● What is your workflow?

I use the CAT tool Trados. It enables me to work from many common file formats, such as Office, XML, HTML, and plain-text files – without damaging any markup or character formatting. If you are wondering how to prepare files for translation, please feel free to contact me so we can outline a workflow together.

Trados includes support for XLIFF files downloaded from Cloud tools such as XTM, Smartling or Crowdin. I do not work directly in Cloud tools, web UIs or browser-based editors, as they inevitably reduce translation productivity.

In addition to the source files, I will ask for information on the target audience, existing German material and other context. When that is all set, I can start translation. I log any queries to send them incrementally or in one go, (sometimes find source errors and log them on request)…

…re-read my translation thoroughly, and hand it back.

As I’m just one person working alone, I recommend a proofreading phase either in your organization or by an external proofreader. I might never find every last one of my slips of the pen, as everyone knows who re-reads their own emails after sending them. I can suggest a proofreader, but I can’t replace one.

● What is outside your scope?
  • Proofreading, but I can recommend a great proofreader to work for you on her own or in tandem with me.
  • DTP/layout. For instance, PowerPoint files usually look a mess after translation, and others can fix that much faster and better than me.
  • Machine-translation post editing (MTPE). This takes more time and energy than translating from scratch, and the result is worse. Undoubtedly, if you just want to find out what a text is about, machine translation is often surprisingly good – but turning it into a publishable translation is more work than just deleting the machine translation and starting over. (Just try it yourself.)
● Should I work with an individual translator or an agency?

That depends on what you need.

With an individual, you can be sure that all translations are done by the same person in constant quality, creating a consistent representation of your brand. You always communicate directly with your translator rather than across levels of hierarchy. Your own management tasks are quite limited: Either you or the translator should maintain all completed translations in one place (“translation memory”) for reference. Similarly, terminology lists and style agreements can be maintained.

An individual can translate around 2500 words per day; possibly more for very simple or repetitive text, but when someone does a lot more, you should at least become suspicious. Independently of how fast a person can type, the human brain hast its limitations. If you need more words translated per day than one or a few translators can do, it might be better to set up an internal project management or to work with an agency.

An agency can manage large projects with several translators and/or target languages, and take over other tasks. Moreover, the probability is quite low that an entire agency will be out with the flu for a day. On the other hand, more contacts can mean more communication overhead or lost information.

Practically every translation company is a translation agency: you can safely assume that a large part of the work will be done by freelancers. Hardly any company has a homogeneous, constant stream of projects that would justify a significant number of salaried translators.

If you are considering working with an agency (or if you are already doing so), make sure the agency provides a real added value:

At the lower end of the scale, there are the so-called “box shifters”. These companies pass your text on to freelancers, hand you the translation “as is”, and take a nice cut of your money. Of course, such agencies can hardly win over the best translators, and it would be far more cost-effective for you to work directly with a freelancer (a practice known as disintermediation).

The other end of the scale is made up by actual value-add providers. They coordinate translation and proofreading (“two pairs of eyes”) plus numerous additional services such as terminology management, layouting, or SEO. When something goes wrong, they take responsibility.

Whether a self-styled “translator who outsources” or a global enterprise, every agency is somewhere on this spectrum. Buyer beware: some are not what they seem, and some long-standing providers have unexpectedly moved towards “box shifting” over the last years, on their own or in the wake of mergers and acquisitions.

● What’s the difference between a CAT tool and machine translation?

A CAT tool (Computer Aided Translation) supports a translator in writing what s/he really wants to write. Basically, it is a word processor with additional features. It displays the individual source and target sentences next to each other, to save the translator the effort of finding the right place in the texts again and again. A CAT tool stores all translated sentences in a database (translation memory) for reference, and can present additional reference material in context, such as agreed terminology. On-premise CAT tools also offer mature productivity features such as an intelligent autocomplete and a full set of customizable keyboard shortcuts, which are not yet offered, or not as efficiently, by online translation editors.

A machine translation is a jumble of text assembled by statistical functions. Unlike a human translator, a computer doesn’t understand the text and cannot reliably handle ambiguity, context-dependent meanings, nuances, mistakes in the source text, etc. Machine translation is essentially informed word soup. It’s often better than being faced with a text in a language you don’t understand, but reading more than a few minutes of it will make you woozy.

● Who is Erina?

Erina means “spiny”, as in the Latin name for the European hedgehog. Time to spill the beans: This is a black-hat use of language. When I went freelance, I wanted to call myself “Hedgehog Translations”, but 100% of those surveyed found that too flippant. With a bit of Latin, I was able to cover it up.

Meanwhile, the spines in my logo stand for my needle-sharp translations (according to my logo designer). And when I concentrate on a text, I still curl up and keep interrupters at spine’s length, but it looks far more intellectual now.

Erinaceus europaeus translator