take into account all of the very specific rules that have to be applied to make the subtitles legible, comprehensible and useful.

While subtitlers might often wish for a few more characters per line, the rules are there for a reason – so that viewers have time to watch the film, rather than just read it! So some information has to go – the key question is what. Which bits are more important than others? How can a film maker retain control of what foreign-language viewers experience? These are important questions, especially when it comes to effectively communicating a film-maker’s message to an international audience.

What do you think subtitlers’ priorities should be?

If you’re frugal, use Google?

With the advent of tools like Google Translate, many people ask why they should bother paying for translation when they can get it for free. Some large companies have taken this attitude, and one very large online retailer in particular. To their surprise, however, they found that the translated descriptions of their products were so bad that they were forced to hire translators to “undo” the mess caused by Google Translate.

So what is wrong with Google Translate? Well, it works by looking for “patterns in hundreds of millions of documents” to produce your translation. Sounds impressive, yes? However, patterns can only get you so far, and we at Yestrans can tell you that translation involves much more than matching “equivalent” words.

To give you an example, we have selected a random passage from a German text advertising a children’s play area and entered it into Google Translate. Here are the results:

As you can see, although Google Translate manages to work out some of the meaning of the original, its translation doesn’t make a great deal of sense. If you were a parent wanting to know about the facilities it might be helpful, as you now know about the ball pit and slide. If you want to advertise your facilities, though, you definitely shouldn’t use Google’s offering!

Baby mama has quite a specific meaning in English which isn’t implied at all in the German – the original is simply talking about mums of small children. “Playroom” has come out as “scope”, and while you might be able to work out that kids who can only crawl can’t use the big slide but can use the ball pit, it’s certainly not clear. As for “Aging is fun!” – well, you can make up your own mind on that one, but it hasn’t particularly been my experience! That it might be fun for kids to be able to go on the big slide when they get a bit older – that I can understand.

If you cannot speak the language of the target text, or don’t have time for the lengthy task of editing what Google Translate produces, we recommend that you get a professional to translate the text for you – you don’t want to look silly if Google Translate provides a garbled translation.


Common misconceptions about translators and translations

1. Translators and interpreters – is there a difference?

The answer to this is a resounding yes! There is a simple difference: translators deal with written texts; interpreters deal with the spoken word. The two professions are completely different, although you will find some people who are qualified and talented enough to do both.

2. Translators should know what they’re doing and shouldn’t need a dictionary.

Pile of dictionaries

Although we at Yestrans would love to tell you that we know everything there is to know about every single word in the languages we use, we don’t. It’s just not possible. Any given word has a variety of potential meanings, and each individual uses language in their own way. A combination of dictionaries, research and a bit of creative writing enable us to unlock the intended message in a text and communicate it fluently and effectively in the target language.

3. If you’re bilingual, you’re automatically a good translator.

This just isn’t true. Although there are many bilingual professionals, there’s more to translation than speaking more than one language. Understanding the differences between and idiosyncrasies of individual cultures is pretty complex, and you don’t want to accidentally say the wrong thing. Some translators will have studied to qualify as a translator for five years – and not without reason!

4. A translation is a translation – if my colleague says it’s wrong then it’s wrong

The truth is, the lines between right and wrong in translation are very much blurred. The key to being a successful translator is making your choices and style meet the client’s expectations. Every translator will have a slightly different style and a text will never be translated the same way twice. Just like every speaker of a language speaks differently, one translator will not produce a text that is identical to his/her colleague’s. Scholars in translation studies have written reams about this. If you’re interested in finding out more, Google “ideology in translation”.

5. Machine translation will make translators redundant

Translation requires a great deal of cultural understanding and contextual thinking – something that machines are unable to do. A translator will constantly be thinking about, for example, whether their work is in the correct register; whether it will appeal to the text’s target audience; how to deal with cultural issues that arise in the text or terms, places, phrases or events that the source text’s target audience will know but the target text’s target audience may not (e.g. Tag der Deutschen Einheit [German Unity Day] for a British audience or Pancake Day for a German audience); and how to respond to the demands of each individual text.

Are there any other things you have been surprised to find out about translators?