The world economy is in turmoil and, although we seem to be better protected than other professions, translators are also bound to be affected. A recent thread on proz asked how translators manage to thrive in this difficult climate – I’ll let you pore over the 15 or so pages of contributions, but I thought I’d briefly weigh in as well with my own experience and relevant guest posts from two colleagues. The following post from Jost Zetzsche, from the International Writers’ Group and author of the excellent ToolKit, suggests that quiet times are ideal to learn how to use one’s tools properly.
Interestingly, I’ve had two relatively quiet periods so far, one a few years ago, when I first started, and another one recently in October. The first time, without the benefit of Jost’s advice, I acquired Trados, which I saw as a way to translate more efficiently. The second time, I decided to update and optimise my Website in order to be found by potential clients. The new site will be live any day and now that I’m busy again and that I wouldn’t have time to work on it properly, I’m really pleased that I used that quiet time efficiently.
Anyway, it’s time to listen to what Jost has to say about TEnTs. Friday, I’ll post Jill Sommer‘s guest post on email marketing.
Hard Times Bring Opportunities for translators
I know, I know: Some translators haven’t yet felt the economic downturn. (Congratulations if you’re one of them!) But many have. Suddenly those inboxes may have become a lot less crowded with job offers, and stress over too much work may have turned into stress over finding the next job.
So here is an idea: Why don’t we use the slow times to teach ourselves the things that we just don’t have time for in normal times? Why not take inventory of our computing environment, reevaluate what is helpful and what is not, and then go on a treasure hunt to track down the tools that will help us gain the edge we’ve always wanted and that we will need once times get busy again.
The thing about tools is this, though: They can be a real blessing, but they can also be a curse if they are not handled well. (If you want to stay true to our example with “tools”: Have you ever tried to unscrew a well-tightened Phillips screw with a straight screwdriver? Not only will it make you raging mad because it doesn’t work well, but chances are you will strip the screw so badly that it can no longer be worked on with the right tool. Now translate that metaphor to computer programs and files.)
Most of you have heard about the Microsoft Word 5- or 10-percent usage rule. Researchers tell us that this is as much of the program as the normal Word user ever uses, while the remaining 90 to 95 percent stays untouched. (In fact, the most-often-used command, Paste, accounts for 31% of all command usage!) Now that’s okay for Word because it truly is one of those tools that is made for anyone and everyone, and if you don’t know how to do a mail merge or draw an organizational chart, who cares? (Unless you need to do a mail merge or draw a chart . . . .)
But I would argue that it’s a little bit different with CAT tools or, as I like to call them, “TEnTs,” translation environment tools. These are tools that were not made for everyone; they were made specifically for us translators. And while it’s likely that we will never use all the features that a Wordfast, Déjà Vu, or MemoQ offers (you may replace these product names with any of the other dozen-plus tools out there), it behooves us to know that these functions are there, and it would be even better if we could see them in action at least once.
I have often talked to people who complain that it’s relatively easy to get a first introduction into a TEnT, but it is not easy to get to the meat of the matter. This criticism is partly justified. However, it’s also true that while literally every user will have to know the basic steps to get started, the usage then varies greatly. It’s just much harder to cover all the many specialized aspects of the tools (and there are many—they’re not called “translation environment tools” for nothing!).
Here’s where a forced pause can come in handy—for forays into the feature jungle of our tools. Some tools come with relatively good documentation; others are admittedly less well-endowed; however, there is no function that cannot be explored with either the help of the documentation and/or the typically very supportive user groups that you can find at
Here is one way of beginning to get to know your tool: Usually these tools have one or two many-tabbed dialog boxes, often called something like “Options,” “Preferences,” or “Settings.” This is what I like to call the command center, and it’s usually where the majority of settings for the tool are defined. And while it might feel a little dry to click yourself through these options, do you by any chance remember how dry it felt to learn the grammar and long list of terms for a foreign language? And see where that has gotten you! Try harnessing the same kind of spirit with your computer.
If you have never taken the plunge to purchase one of these tools, now is the time. One place to get to know all the different tools and compare them on an apples-to-apples basis is, a website that I built to give a fair and balanced introduction into all the tools that are currently available. There you can watch a video to see how Trados processes a file, then how Across or SDLX or any of the other TEnTs processes the exact same file with the exact same steps. If you still don’t know what tool to invest in after watching all this, I’m not sure what else you would need. . . .
When all’s said and done, let’s hope that there won’t be too much time left for improving our skills—and that we’ll have ample time to use and hone those skills again on the job, in the trenches, where the real work is being done.