The Beauty and Challenge of “Untranslatable” Words

19 10 2016

Every language is a psychological portrait of a culture. Thus the tricky nature of localization from any language to another: exactly what is being implied or missed in the word choices made during translation? Expert language professionals and native speakers are essential to nuanced accuracy.

definition-390785_1920But even professional translators face the challenge of finding equivalents for words that capture a concept in one language, but are not available in a succinct form in another. Idioms and slang reach into the crevices between more conventional ideas, but there are also well-established words that reflect more deeply rooted, unique aspects of the cultures that generated them.

As autumn carries us toward the end of another year, let’s look, for example, at a few words that convey experiences of the human mind in states of transition.

“Saudade” is a Portuguese word that poet/translator Carolyn Forche says describes “a vague and persistent desire for something that cannot be, a time other than the present time, a turning toward the past or future, a sadness and yearning beyond sorrow, the pain which whispers through every happiness.” And yet the book of Portuguese poems by Claribel Alegria that Forche translated, “Saudade”, was entitled “Sorrow” in English. There was apparently no closer, efficient English equivalent than a word that paints only a single aspect of the complex Portuguese word.

The Japanese word, “aware” means “the bittersweetness of a brief and fading moment of transcendent beauty.”*

“Fernweh” is a German word that captures the peculiar sensation of homesickness for a place you have never actually been.

The Korean word, “Won”, refers to the unwillingness of an individual to relinquish an illusion they have.

Vladimir Nabakov defines the Russian word “toska” this way: “No single word in English renders all the shades of toska. At its deepest and most painful, it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause. At less morbid levels it is a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning. In particular cases it may be the desire for somebody or something specific, nostalgia, love-sickness. At the lowest level it grades into ennui, boredom.”

“Lítost” is a Czech word for a state of agony caused by the sudden awareness of one’s own misery.

Discovering these words that pin down rich psychological phenomena, it seems clear that the human translator is indispensable to the process of carrying complex meanings accurately from one culture to another. Skrivanek specializes in sophisticated translation of the most difficult texts and language combinations, and when necessary, we call on subject matter experts for clarification of obscure concepts. Carefully selected translation teams provide the kind of multi-faceted talent and experience capable of resolving even the most troubling language questions.

Please share with us the “untranslatable” words – from English or any other language – that you have come across!

J. McShulskis

*Anjana Iyer, 30 Untranslatable Words from Other Languages (illustrations)

 

 

 

Advertisements




What’s the Rush? – what you’re paying for when you pay rush fees

1 07 2016

rush fees

Trust fosters good relationships between LSPs and their clients, and that trust is built through the successful execution of projects. Project managers at LSPs work with their clients to set up timelines that everyone follows, and in turn the translation team gets translated text completed on time and delivered where it needs to be with the highest possible quality. Clients pay for this service in a timely manner, and trust grows.

But what if an unforeseen need arises and there is more or different text required by the client within the same time frame, or a quicker turnaround becomes essential? It certainly happens, and while sometimes an LSP can fit the extra work into its schedule without taking extraordinary measures, often enough there are urgent alterations required, so “rush fees” are common and necessary.

The rush fees that are usually charged in such cases might more accurately be called “inconvenience fees,” because what they compensate for is the rearrangement of schedules and plans. Rush fees aren’t surcharges tacked on to take advantage of heightened need; in fact they don’t result in extra profits for translators, but rather they’re an attempt by language service providers to recoup extra costs incurred.

This is because there are many elements involved with any translation job. When you ask for, say, overnight turnaround of 15,000 words from English into Chinese, you are not asking for something along the lines of an increased number of people to pack more boxes. The whole “LSP machine” has to be adjusted, and that machine is quite complex.

For instance, LSPs might have to ask their individual translators to process a stressful number of words per day (1,500 – 2,000 is considered an average per day output, sometimes lower, sometimes higher), and the likely scenario is that to do so, those individuals will have to work over weekends or late into the night. Specialists and translators may have to be kept on-call and paid retainer fees if it’s uncertain how many people will be needed to properly process the work on time. And translation jobs always consist of steps that must be completed in order.

Additionally, the “rush job” often interrupts other jobs in the queue and borrows resources that were supposed to be available for other clients (such as computer systems and automations). In other words, the organization required for the smooth and orderly processing of translation is shoved off to the side, and an “emergency room” type structure is put in place – for you.

Rush jobs probably shouldn’t be a regular occurrence, and if a company finds that they frequently have something Due Right Now that they haven’t arranged to have done, it would be wise to take a look at internal organization. It could be that strict, early deadlines for those departments creating content will save a lot of hassle and cash at the translation/localization phase. Other times problems arise because of last minute additions or changes by the client’s client, and that conflict might best be dealt with by educating those clients about the processes involved and the kind of obstacles and costs that untimely changes create.

Whatever the situation, potential delays that can cause rush requests should be watched for and communicated to your LSP. Sometimes a heads-up, warning them that part of the job might need to be rushed, will allow them to prepare in a way that doesn’t require emergency measures.

Workers in any other industry get overtime to compensate for such excess demands, so if a client is interested in building a trust-based relationship with their LSP, rush fees should be expected for quick turnaround requests. Translation is an intellectually demanding process that simply takes the time that it takes, and for high quality professionals, sacrificing quality through shortcuts isn’t an option.

Skrivanek’s project managers are the cream of the crop worldwide, and they’re acutely aware that rush jobs must be handled with the same attention and accuracy that any scheduled translation job receives. Procedures and alternate workflow structures have been developed to meet every scenario the global marketplace can generate.

 

For more details, please refer to our website: www.skrivanek.com.

J. McShulskis





Unicorns, Bubbles and the Placement of Dots – Financial Translation

29 01 2016

There are financial terms with origins a few hundred years old that still ring through our conversations about money. And although their roots were idiomatic, some – like “stock”, “invest” and “bubble” – are so old and familiar now that English speakers in capitalist economies know their financial implications instantly.

Financial translation

Take “capital” itself, for instance: its Latin origin is “caput,” the word for “head,” which may have become established as a term for wealth because of the common use of livestock to assess a family’s prosperity.* That word was born several eras ago — today new words flow into the financial lexicon constantly from different industries, cultures, and business and technological trends.

“Unicorn,” for instance, refers to tech start-ups valued at over $1 billion but manifesting negative cash flow, two conflicting qualities that suggest such start-ups are illusions. In Chinese will the English word “unicorn” be borrowed and used as is, or will “kirin” (a similar creature) be employed? Does a “kirin” imply fanciful unreality? On the other end of the poetic spectrum, “intraday momentum index” is the relatively new term for “a technical indicator used by day traders to signal when a stock is trending up or down….”** an awkward phrase to pin down in another language.

The greatest challenges inherent in financial translation, however, come with the high stakes around errors. A single misunderstood and wrongly assigned number or decimal point can destroy the meaning of a report. Presentation and formatting of numbers and the symbols associated with them must also be flawlessly consistent or content can become incomprehensible.

For many countries, the terminology used must comply with the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) issued by the IASB, the International Accounting Standards Board, and endorsed by the EU. Translation memory and glossaries help translators stay current with IFRS changes, which they must legally do.

The nature of communication about money means that deadlines will often be super tight, and yet there cannot be any shortcuts taken when it comes to the confidentiality of financial translations. Data must be protected by signed Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) with top-notch security systems in place for all transfer of information. You must implicitly trust your LSP when it comes time to translate financial content, and be sure that, like Skrivanek, their expertise extends deeply into financial concepts and the trending jargon.

J. McShulskis

*The Devil’s Financial Dictionary, by Jason Zweig

**Investment News, Top 10 Financial Terms of 2015





Busting “Ghost” Translators

19 06 2015

Imagine that you need money, don’t care how you get it, and you conceive of a crime that you can execute without being seen or shot at. Not only that, the victim might possibly never realize they have been robbed, and even if they do, you will face no negative consequences.

This is the dirty dream job of CV scammers.

Ghost_TranslatorsIn the translation industry, Curricula Vitae (CVs) of legitimate freelance translators are lifted from translation industry websites and attached to made-up names and contact information with astonishing frequency these days. Global Language Service Providers (LSPs) like Prague-based Skrivanek Translation Services receive dozens of fake CVs daily, forcing them to spend a considerable amount of time sorting the good from the bad.

“Not all translation agencies dedicate the resources that we do to directly testing all of our translators before assigning them jobs,” says Michal Kufhaber, Skrivanek’s Global Production Manager. “Unfortunately, many choose translators based only on good CVs.”

The rock-bottom low rates that scammers frequently offer can be persuasive, especially when they’re accompanied by CVs testifying to valuable (sometimes incredible) experience. When one of the fakes slips past the filters and is hired, delivering an unusable translation doesn’t stop the scammer from demanding pay through a chain of connections that makes them hard to track down. And when the thief gets really lucky, payment is issued before the shoddy translation is seen for what it is.

There are some consistent clues that tip off the wary LSP. Illegitimate CVs often contain physical addresses that don’t exist. They always use email addresses with free servers like Gmail and Hotmail, and they don’t provide working phone numbers. The CV will often look cut and pasted, containing a variety of fonts, for instance. The recipient shows up as “undisclosed recipients,” meaning that the scammer is flooding the market in search of a nibble.

While scammers are still working the field, they have seriously riled their victim-base. Translators are an intelligent group who rely on their reputations and on long-distance connections to clients and work – they aren’t taking this crooked trend lightly. Individuals, forums and websites have dedicated themselves to the detection and public unveiling of the CV thieves. One example is the Translator Scammers Directory, which offers shared information from a collective of scam victims. Their slogan is, “They steal your CV, your Work and your Money … We make their lives a living hell.”

Their advice? Their website suggests publicly exposing the ghost translators in every way you can think of and creating filtering systems for your hiring procedures.* Experienced global LSPs often have well-established routines of doing these very things, as you can see for instance in Skrivanek’s thorough Recruitment Process for new translators.

So who are these CV thieves? Interestingly, according to Translator Scammers Directory, nearly all can be traced to Palestine, where one in six people in the West Bank and 1 in 2 of those in Gaza were unemployed at the end of 2014.** Small percentages of them are from Asian and Eastern European countries.

All of the victims are people with years of study and experience that these syndicates of desperate “ghosts” electronically snatch to generate income for themselves. In our global online village, where troubled neighborhoods share a border in cyberspace with your desktop, diligence and creative solutions are required to protect your assets.

J. McShulskis

*Check http://www.translators-scammers.com for useful tips, scammer lists, and extensive other information.
**Worldbank.org