Tip of the Tongue
All in one and one in all – Balancing salaried and freelance work
Sun, 22 May 2022 06:05:00 +0000

[Unbalanced scale*]

Many freelancers, including translators, hold two jobs, one salaried with regular hours and one as an independent. The benefits of such a dual existence are clear. However, the relative load is asymmetric and variable, creating stress not only in terms of being able to properly perform the job but also in terms of expectations of one’s self. The key in this arrangement, as in all imperfect situations, is accept natural limits, however frustrating they  may be, at least most of the time.

For transparency’s sake, I state that I am a full-time freelance translator and a half time (8 hours a week) college English lecturer at a local engineering college. After starting my translation career in my  40’s,  I continued working as a full-time teacher for some 8 years until circumstances allowed me to cut that down to half time. I still maintain and enjoy the salaried position as I get to be around people, even more in their 20’s with their future in front of them, an invigorating experience, and also have a vested pension. Thus, I see great benefits in having dual careers.

These benefits include financial security, risk management, benefits and flexibility. Clearly, given the uncertainty of freelance income, the knowledge that the mortgage or rent will be paid significantly reduces financial stress. In practical terms, a stretch of poor business does not endanger the roof. On the same line, having a salary creates the basis of a budget and facilitates budgeting. Salaried positions may carry benefits, such as paid pensions, health insurance and vehicles, all expensive items for many freelancers, depending on your country. Retaining the paid position also allows freelancers to build up their freelance business until such a time that they can change their status. Looking from the opposite perspective, having an independent business allows time flexibility to deal with family and health issues. It also creates a sense of personal ownership of the success, a experience often lacking as an employee. An independent business may also better express the talents and ambition of the person. Thus, both holding a salaried position and having an independent business can be recipe for happiness.

However, maintaining the balance can be stressful as the loads vary but people’s ability to excel at two positions is limited, creating disappointment among colleagues and in themselves. Most company positions have peak work periods, such as after the tax year, during holidays and before the end of the semester. During these times, employers expect a full effort and do not care about the other obligations of employees, including family and other work.  Colleagues also expect no less effort than they invest. As most people wish to meet these expectations, whether it is to receive the respect of their peers, their own pride or both, it is uncomfortable to be limited in one’s contribution. In simple words, you are only one person with some 16 hours a day available. The option of burning the midnight candle is only practical for short period and harmful in the long term. Even during normal period, it is difficult enough investing time in career advancement, including attending seminars and conferences, in one profession. For most people, there is not enough time to invest in two professions as they would ideally do so. As a result, people’s skills become relatively static in one of two positions. Two work positions, no matter how well balanced, create an internal tension.

The key to emotional acceptance of this situation, aside from dropping one of the jobs, is accepting the greyness of the world, i.e., people can only do their best even if the result is less than ideal. It is clear that nobody chooses occupational schizophrenia as a first option. Circumstances lead to that situation. A person needs to understand and accept that others are often either unaware of or apathetic towards individual circumstances, whether in regards to work, family or health. As in the old story about the man, boy and the donkey, we need to do what is good for us, not what pleases others, within limits of course. More importantly, freelancers holding another position almost have no choice but to accept that ultimately, they have to choose which position to put their ego in. In my case, I am a professional translator that also teaches, albeit generally rather well after more than 30 years of experience. Most of the time, I am happy with that description. I no longer strive to be the best lecturer in my department, which I would have if I only taught, due to a lack of time and energy. Some people may consider that unprofessional but employees live in our own reality and can only do their best, however unsatisfactory that may seem to others and themselves.

Thus, while employers may act as if employees are all in their job, many entrepreneurs must or choose to split themselves among two  jobs as well as family. The benefits, financial and otherwise, of trying to manage two work worlds are clear but the stress and challenge of properly serving two bosses creates emotional dissonance. However, with an effective personal attitude, it is possible to properly balance asymmetric loads, at least most of the time. I made that choice some 18 years ago and have never looked back. I hope that those that have made or will make the same choice feel the same.

It would be interesting to learn about the work balance of freelancers. Please respond to the following one question survey: 

*Use picture captions to allow the blind to fully access the Internet.
Picture credit: Pixabay
The drama of translation – Beit Berl’s study day on translation in theatre
Sun, 15 May 2022 05:35:00 +0000


[Woman and shadow*]

Strangely enough, I most enjoy lectures that are in those areas of which I know very little and in which I have no intention in entering. It is fascinating to discover the magic of the unknown. This week, I had the pleasure of attending a study day organized by the translation faculty of Beit Berl College, headed by Judith Rubanovsky-Paz, for its current and past students. The program was entitled “Translation in the spotlight” and discussed translation of theatre. Several leading translators in the field, including in sign language, shared their wisdom. Among the many pearls offered, I especially appreciated the insights regarding the place, plus figurative and literal, of written translation in theatre, the need for periodic retranslation and the art of translating classic plays.

Tami Rubin, an established and recognized theatre translator, brought out the conflict between the requirement and disturbance of translation during a performance. On the one hand, given the monolingual nature of the performer as compared to the multilingual nature of the audience, surtitles, as they are called when placed above the stage, allow the entire audience to fully follow the action and reduce the language barrier to enjoyment. On the other hand, the traditional practice of running translations above or even to the side of the stage requires the audience to constantly switch its attention from the action to the translation, a sometimes difficult and tiring maneuver. She noted that a few productions have integrated the translation into the background of the scene, allowing the viewer to read the translation and follow the action simultaneously. She remarked that such an arrangement requires the set designer to consider translation when planning the background. The talk brought out the difficult of integrating translation into performance.

Eli Bijaoui, an award-winning theatre translator, discussed the need for periodical retranslations of classics, including Molière and Shakespeare, in order to properly reflect their content. He noted that these playwrights, notwithstanding their current status as pantheons, wrote theatre to be understood and appreciated by all the people of their time, i.e., in a language grasped to one degree or another by the entire audience. In other words, they did not write in the language of the elite. He gave the example of Romeo speaking to his friends, who are hassling him for spending too much time with Juliet. His language is slangish and crude as is typical of young males in a such a situation. Eli argues that retaining the slang of even 10 years ago causes the text to lose its earthiness, an essential part of its content. He notes that the translation should not go overboard on slang but still should transfer the tone of the conversation. Thus, classic translations, regardless of their quality, are not written in stone but should flow like water for their time.

In regards to the actual text, Eli distinguished form from word choice. On the one hand, notwithstanding the challenge, the translation of texts written in specific meters, such as the comedies of Molière or the , should retain that or a similar structure in order to remain loyal to the spirit of the original, taking into account the fact that the actors must speak the text. On the other hand, the translator can and should adopt the choice of idiom, example or joke such that the audience reacts as the playwright intended, e.g., laughter or sadness. Clearly, an image or reference alien to most people viewing the play will not translate the intention of the original. He gave us wonderful examples from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Julietand Molière’s Ecole des femmes of how he translated the original text in to Hebrew. It was a brief but fascinating glimpse of the challenge and joy of successful theatre translation.

Lee Dan, a sign language translator also active in theatre, noted that the translator must be transparent, i.e., invisible to the audience, and  explained that it is a difficult task. In other words, the purpose of the theatre translation, especially since the text is spoken and not written, is to facilitate understanding, not complicate it. Thus, even more than technical translation, theatre translations is truly an art and worthy of great appreciation. In transmitting that message, the Beit Berl study day showed great light on that subject.

* Picture captions allow the blind to fully access the Internet.

Picture credit: 

Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/vic_b-6314823/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=5864279">press 👍 and </a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=5864279">Pixabay</a>

Translation as transcreation: garbage in, garbage out?
Sun, 08 May 2022 05:39:00 +0000


[water sewage plant*]

The daily fare of most translators is too often poorly written source texts. Thoughts such as “Did the writer bother to reread the text” and “Does the writer know how to write” pop in the mind far too frequently. The errors vary in type, quantity and cause but obligate translators to decide to what degree to intervene and improve the text in translation. To make this decision, translator has to consider the purpose, audience and practicality of this transcreation and choose which changes to make. Ideally, the proposed price should take the extra time and effort into account but reality is generally different. Thus, translators sometime have to decide whether the effort is worthwhile, a difficult decision, as translators are judged by the final product but paid by the source text.

Some common writing errors, found even in corporate texts, involve syntax, vocabulary, punctuation and spelling. A person may be very skillful in a certain field of knowledge and activity but never really has invested time on language. As a result, their sentences can become so complicated that the reader has to reread it several time to understand it, mainly because of its structure and word order. For example, the verb may appear many subordinate clauses after the grammatical subject. Sometimes, the writer uses a verb + object structure where a verb only would be perfectly acceptable, as in make a payment toinstead of pay. Furthermore, poor vocabulary leads to the use of incorrect words, mangled expressions, overly repeated roots and undesired connotations. In technical documents, precision prevents law suits and even deaths while in marketing, inappropriate language can destroy a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign. Even more basic, some writers place commas and periods as creatively as children make strokes with finger paint, entirely by intuition. The most shocking common error is the seeming lack of knowledge or interest in using spell check to catch errors. It is distressing to translate an apparent first draft. While in an ideal world, translators would always work with truly finished texts, reality is often quite different.

The cause of this negligence varies by circumstances, ranging from time constraints to organizational structure and occasional illusions of grandeur, to name a few. Organizations occasionally have to quickly issue a press notice or technical documents and lack the time to properly edit the documents. More often, the document is co-written by several people with each one contributing and making changes. If no single person is responsible for the final product, a hodgepodge can result with mismatched elements and inconsistent terminology. Finally, occasionally some people truly believe they are proficient writers. If they have enough authority, formal and personal, nobody contradicts them. Unfortunately, their texts are not appropriate for the purpose as they are simply poorly written. While of academic interest to the translator, the cause of poor source texts is not always clear.

Clearly, the decision to intervene and improve the text depends on the ultimate use, with the amount of improvement related to the type of text. On one end of the scale, translators must show all warts in literature and court transcripts because the errors themselves are part of the content. Poor language in many stories shows the background of a character while the indirect and vague answers of witnesses can demonstrate their lack of willingness to understand or their grasp of the situation. John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrathand Hannah Arendt’s analysis of Adolf Eichmann’s language in Eichmann in Jerusalem: a Report of the Banality of Evil are quite interesting in that respect. On the other end of the spectrum are marketing documents, online and otherwise, whose message must be persuasive. The translator becomes a transcreator, often completely changing the wording in order to best reach the target audience. In the middle are technical documents in which the active translator corrects terminology and syntax errors in order to ensure that the document serves its goal, i.e., to clearly and accurately provide information. Thus, the number of required changes can greatly vary.

Unfortunately, deadlines and budgets often do not allow proper transformation. If the customer is unaware of the magnitude of the problem, they do not allow sufficient time to make all the required changes. If the changes would implicate massive review of previous term bases and computer string files, it may not be practical to produce a proper document in the short term even if the long-term costs continue to grow, especially for documents involving product trees. As a result, either or both the translator and ordering party decide to ignore the larger issues as it is impractical at that point to remedy them.

Even if the customer has no issue with making sweeping changes, translators often face a dilemma regarding their time investment. If the translator did not take the changes into account when setting the price, the choice often becomes between volunteering hours or producing target text that is as imperfect as the source. The structure of the translation business generally does not allow mid-project price changes. Ideally, translators should thoroughly read source texts before agreeing. However, in practice, due to time and concentration constraints, most only peruse the text to discover how poorly written it is only after they begin the actual translation, generally too late.

It would be difficult to say how prevalent “garbage in, garbage out” is in the translation business. Clearly, every translator has decided at some time that a certain source text has so many errors that it is only worth correcting the critical ones. Likewise, translators sometimes decide for personal or professional to pull back all stops and truly shine up the language with the hope that the customer, not to mention the eventual readers, say “the translation is better than the original.” After all, translation is a form of creation, a matter of pride for its maker.

* Pictures cpations help the blind access the Internet.

Picture credit: Pixabay

Strange measures in English
Sun, 01 May 2022 06:01:00 +0000


What is a cubit?” – Noah (Bill Cosby) to God in Noah’s Ark


Before you start reading, try and guess (in US or metric terms):

1 furlong = ___________________

1 league = ___________________

1 bushel = ___________________

1 barrel of oil = _______________

1 knot = _____________________

1 stone = ____________________

1 cm3 = 1ml = 1 gram (for water of course) is the single best reason to use the metric system. Any child with a slightest visual perception skill can grasp it. Not only that, all divisions are by a measure of 10, so Roman in its concept. By contrast, the Anglo-Saucon measurement system is a mathematics student’s nightmare: 2 pints = 1 quart x 4 = one gallon = 16 cups; 12 inches = one foot x 3 = one yard x 1760 [sic] – one mile; and 16 ounces = one pound x 2000 = one ton. Of course, each measurement is mathematically isolated from each other. Why should life be simple if you can complicate it? Still, over the years, people get used to the system and even intuitively assimilate the weird math, even insisting on its virtues. However, there are some specialized English measures that few Americans or Brits have the faintest idea of what they really mean. They exist for distance, volume, speed and weight. Kudos for anybody that actually can quantify them.

[horse and plow*]

Furlongs and leagues are unusual units of lengths used for a specific circumstance. The length of some horse racing tracks is in furlongs, which makes sense since a furlong (furrow-long) was a length of a common plowing area in England, which obviously involved horses. Its length was 660 feet or 201 meters for those in the Continent. Many readers know that Captain Nemo could take his ship, the Nautili’s, 20,000 leagues under the sea but few realized that meant a little more than 69,000 miles or possibly 80,000 km if you use the French measure, a feat somewhat hard to believe if you consider it.  A league is the distance a person can walk in an hour and varied accordingly. In the UK, a league was considered 3 miles while at sea, rather Jesus-like, it was 3.425 kilometers. I suppose walking on water creates less friction and resistance. Alas, it is rare to find anybody that walks from city to city or plows fields with horses. Too late, the damage is done.


Oil and wheat prices are of prime concern to people throughout the world. Their measurement is a bit mysterious. When the oil producers of Pennsylvania decided to establish a standard packaging size in 1872, they chose a barrel of wine, which contains 42 US gallons or around 159 cubic meters. A barrel is a barrel is a barrel? Even more ancient is the bushel, a unit of measurement for grains. The equivalents are 64 pints and 32.36 liters. I suppose one can blame the French on this one as the term comes from old French.  I imagine only farmers there can visualize that quantity. What was, is.

[man pushing stone]
Of more practical use for certain populations are knots and stones. Prior to electronic means, the only way to measure speed at sea was to drag a pie-like object with spaced knots from the back of the ship and count them. 1 knot is equal to 1 nautical mile, around 1.15 land mile (no walking, more friction and resistance, maybe), or 1.150 mph, around 1.852 km/h. To give some perspective, the Titanic could reach 23 knots, while the fastest wooden tea clippers could reach 16 knots . In terms of their weight, some Brits still refer to stones, which is equivalent to 14 pounds or 6.340 kilos I suppose the smaller number as compared to pounds makes them feel better. It is as logical and predictable as counting feet.

I would call this post “ode to the metric system” but Americans will never abandon their time-honored tradition of complicated calculations and not only out of respect for their math teachers. I am no Don Quixote. More impractically, I can say after more than 30 years in Israel that I have forgotten what heavy a pound is but still have no sense of how heavy a kilo is. Regarding most measures, I can delicately ask a similar question to that Noah asked God (at least according to Bill Cosby): what is a cubit?

* Captions allow the blind to fully access the Internet.

Picture credits: Pixabay

The myth of market price in translation
Sun, 24 Apr 2022 06:02:00 +0000

[best price*]

The issue of ideal pricing is of great interest to all business people, including freelance translators. For the latter, many seek the market price as it were the holy grail (and bewail those that "break" it. In one sense, it is similar to that holy object: it does not exist (no offense to those of religious faith). While in economic theory, supply and demand intersect over time to determine the proper price, the conditions for that convergence do not exist in the freelance translation business due to the lack of information by both the purchaser and provider. This darkness leaves the players to follow Candide’s advice: il faut cultiver son jardin [you must cultivate your own garden].

In order to understand the mechanics of the freelance marketplace, I will first describe two markets where supply and demand do affect pricing directly. The first is a retail purchase of a standard physical product. A consumer wishing to purchase a Black and Decker 4-volt electric screwdriver at an attractive price can check the advertised price in local stores and compares them to prices available from online outlets, taking into account transportation and shipping costs, as applicable. Within a short period of time, the careful consumer has a clear picture of how much the item should cost. On the other side of the fence, the retailers also have full access to the price of their competitors, both physical and online, and are fully aware of their inventory and when it was purchased. If a given store finds itself with excess inventory that is not moving, it generally can announce a sale and clear it out for more profitable items. This action in practice changes the price situation and affects consumer behavior. Thus, both sellers and buyers can identify an ideal price or at least such a range.

The interaction involved in providing a service, such as a lube and oil shop, can also create a market price. Car owners can easily check listed price for this car maintenance service. Taking into account physical distance and perceived quality of service, they can identify the best deal and have their car serviced. A garage owner, seeing a drop in the number of service calls and significant downtime by its employees, can choose to lower its price for such a service and thus increase its volume, or alternatively raise the price if the volume or price comparison indicates that its rate is too low. Again, each side of the transaction exerts constant pressure on the price level.

Freelance purchasers do not enjoy such transparency or knowledge. A translation agency may have created a list of freelance translators and their rates but elements of this year may be and quite often are quite outdated. They are certainly not shared with other translation agencies. In practice, only when an agency is required to recruit additional service providers does it discover that rates have decreased or increased. Furthermore, only experience can determine whether the translation quality is sufficient for their purposes. End customers such as consumers or non-translation companies generally have no or very little knowledge of translation rates and must base their decision on a very small sample, possibly 3 quotes, or a discussion with a few colleagues on their experience. It is essentially impossible to do a market survey as most agencies do not nor cannot post the actual cost on their sites, but only ranges, while the fast majority of translators either choose not to or may not post rates. Since the translation business is Internet based and thus unaffected by physical geography, a local survey is irrelevant to the issue. Thus, purchasers of translation are obliged to make a poorly educated guess of rates.

On the other side of the coin, freelance translators are completely in the dark. They simply do not know what purchasers are paying or competitors are charging. The only proof of successful pricing is the confirmation of an order but that notice does not indicate whether their bid was very high or very low nor how much other bidders offered, if relevant. In many countries, including Israel, it is illegal for service providers to discuss prices as such an act is considered “price fixing”.  Even if legal, most freelancer are loath to openly discuss their rates out of fear that theirs are way out of line or of losing business to a colleague. Since translators live throughout the world, standards of living vary extremely, often rendering any such comparison irrelevant. In practice, freelance translators work in the dark not only in terms of typing away in isolation in their homes but also in terms of almost no awareness of market price, previous and current. In such conditions, it is impossible for them to influence the market price as they are unaware of both supply and demand.

As we do not live in ideal world, as Voltaire reminded us in Candide, freelancers essentially decide the best policy for themselves given their place of residence, choice of life style and financial situation. They choose rates based on the income they expect and need to earn, not what is actually possible. Thus, Chinese and Indian translators can earn sufficient income from 0.04 USD a word while European and North American ones find that impractical. Purchasers of translation do not generally survey rates, meaning that the quality of the service is the most important factor over the long term as long as the rate is in line with their budget. Of course, agency conglomeration and machine translation affect the industry but these are long- term dynamics with a very long tail. Freelance translators define their own market.

This chaotic pricing situation is not negative in itself. It provides freelancers with freedom of choice and the ability to create niches to survive, even thrive. However, any talk of “market price” for a translation product has no or very little meaning. As my father would say, the value of an item is what a person is willing to pay for it. The best option for translators to find customers that are willing to pay more for it.

* Captions are a vital tool for the blind in accessing the Internet.

Picture credit: Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/geralt-9301/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=374404">Gerd Altmann</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=374404">Pixabay</a>

Looking glass image? - Being intererviewed by Andrew Morris of Proz.com
Tue, 19 Apr 2022 15:19:00 +0000

I was honored to be interviewed by Andrew Morris of Proz.com. Here is his post:

Face to Face with Stephen Rifkind

Many a translator ends up living in a different culture, far from home. That’s often part of the deal. But few are those, it could be argued, who don’t feel at home until they reach and settle in that second country. It’s as if they were simply born in the wrong place, and had to pack their bags and journey across borders or even continents to find the right one…

Stephen R

Such was the case of Stephen Rifkind, born into a Jewish family (American father, French mother) in Los Angeles, but who has spent the last 33 years in Israel. His childhood took place in a multilingual home, in which emotional discussions tended to be in French, while money matters were always in English. His maternal grandmother was a Pole who spoke Yiddish, so it was not unusual for intra-family communication to feature sentences containing all three languages jumbled together. Meanwhile, Stephen was packed off to Hebrew school on the weekends, as part of his (non-religious) Jewish education, to complement his regular attendance at a state school. Modern Hebrew was a key part of the weekend curriculum, and – apart from a brief teenage rebellion against the language – the tuition set him up for his move later in life. But the main aim at the time was not to prepare for emigration – in societies like the USA and Australia, made up largely of immigrants (not forgetting indigenous peoples of course), it’s common for people of all backgrounds to want to maintain and even exaggerate their culture. That might find expression in a variety of ways, whether religious, political, social or linguistic – but it all adds up to the dual identity that is the reality of many Americans. If that extra effort is not made, however, the danger is that within three generations you lose all sight of your roots and simply become “an American”.


Still there was something that nagged at Stephen, who felt that he didn’t quite fit in. He knew he was Jewish, even though he never quite understood what that meant. Later in life, he came to formulate a theory that “home is where you feel good” – and realized that he felt good in Israel. He still has family back in LA but sees it now, from a distance, as a money-based society, where you’re judged by your home or your car. In Israel, he says, the realities of life (and death) are omnipresent, which puts things into perspective. It’s an intense place, even in the small town of Karmiel in the Galilee with few traffic jams to speak of, and you can walk around safely at night.


His story as a linguist began back in college where he chose to indulge his gift for languages by studying Russian. However, this was the 1970s, and Stephen suffered from a problem that enjoyed scant recognition back then: dyslexia. Given that the technology of computers and hence spellchecking and other tools barely existed in those days, that seemed to rule out the prospect of becoming a translator. After a brief flirtation with studying Law, Stephen became an English teacher, working up to 30 hours a week with students from all over the world.


And yet the idea of translation wouldn’t quite go away. What’s more, Stephen’s daughter was a toddler at the time, and in his bid to teach her Hebrew, he translated the first three books of Harry Potter in their entirety – orally and spontaneously – while reading to her at bedtime. He never wrote down a word, thereby depriving the world of a masterpiece, but that’s the way these things go…


Around that time he decided he’d had enough of teaching at night, and sat down to do an inventory of his skillset. Armed with an MBA gained in 2002, he knew enough about business, had a grounding in law, and spoke several languages. It was time, he thought, to put them all to good use. This was 2004, and of course computer technology was now a part of everyday life. In setting up his new business as a translator, he decided on three core principles: doing good work, always being on time, and remaining polite in conversation at all times – all of which have stood him in good stead ever since. Boiled down to a single axiom, it’s all about treating the client as you would like to be treated – as simple as that.


Translation was not Stephen’s primary income yet, so it took a couple of years for him to make mistakes, learn from experience, and understand how the industry worked. Not connected to a network of translators at the time, he acquired his knowledge through trial and error, or what we might grandly term the “heuristic method”. “I did it my way,” he says, looking back. Within ten years he had made the slow transition from part time to full-time, although he still likes to teach a few classes, simply to keep himself young and go out and meet some real human beings from time to time (in addition to his wife, who is also a translator). Not to mention to keep abreast of developments in everyday English…


The multilingual thread continues to this day. Hebrew is the language of Stephen’s home – after this time he’s perfectly fluent “though with an accent”. English dominates the workplace, and he still regularly reads French, having lived in Paris. However, his Russian has become somewhat dated – having learned it in the 1970s, he refers to what he knows as “Brezhnev Russian”, and also has plenty to say (not all of it positive!) about the way modern Russian has become affected by English.


Stephen’s translations are from Hebrew to English – his written Hebrew would not permit working in the opposite direction – and focuses on legal and financial texts, along with plenty of certificates. Now an established practitioner, he recognizes nevertheless that the market is constantly changing. Conglomeration has come to affect the agency world, with a predictable impact on pricing. His journey has therefore led him to work with more direct clients – and to incline towards charging project prices. No low bids, no competing on price, no subcontracting. Medium-sized jobs which keep the money coming in, and keep the couple busy. The perfect combination for what is, after all, an expensive country to live in.


So what makes Stephen return time and again to this community, and share his insightful blog posts from time to time? Well, he finds the culture here tolerant and open, lacking the intellectual arrogance of certain groups he’s visited in the past. It’s good to disagree, he says, but not to trash people. Perhaps a recognition that we all see only part of the picture is in order – like the proverbial blind men and the elephant. His writing work he sees as a personal challenge: he’s not (he claims) a natural writer, but he sets himself the goal of synthesizing knowledge for the benefit of others. “This is what I see, here let me share it and find out if you agree” best sums up his approach. If he can make people think, then his work is done.


And in his free time? Well, many of us have interesting and often unpredictable hobbies, but Stephen’s particular variety certainly stands out: for years he was a member of a Balkan dance troupe, no less, and has performed in front of audiences of many thousands around the country. The complex rhythms, the chance to lose yourself in movement, the physicality and utter lack of intellectual tension, all help him discover his alter ego. Perhaps the perfect solution for the cerebral translator: losing yourself as the music plays and the limbs twirl…

To contact Stephen, go to:

ProZ.com Profile


Topics: translatorinterpreterfacebookinterpretingface to face

Andrew Morris

Written by Andrew Morris

French to English translator, Translation Mastermind founder, ProZ.com staff.

Getting there – in English
Sun, 10 Apr 2022 06:00:00 +0000

[moving figure*]

The greatest difficulty in mastering English is not understanding its grammar, as many students believe, but learning and applying its vocabulary. To clarify, most concepts in English have multiple words, often coming from different roots. Each word has its own subtext, with connotations that may or may not be relevant in a given situation. Some years ago, I wrote a post about the various words for eating. Today’s post deals with locomotion, specifically walking, running and driving.

[couple walking]
Walking varies in lengths and purposes. To take a walk is rather vague term, implying neither length or goal. By contrast, to get some fresh air implies a short trip outside to clear one’s head. While taking a stroll may not be specific in length, it does express a sense of pleasure, generally social. The purpose of taking a constitutional is to improve one’s physical condition, a matter of discipline, not necessarily enjoyment. If people choose the option of walking when alternatives exist, they hoof it. In places of natural beauty, taking a hike involves several hours, even a whole day, and involves uneven ground while taking a trek is a multiday experience. There is nothing like moving your legs.

[woman jogging]
Of course, some people prefer more energetic movement, specifically running. Jogging involves a slow pace that can be maintained for a long distance, without any specific destination in mind. Trotting is bit faster, ideal when a certain place has to be reached fairly quickly. The fastest form of running is sprinting, whether in a formal race or emergency situation, when speed is of essence. A quick sprint to a specific destination, such as a store before it closes, is a dash and may involve running. Running seems to involve exhilaration of one kind or another.

[poodle in driver's seat]
Alas, in the modern word, most of us by need or choice drive a car to get anywhere. Traveling to and from work is called commuting, which may involve 4-5 hours a day in some cities. Running errands is more local and involves enriching shops and services. In an emergency and at a track, a person may race, driving as fast as possible. With all the unavoidable time behind the wheel, it is surprising to know that many people enjoy taking a drive for the pleasure of seeing something beautiful. In some places, young people cruise, i.e., drive up and down the street in order to be seen by their peers and have their cars and significant others admired. In the past, Van Nuys Blvd. in Los Angeles used to be the site of weekly cruising. At the end of a visit, you may need to hit the road before the traffic gets too bad, which is to say “leave”. Even after all this driving stress, some people believe that the best way to relax is to take a road trip for extended time and see greener pastures. When it comes to driving, to each his own.

Thus, a native speaker naturally knows which terms will apply in any context and uses the right word. By contrast, people whose English is only through formal learning often struggle to be sure what word to use. Alas, the only truly effective to fully master English vocabulary is to live in an English-speaking country. However, through movies and some explanations, it is possible to attain a better understanding. Getting there can takes some effort.

* Picture captions help the blind access the Internet.

All pictures via Pixabay.

In reconsideration – Karen Tkaczyk on editing and proofreading
Sun, 03 Apr 2022 06:57:00 +0000

[edited document*]

As part of a series of podcasts, Paul Urwin of Proz.com interviewed Karen Tkaczyk, an experienced editor and translator. As the podcast is not a formal workshop but instead a series of questions and answers, Karen was unable to go into depth on many of the important issues she raised. I wish to add some thoughts on three matters that are of importance to both translators and editors, specifically the obligation to proofread, the time involved and criteria for editorial intervention.

[eye chat & glasses]
Both Paul and Karen were very polite and understated in their statements that translators must include proofreading in their translation process. At minimum, this QA involves spellcheck and a quick rereading. Ideally, they recommended use of a QA tool, whether one intrinsic to the CAT tool and/or an external program such as Xbench. Ideally, a second pair of eyes, as required by ISO standards, would read the text but freelancers often find this step impractical due to time or budgetary factors. However, clearly failure to apply any proofreading process leads to substandard work. In my experience, far too many translators, even experienced ones, expect someone else to perform this step. While it is very challenging at best to produce a perfect translation, that difficulty does not excuse translators from the obligation to strive to do so as much as circumstances allow. Proofreading and editing are an essential step in a proper translation process.

[results, not excuses]

The next issue is how long this QA should take. In their discussion, Paul and Karen mentioned three percentages, all relevant. If the translator of the specific documents reviews the document, it should take around 20% of the translation time. An external review of a properly proofed translation should take around 30-40% while for poorly written texts, revision can reach 50% or even, in the worst cases, justify a retranslation. These numbers are relevant to both translators and agencies. For translators, rates and deadlines need to reflect this time. An overly tight deadline may not allow proper proofreading, which results in a poor translation. Regardless of whether the translator informs customers of such a risk, they are often unhappy with the result, resulting in a lost client. It is far better business practice to refuse impossible deadlines. In freelancer relations with agencies, many project managers are not very realistic on how long it takes to properly review translations, especially long ones that require several sittings. Often but not always education and insistence develop their awareness of the required QA time. Again, it is far better to deliver early than to make excuses for late delivery or fail to properly review the text. In summary, linguists must insist on sufficient time for proofing but the amount is variable.

[3-face customer satisfaction]

The final matter discussed was the essence of the revision process itself. Both Karen and Paul made the point that the task of reviewers was to identify errors, not to produce their ideal text. To clarify, as no two people write the same way, no two people produce the exact same translation of the identical text. One translation may be partially or completely superior to the other in some criteria but both express the content and serve the purpose. Therefore, the appropriate role of reviewers is not to impose their phrasing or linguistic tendencies but to identify and correct issues that would interfere with the message of the text. Admittedly, there is a fine line between mandatory and preferential changes but editors need to make evert effort to be on the right side of that line. Not only do unnecessary changes poison the atmosphere between translators and reviewers, they waste everybody’s time and money. Overzealous editors often spend hours unnecessarily rewriting acceptable translations and then cause the anguished translators to spend hours justifying their original choices. Time is money. The host mentioned that one cause of this extraneous effort was editors’ need to justify their existence. As a frequent reviewer of translation, I have never had any negative feedback in writing that the translation is fine and making at most a few minor changes. I can also attest how difficult it is to switch hats from translator to editor. However, the effort of distinguishing the tasks is much less than the effort required by the all parties in the case of unnecessary rewriting. Reviewing is a fundamentally different task from translation.

Overall, I enjoyed the podcast and hope to find time to view more in the future. Both new and experienced translators and reviewers can profit from a review of the fundamentals and discussion of the specifics. The podcast reinforced the notions that translation review is a necessary, time-consuming and distinct task. Any translator can profit from listening to it in full and reconsidering their attitude and approach to proofing and editing.

* Picture captions allow the blind to fully access the Internet.

Picture credits: Pixaby

La patrie est morte, vive la patrie or Home, bittersweet home
Sun, 27 Mar 2022 06:12:00 +0000

[small house  + VW Beetle*]

According to physics, everything is constant movement, however imperceptibly in the short term. This change affects places and people alike.  Both people and their hometowns evolve over time, eventually creating a completely different locale and persona. It does not mean that the past does not leave traces but this heritage is only part of the current reality. Therefore, as a native-born American that has lived in Israel for more than half of my life, I can say that you can’t go home again but you can adopt a new home.

First, regardless of the desire of individual people, neighborhoods have their own dynamic. The ages of the residents and residences increase and decrease. The size and upkeep of the housing have their ups and downs. Stores open and close, develop and disappear and change ownership and approach. The roads change in width, smoothness and traffic load. Stop signs appear and are may be replaced by traffic lights or even disappear. Sometimes, highways and rail stations appear or are closed. A comparison of a city even after 20 years will generally show a significant transformation.

Likewise, people develop their priorities, tastes and values over time. An 18-year-old may seek accessible and exciting night life but a young parent would not want drunk people walking by at night. Clearly, purchasing habits vary over time, with the DYI store replacing the toy store over time to be replaced by a pharmacy, to name just one example. Most importantly, individual world views evolve over a lifetime. What was once considered glorious freedom may turn into complete lack of respect. It is impossible to say that we are the exact same person that we were even five years ago, not to mention twenty years ago.

Granted, our early life does leave its traces. Parental attitudes color our perception of religion and ethics. Home and local food create a strong emotional connection. Even sports retain their mark. I still enjoy watching baseball and American football. Therefore, leaving home is not total rejection of its elements.

Still, after many years abroad, visiting “home” becomes increasingly similar to stopping in a someone familiar foreign city. It is not completely alien in that we can recognize the roads and landmarks. Yet, it is foreign not only in that the place is somehow different than we remember it but in that we also gradually lose the emotional connection to it. In practical terms, I now visit my mother in Los Angeles but I do not go home. This emotional distance is somewhat disturbing but almost inevitable. A person that is not part of the daily existence of a location is not part of it. Thus, there is a sense of losing our “home”.

However, for long-term expats, that feeling is balanced by realization of a new home, the country of their immigration. Clearly, this sentiment generally does not exist in the beginning when everything is new, including behavioral morays, and established emotional connections are lacking. However, over time, a new location becomes a new home, with physical and emotional connections to the place. Not only that, immigrants eventually adopt some of the routine habits and manners of the locals, becoming one of them. In the case of Israel, I expect people to talk loudly and argue and enjoy having a large lunch but a small dinner. Even if the Israel of today is quite different than that of when I first arrived, I aged with it and maintained the connection. When asked where I am from, my first answer is Israel.

This adaption is, of course, only partial. Depending on the age of immigration, newcomers may not have not experienced many of the bonding experiences locals did, such as school or army service. Foreigners often consciously reject many local behavior elements, including clothes and manners of address. Certain phenomena will also seem incomprehensible. However, unless a person chooses to live in a total ghetto, immigrants are at least partially culturally assimilated into the population. I remember visiting a store in Los Angeles with my mother and be surprised that my mother was upset by the rudeness of the salesperson when I did not even notice it. I had already developed thick skin, apparently. Thus, immigrants, regardless of how many years they have lived in a country, are neither 100% native or foreign.

This foreign status is not necessarily negative. Seeing a society from a different point of view provides a critical, in the both positive and negative sense of the word, perspective of a society. I enjoy and appreciate many aspects of Israel that native-born Israelis take for granted or even dislike. I enjoy the openness and honesty of daily discourse, even if it is not pleasant at the moment. I appreciate the high value of life and the sense of public welfare that guides private and public behavior. Immigrants, in opting to live in a country, generally actively choose to be part of a different society, somehow creating a greater commitment to the country.

Thomas Wolve wrote You can’t home again. In one sense, he was completely correct. Once a person leaves home, an ever-increasing distance is created as the two are no longer evolving together until one day home is no longer home. On the other hand, it is possible, with sufficient will, effort and time, to create a new home where a person’s hearth and heart are. Granted, it may be quite different from the original. However, for those that never felt at home where they grew up, it is a far better place to be. That is how I feel about Israel. To paraphrase the old expression, home is dead, long live home.

* Picture captions allow the blind to access the Internet.

Picture credit: Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/jaymantri-362084/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=405876">JayMantri</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=405876">Pixabay</a>

Options for certified translation in the Hebrew-English language combination
Mon, 21 Mar 2022 10:14:00 +0000



The following explanation is true as of January 2022.

Current legal situation:

There is no official certified translation in the Hebrew – English combination either by a governmental body or translation association.  Specifically, the Israeli government does not provide any recognition to a translator or agency for such translation. Likewise, no translator association has an official test to create a category of “certified” translators, including the American Translators Association (ATA) and the ITA (Israeli Translators Association).  The closest equivalent currently existing is the certificate for “Recognized Translator” by the Israeli Translators Association, which is based on experience, education and recommendations.

Options for de facto certification:

1.       For documents required by an embassy, use a translator approved by that embassy.

2.       Have the translator add a signed statement identifying himself/herself and stating the translation is faithful. This has been generally accepted by both foreign governmental agencies and universities.

3.       Have the translator sign said statement before a notary public. For a one-page document, the current additional cost is 200 NIS plus translator time.

4.       Have the document translated by an Israeli translator that is also a notary, very few of which exist, at prices established by the government. This is the most expensive option.

Basis for choice

It is the client’s responsibility to inquire what will be acceptable.  In terms of cost, Option 2 is the least expensive followed by Option 3 and Option 4. The cost of Option 1 is unknown in advance.

My five pillars of a good manager
Sun, 20 Mar 2022 07:29:00 +0000

[temple pillars*]

In life, people experience managers of many different stripes, from awful AWOL privates to great 5-star generals. Some of us even take on team leadership tasks for periods of time with various levels of success. Regardless of the size of the staff and scope of the tasks, I see many common elements to effective leaders, including technical skill, broad prospective, emotional intelligence, courage and genuineness. Clearly, no person is naturally great at all of them but it is possible to assess and improve weak areas in order to become a truly successful executive.

[Rubik's cube]
The easiest qualification to measure in a prospective and acting manager is technical skill in the area of activity. In order to understand the process and retain the respect of the staff, a manager must know the ins and outs of the activity. It is not accidental that Japanese corporate policy was (and may still be) to post junior managers to all departments before promoting them to general manager positions as that practical knowledge allows them to understand which skills and support they must provide. Moreover, professionals respect others that can perform at a similar or higher level. Without this respect, employees tend to view superiors as outsiders.

[prairie horizon
However, specific expertise does necessarily correlate with managerial success due to the need for a global view. Unlike frontline employees, managers must balance priorities, financial and human resources and time to attain larger goals. Good enough is often the best that can be achieved. Consequently, it is the essential mission of the manager to keep an eye on the ultimate goal without overly stressing the details. Some employees naturally have this ability while others have to be coached or taught. Successful in-house manager development requires awareness of this skill.

[lion and child]
Even when the vision is present, managers require emotional intelligence to harness the talents of the active participants and motivate them. Since every human being has a different skill set, employees are not identical. The key to success to employing the best person for each task to the extent possible. Since a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, random or mistaken assignment of personnel can lead to failure. Moreover, it is often necessary to accept that a certain employee performs a task differently but still effectively. Another cause of failure is the assumption of universal motivation, generally financial. Many employees value recognition or praise just as much if not more than money and will go the extra mile if given it. A good manager of sports team or corporate department alike seeks to identify the key of each employee. People develop this intelligence to different degrees and at various ages. Ignoring this aspect of management is a recipe for failure while honing it is a key for long term success for both the manager and the company.

[leap between rocks]

A good manager is courageous. Courage is defined as the will to take the necessary action despite the fear of unpleasantness or failure. Calling in an employee to the office and criticizing poor performance is unpleasant but necessary. Firing is even more daunting, at least for most managers. In terms of self-exposure, it takes great self-confidence to admit to employees that you are responsible for a certain failure and are taking steps to prevent its reoccurrence. All managers face tasks that are emotionally difficult but the best do not run away from them but instead perform them with courage, even if nobody knows how painful or distressing it is.

[mirror face image]
Finally, a good manager is genuine. People respect leaders that do not pretend to be different than they are. No person and no manager have the same personality and set of skills. Likewise, communication style varies from person to person. Employees are willing to accept this package if they know it is real, not an act, and understand the intended message. Employees may not like their manager but will fully cooperate if they feel understand and respect the manager.

Clearly, there are many other attributes of good management, some teachable, other not. Some are clearly identifiable while others only appear under certain circumstances. People may be born with them, learn them or never learn them. However, from the perspective of an employee, the supervisors that I have most respected and worked the hardest for were those with these abilities. They are my personal pillars of a good leadership. 

* Captions help the blind access the Internet. All pictures via Pixab 

Name, the problems – a less-than-rosy situation
Sun, 06 Mar 2022 07:01:00 +0000


[A rose*]

If there is one area of translation that seems rather straightforward and simple, it is official documents. How many words are there on a certificate of birth, marriage or death? What is difficult about translating names, dates and status? Alas, translating such short documents is very demanding as all the details must reflect the source language but follow the rules of the target language, with no errors tolerated. A perfect illustration is the translation of names in French, Russian and Hebrew to English.

[French handwriting]
French conveniently uses the same letters as English but names pose a challenge in terms of their format. First, it is standard French practice to capitalize all the letters of the last name in order to distinguish it from the first and middle names, as in George CLEMENCEAU. This is quite a convenient rule but it is not applied in English. Thus, the name of the former prime minister is George Clemenceau on official British documents. On a trickier note, it is quite common to see handwritten original French official certificates, especially those issued in Africa. For those unfamiliar with the standard French loopy-loop handwriting, rather aesthetic in itself, it is often difficult to distinguish the letters especially when long African names, generally unfamiliar to Western translators, are written. I personally remember how difficult it was to read the handwriting of my mother, educated in France as she would say, in her correspondence to me in summer camp many years ago. If there is any doubt, the translator has to conduct a careful letter comparison with known words. Since every letter is important in a name, it is vital to be certain about the spelling of a name and not blindly follow the formatting of the source language.

[Russian cursive]

Russian documents also involve handwritten certificates but also include the issue of grammar cases. Even today, many clerks in the Russian Federation carefully and beautifully write out birth and marriage certificates. While as calligraphy the text may be impressive, interpreting the actual letters often requires comparison with other words. It is my practice to sit with Russian natives to have them decipher the Cyrillic hieroglyphics to ensure that I have correctly read the word. On a grammatical scale, Russian has six cases, grammatical functions, marked by suffixes. Accordingly, Ivan Ivanovich Pushkin comes out Ivana Ivanovicha Pushkina when it is a possessive, as in his child. By contrast, English has no cases, meaning that the translator must identify the name in the nominative form and use it consistently throughout the document regardless of the actual Russian form. Knowledge and due diligence are important when working with Russian certificates.

[Hebrew letters]
Hebrew poses issues due to the alphabet in terms of sound and spelling. Several letters have two pronunciation options, including bet ב (b and v), vuv ו (long uand long o) peh פ (p and f) shin ש (sh and s] and kav כ (ch and k). When the vowels are marked or the word is Hebrew, there is no problem knowing the correct form. However, in texts without vowels involving foreign names, it is actually impossible to be certain. For example, the last name in Hebrew שוף, could be Shoop, Shope, Sop. Sup, Shoof, Shofe and Shuf, to name a few.  Adding to this ambiguity the random hand of immigration clerks and immigrants with creative spelling creates complete uncertainty on how the name is actually spelled regardless of the direction of translation.  The English form of most standard last names have several options while first names are limited only by imagination. The only solution is to ask customers for clarification and remind them that the spelling should reflect that in the passport to avoid problems.

The importance of name spelling cannot be overestimated. People have had their applications for visas and Green Cards rejected because of spelling discrepancies. In official applications, short cuts make for long delays. Poor quality, home-done translations often torpedo the best laid plans. In some matters, it is best to pay a professional. After all, a rose is rose is a rose in general but in some cases, especially for governments, only if it is properly translated.

* Captions allow the blind to access the Internet.

Words and their meanings – the 2022 Israel Translators Association Conference
Sun, 27 Feb 2022 06:46:00 +0000

[row of large stones*]

Despite trying times and great uncertainty, the ITA presented its 2022 conference, online of course. Its formal moto was “Moving Forward”. However, from the presentations I was able to attend, the unifying theme was also our interaction with words. I learnt about how people, including translators, produce, interpret, regulate, visually frame and market with words. It also provided a quite affirmative answer to the question posed by the keynote speaker regarding translators and interpreters, specifically whether we are optimistic about the future of the professions.

The conference addressed one of the key issues in modern translation, specifically the possibility of coexistence of human and machine translation. Yuri Balashov correctly put the aside the emotional resistance and clearly demonstrated using MemoQ how reference to machine translation enhances the effectiveness and efficiency of human translation. In other words, he showed even ever-improving machine translation is actually a benefit to translators, not a threat. Judy Jenner in her keynote speech expressed concern and uncertainty in regards to this issue but expressed reasoned hope in the future. Even those that choose to ignore machine translation came out with food for thought.

As a linguist, I truly enjoyed the presentations on how people interpret words. Immanuel Lottem provided numerous examples of how translators and editors see the words and their context in a different light, which often leads to great frustration. On a brighter note, Rik Smits entertained listeners with his amusing breakdown on the actual meanings of curse words, which go far beyond their dictionary listing, including surprise, joy and extreme emotion. I find this profound multicultural approach illuminating and somehow encouraging as I don’t feel so bad about using choice words at specific times.

Another interesting theme was the approach to regulating the use of words. Vicky Teplitsky Ben-Saadon, The Academic Secretariat, Academy of the Hebrew Language, analyzed the general language structure of gender in pronouns, especially in the second person, and discussed the complicated situation in Hebrew, where gender not only impacts all pronouns but also verbs and adjectives. She expressed the policy that the Academy does not impose usage on users but attempts to create some order in actual use. In other words, she stated that the Academy is going to let people decide if and how to create gender inclusive forms. Amina Hassan, Science Secretary of the Academy of the Arabic Language, discussed the projects of Arabic Academy and brought up the issue of the Arabic in road signing in Israel. Not only do current signing suffer from curious spelling but it also often reflects transliteration of the Hebrew name of cities and villages, not the recognized name in Arabic, if it exists of course. As linguists, we wish the Academy success in rectifying this situation. Eitan Wellisch illustrated the approach and structure of his online dictionary and show how his site can make identifying the correct English equivalent easier as words are placed in context. I would also like to mention the presentation of Andy Benzo regarding the appeal process in the US court systems. Not only was it clearly organized but the clarity of the terminology showed the importance of precision in choice of legal vocabulary. Whether in expanding or narrowing interpretation, the conference brought out the challenges of understanding words.

Two speakers illuminated the visual aspect of words. Eyal Holtzman provided details examples of how the shape, size and location of words in letters emphasize and connect different language when they are placed on the same page. Adele Shapiro recounted the story of daemons and devils from Egyptian to modern times but in linguistic terms. She noted that the in Egypt the written script reflected the neutral as compared to negative status of demons by also displaying them as protective creatures in specific situations, not just as creators of chaos. Unlike modern languages, pictures, not letters, showed this role. It was interesting to see how non-alphabet elements impact words.

Finally, in the face of a rapidly changing business setting, there were several presentations on how translators and interpreters can use words to market themselves. Nicole Koenig explained on the manner of marketing content while I spoke about the process of writing marketing content. Mireya Perez discussed making a digital footprint. It is clear that translators and interpreters not only should use other people’s words but create their own.

My only regret about this conference was my inability to attend all lectures due to the existence of two tracks and some previous commitments. I confess to having missed all the presentations on interpreting and hope that someone can report on them. I thus apologize to those whose names I did not mention or was not more specific. Overall, the conference reinforced the need for translators and interpreters to master words in all of their dynamic movement in order to create the best translations and improve ourselves. The conference was truly about moving forward.

* Picture captions are vital in creating access for the blind.

Picture credit: Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/marcelkessler-3217273/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=4696755">marcelkessler</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=4696755">Pixabay</a>

Notes of a non-native son – to technology
Sun, 20 Feb 2022 08:12:00 +0000

["Retrain your mind"*]

I have been privileged to witness and experience the most amazing period of electronical transformation. In almost all spheres of life, the manner of accomplishing the simplest of tasks has changed fundamentally. I was born in 1961, at the start of that revolution. For writing, I learned on a manual typewriter and have used an electric and electronic typewriter, a Commadore 64 word processor, Basic based word processing systems (“…2s…” was the command for double space, I still remember), Word Perfect and other local variants until finally settling into, along with almost everybody, Word. The phone at home was a rotary dial hand unit and evolved through touch-tone phones, dumb phones and smart phones to phone watches. Banking used to involve tellers and cash and now is almost entirely digital ATM’s and applications, not to mention the gradual disappearance of paper cash. Real-time monitoring has become the norm, even in physical fitness. Applications now tell you how many steps you have taken, calories you have burned and heartbeats per minute. There seems to be an app for everything. The pace of electronic-based change in our life is extraordinary.

While my age gives me an interesting historical perspective, it renders me non-native to this technology. Specifically, I may use it, sometimes by choice, but I do not understand it intuitively nor really embrace its use. To explain, I use a computer for work and play, do my banking online, order takeout food and make restaurant reservations through sites and invoice my customers through an online service. I use MemoQ, a CAT (Computer Aided Translation) tool, and do most of my term searches online despite my extensive collection of dictionaries. I maintain communication with my teaching colleagues through WhatsApp and email and can teach on Zoom. I am clearly computer literate to a respectable degree. Still, I approach each new technological application on a need-to-know basis, absorbing only those features that I require, with no curiosity on what else can be done.

Not surprisingly, when I attend conferences (virtually lately) and workshops and hear fellow translators and educators discuss technological solutions, I am left with the feeling of inadequacy and even inferiority. These experts show how amazingly simple it is to use a specific application or software to speed up or automate professional tasks. They exhibit great knowledge and joy explaining how our lives will be improved if we use these tools. My first uncomfortable feeling is the sense of the gap between my prehistoric or at least Bronze Age methodology and that these experts so heartily recommend. However, I do not use age as an excuse and know that I am capable of learning new technologies as I have done so before. What is more disturbing is my strong internal resistance to making the jump to these more efficient tools. In blunt terms, I generally do not want to make the effort to catch up with the latest technology. I know that I am not “up to snuff” but am emotionally paralyzed to take the “necessary” steps to address that issue.

This inaction leaves me with a disconcerting feeling. On the one hand, I know that I am far more computer literate than many. In a recent questionnaire, some 25% of translators in the American Translators Association still do not use CAT tools. I also realize that life is not a competition, i.e., my happiness is not based on my ranking as compared to others. On the other hand, part of me says that I should (such an awful word) care and embrace technology with all my heart, soul and brain and that doing so will make a better professional and person. Alas, fundamentally human beings are rationalizing, not rational, creatures if given a choice. I am not native to digital technology and can at best selectively use it to meet my needs. I try to remember the words of Jacques Prévert: Je suis comme je suis; je suis fait comme ça – I am who I am; that is my nature. In most cases, I accept my imperfections quite well but, in this case, it does somewhat bother me but evidently not enough to motivate me to overcome that barrier. As in James Baldwin’s book of essays Notes of a native son, albeit to much smaller degree, I feel out a little out of place and powerless in my own society. I am almost certain that I am not alone in this feeling but that sharing only goes so far in compensation. I simply will continue to live and strive, someone uncomfortably, as a non-native.

* Pictures captions allow the blind to access the Internet.

Picture credit: Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/johnhain-352999/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=743166">John Hain</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=743166">Pixabay</a>

Keeping the power in the PowerPoint – a view from the gallery
Sun, 13 Feb 2022 07:19:00 +0000

[opera theatre*]

Presentations, in-person or virtual, must have PowerPoint slides or so it appears. It is no longer acceptable to just speak clearly and be organized. The messages need a visual crutch. While many embrace the use of this technical tool and have mastered it, many others, including experienced professionals, are not experts in PowerPoint are unsure how to best use it. My long exposure with PowerPoint is mainly through suffering through engineering student presentations. Over the years, I have had the privilege of viewing hundreds of student attempts to boost their oral presentation by adding slides, with varying degrees of success. I have also prepared quite a few PowerPoint presentations when I have lectured at various conferences. From this experience, I can state as an observer that the best PowerPoint slides use selected words to reinforce the oral message and are ideal of numbers and statistics. Furthermore, considered use of graphics, colors and fonts are vital for their success.


In choosing which words to insert in a slide, it is vital to remember that PowerPoint is the bridesmaid, not the bride. In other words, it is a serious error to insert the script of a presentation in the slides (unless the slides are for student review of the material) because people will almost always prefer to read a text than listen to a lecturer. Therefore, PDF slides should include phrases or words, not sentences, which will be orally explained in depth by the lecturer. Not only does the audience pay greater attention to the lecturer but the words on the slide reinforce the key words through wish they remember the content. If it is necessary to insert a full quote, it is advisable to limit its length or highlight the relevant parts. An additional advantage of outline style text is that it reminds lecturers of their intended content, a vital hint when preparation time is limited. PowerPoint texts should be short and specific enough to create a visual cue to the oral material.


By contrast, PowerPoint is perfect medium for numbers. Even in their native languages, listeners find it difficult to grasp numbers, even simple ones, when spoken. By contrast, it is possible to effectively provide a full set of statistics on a slide. However, it is vital for the lecturer to organize and present an interpreted set of numbers, not raw data. Listeners generally do not want to spend time analyzing statistics and expect the lecturer to have already done so. Of course, everything in moderation, including numbers. Avoid overloading the content of any single slide. This use of PowerPoint for numbers definitely adds value.


For graphics, simplicity is best to ensure that they do not overwhelm the content. It is generally not desirable to have all items appear at once on a slide as a full list causes the audience to count them down and even try to figure out when this slide will end. While PowerPoint has a wide variety of animation styles to determine how items appear, no matter how creative the use, they fail to impress after a few repetitions. Pictures can either provide essential details, such as a drawing showing the name of the parts or chart showing the action flow, or reinforce the messages by adding a visual image representing the main point of the slide. Either way, they boost the message.

[green on green]

Color and font must be appropriate. The best hue is often a matter of audience expectations and lecturer preference. However, dark text on a dark background is hard to read. Also, it is vital to keep in mind that a beautiful combination on a PC or laptop may look rather different through a projector. A good tip is to run the presentation on the actual system before the lecture. As for font, it is vital to ensure that the size and form are easy to read. Clearly, pseudo handwriting and overly ornate fonts create problems for the audience. The easiest way to check if the font is acceptable is to ask several people for their opinion. Once again, practicality is the essence.

It is not necessary to be maven on PowerPoint or graphic artist or invest copious amounts of time to produce an effective PowerPoint. By making the written text add value to the oral presentation, presenting numbers in written form and thinking about audience ease when choosing graphics and form, listeners enjoy the audio-visual performance, with the PowerPoint reinforcing the message to the gallery.

* Captions help the blind access the Internt.

All picture through Pixibay.

Hungarian obituary? – A Review of Sandor Marai’s "Metamorphoses of a Marriage"
Sun, 06 Feb 2022 07:51:00 +0000

[Bourgeois couple*]

It is not often we read a book that triggers reflections and expands our understanding of very basic but not simple matters. Such books cannot nor should be read quickly as the content is not easily digestible however worthy it may be. In fact, I took me a year to finish Metamorphoses of a Marriage (I read an excellent translation into  French by Georges Kassai and Zeno Bianu but it also has been translated into English). The pleasure in savoring this book was that it reminded me of so many different books, it is a unique recital in itself and its essence is universal both in terms of time and geography. It ultimately expands the understanding of one’s own attitudes and actions.

The story takes place in Hungary from pre-World War I to post World War II and centers around the two marriages of a grand bourgeois, the son of a very rich industrialist, to first a bourgeois and then a peasant woman, with a mysterious writer in the shadows. In terms of a structure, the leading characters tell their story individually, thus creating a three-dimensional picture of the entire saga. As the story takes place during a long and dynamic period in Hungarian history, outside events influence the drama and provide an illuminating picture of the changes in Hungary during the 20th century.  The writer also introduces a discussion of the role of literature and writers in the modern world. Therefore, as its basic level, it is a story of two failed marriages in Hungary.

When reading it, I kept on being reminded of the works of many different writers but with important differences. It reflected the flow of historical events over people’s lives as in Tolstoy’s War and Peace but Marai almost minimizes the importance of those events. The book had a similar structure to Oscar Lewis’ Children of Sanchez but none of the characters were ultimately villainized. A reader of classic Soviet realism would immediately identify the angry proletariat and evil capitalist but the characters explicitly reject those stereotypes in words and actions. It shares some of the Emile Zola’s determinism (Germinal) but the characters are not slaves to their instincts. The book shows the internal psychological drama of the characters, as Henry James did in Portrait of a Lady, but ultimately that drama is not the prime focus of this book nor are the class morays portrayed in a manner similar to Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice. Thus, Metamorphoses of Marriage encompasses a wide variety of perspectives in creating its panoramic view.

It also succeeds in expanding its relevance beyond a historical Hungarian romance. First of all, despite all the words spoken by and about them, the characters remain somehow distant and unremarkable. We know that they live in Budapest but you could meet similar characters in Paris, London or New York. They do not seem quintessentially Hungarian. Furthermore, their actions and attitudes are not deterministically defined by their class. Each character adopts an attitude towards the values of their childhood, bordering from open rebellion to full blind acceptance, and develops as these attitudes encounter changing realities. In other words, the characters choose their destiny at all times while remaining consistent to their class values. Finally, in my view, the concept of love itself goes through so many permutations that it eventually loses most of its relevance to the story. Thus, the book treats the issue of love and marriage in all of its complexity regardless of nation and time.

For that reason, Metamorphoses of Marriage is so thought provoking, creating questions about the most fundamental aspects of any relationship. Any person that has married someone from another social or national group has encountered puzzling cultural gaps in behavioral expectations and attitudes. Likewise, these mixed marriages often involve largely successful adopting of the new social rules in order to fit in and get along. At the same time, certain basic values acquired in childhood color our perspective on this new identity, both positively and negatively. “Foreigners” try to take what is beneficial from the other and retain what is comfortable from their childhood. As these characters do, we become hybrid in our relations. However, no matter how assimilated we become in a new culture, we still “smell” as we did in the nursery, a child of our environment to one degree or another. This book made me aware of this hybridization and its impact on myself and others.

I will not say that Metamorphoses of a Marriage is an easy book to read. Nor will I say that all of its elements interested me. However, I can say that it creates a deeper perspective on love, marriage and human behavior, including how they change and don’t change as circumstances evolve. Deepening our understanding of those processes can only educate us and make us more accepting of others and ourselves. Thus, I recommend this book not only because of its fascinating story but also for its penetration of the evolving human soul.

* Captions make the Internet accessible to the blind.

Picture credit: Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/no-longer-here-19203/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=1768644">No-longer-here</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=1768644">Pixabay</a>

Back and forth – the positive challenge of translation types
Sun, 30 Jan 2022 07:11:00 +0000


[Tug of war*]

Achievable challenges make for interesting work. Fundamentally, constant routine tasks are rather dulling. This week, my brain experienced the pleasure of performing two curiously different translation tasks, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon. I had accepted two week-long translations orders with similar deadlines. One was a Russian to English translation of medical questionnaires while the others was a Hebrew to English translation of a consulting contract and its appendices. The challenge was not the languages but the type of translations. The first was a back translation while the second was a forward translation.

To clarify, back translation is the process, required in many medical projects to be conducted in many languages, where the content of the proposed translation is confirmed by having the translation rendered back into a text in the original language, generally English. The producing company and contracting agency wish to confirm the content is identical to the original. In practice, the back translator must produce a text that reflects the word choice and essential meaning of the target language as well as the syntactical correctness. Consequently, the key elements are ensuring that the correct word was used and that the sentence structure reflects the intended meaning. In the case of Russian to English, this is more complicated as Russian syntax is so different from English. For example, “to me is wanted” is a weaker form of “I want”, not an absurd passive. Therefore, the back translator must thoroughly understand each word and structure and express them in the target language to the level of correctness of the source text. As a result, the resulting sentence often sounds completely unnatural and awkward, even non-sensical, in order to reflect those same characteristics of the source. That artificiality is not considered poor quality as long as the back translation completely corresponds to the content and correctness of the text.

On the other hand, forward technical translation aims to produce a seamless, i.e., native sounding, text whose content is identical to the original but form is localized for the target language and audience. The translator must fully understand the meaning, both explicit and implicit, of the text and recreate it in another language. This process involves transcreation by nature as vocabulary is not universal i.e., each language has unique words as well as specific definitions for common words, and structure, i.e., the natural manner of expressing an idea varies. Extreme loyalty to the word choice and syntax of the original text will generally result in an unsatisfactory translation to one degree or another. The ultimate test here is not only whether the content is identical but also if the text sounds natural. Therefore, the choice of words and syntax are largely at the discretion of the translator as long as the first two conditions are met.

The challenge I faced this week was far more than switching languages. It involved changing approaches. I began the morning carefully checking each term regarding which I had any doubt of its meaning, often placing English equivalent in a “clunky” manner in an English sentence, and then comparing the original and back translation to make sure I was accurate no matter how unnatural it sounded. In the afternoon, I had to focus on the English and strive to produce a natural equivalent of the sentence to be translated. carefully considering how much freedom I had taken. I was far more concerned about the choices of the English version than applying the Hebrew structure. I have to admit that this change of thinking did not occur instantaneously each day but required a little effort and reminding of myself during the first few sentences that I was working on a different project. While both tasks were technically translation, they were in a certain sense quite different.

At the end of each day, I felt quite tired but satisfied. On the one hand, it apparently takes additional mental effort to change approaches. On the other hand, I found it fascinating to gain a deeper awareness of the differences of the two types of translations as it is rare that I work on two large projects at the same time. (Being male, I find it difficult to  focus on more than one task at a time.) I enjoyed the contrast between the projects. It felt that I was working in two completely different worlds. In work, variety is the spice of life especially if it expands your understanding.

* Pictures captions allow the blind to fully access the Internet.

Picture credit: Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/dehaasbe-24609490/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=6947572">Benoît DE HAAS</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=6947572">Pixabay</a>

Explanation and communication – Helping customers understand price
Sun, 23 Jan 2022 08:40:00 +0000

[Man explaining smartphone*]

“I thought it was simple.” That sentence is from a phone conversation with a prospective buyer of translation this week. That same perception is shared by buyers of countless services in the market. They know what they want but are completely ignorant of the process. To clarify, the vast majority are not interested in knowing any or all of the details but would like and often need to know how the process affects the price and delivery time. As an example, I present three customer dialogues and the results, demonstrating the importance of respectful customer education.

My first correspondence was with an institutional client that required translation of a series of long documents, most of which were in PDF or Excel form. Translating them in a CAT (Computer Aided Translation) tool requires processing of the PDFs, often a long process. After estimating the total number of words, I provided a total quote, as is my policy, but added that the cost reflected both the repetitions of the numbers in the Excel files but also the time investment required to work with the PDF (formatting back and forth) and Excel (QA). Within minutes, I received the Word version of the PDFs, which gave me the exact number of words. I provided a revised quote, significantly lower. Both of us were happy as it reduced my time investment and their cost.

An agency asked whether I would accept a “half minimum” for a translation of a small number of words. It would have been natural to express annoyance regarding this oxymoron. Instead, the answer was to explain that a minimum fee also reflects the time invested in correspondence, preparing the text and invoicing. Fortunately, this project manager accepted this justification with humor and understanding, improving the relationship and hopefully preventing such requests in the future.

Finally, the bewildered first-time buyer of translator mentioned above received some simple clarifications. I explained that the time required to complete a translation is based on the number of words the average translator can translate in a day. I clarified that the English words count is between 1.4 and 1.5 times the Hebrew word count, which she had sensed intuitively. I added that QA of long texts takes times and requires many breaks, to which she could relate to a writer. Thus, she received enough information to make an intelligent decision while I improved my chances of attaining the project.

The point is the customer education, done properly, creates a win-win situation for both the customer and the service provider. It is not a waste of time as the vast majority of buyers know nothing of the service process. Whether in translation or any other service field, providing relevant information is beneficial for both parties as it makes matters mutually much simpler. 

* Captions are vital for Internet access to the blind.

Picture credit: Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/useche70-11527325/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=6733008">Manuel Alvarez</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=6733008">Pixabay</a>

Is the “good enough” business model still good enough?
Mon, 17 Jan 2022 10:47:00 +0000

[Boris Badanov*]

When I visit Los Angeles, I stay at a motel that has nothing fancy about it. It has a small lobby, lacks a restaurant or bar and “boasts” a view of Ventura Boulevard. On the other hand, the room is large, comes with a comfortable bed and faces the parking lot, i.e., no noise. This motel is also half the price of the hotel chains and is run by a very friendly and helpful couple. In other words, the motel is not great but is a good enough for me.

On a larger scale, one of the classic and most successful business models of 20th century was mass production “good enough”. Consumers were more than satisfied by a product of medium quality if they received it quickly and at a relatively low price. The best examples are in the fields of cars, food and housing. Of course, specific conditions created the perfect environment for the massive success of simple and inexpensive products. Curiously, the original appliers of this strategy have long dropped it, raising the question whether the approach is valid in this century.

The concept of a producing a standard product inexpensively and quickly was successfully implemented in cars, food and housing, among other fields. The Ford Model T simply dominated the market. Customers could buy better-built cars with more options but chose the pedestrian Ford black Model T because of its price and functionality. Likewise, hamburger restaurants had existed for decades but the original, massively successful McDonald’s concept was to provide a decent, standard hamburger quickly and inexpensively, reducing costs by simplifying the menu to basic items that could be produced in a few minutes without the need to customize each order. The post-World War II building boom opened the door to prefabricated housing using woods, drywall and cement as countries and private companies built millions of units of affordable basic housing for growing and sometimes homeless populations. They were not fancy or even sturdy but were grabbed up as soon as soon they were finished. While none of these products were fancy or even particularly well made, they were undoubtedly huge financial successes in their time.

The reason for this success was a combination of expensive alternatives, growing demand and customer expectation. In 1919, the alternatives to the Model T were unreliable internal combustion cars, expensive electrical vehicles and awkward steam-powered vehicles while the early McDonalds thrived in the face of non-chain, full-service diners with much greater costs. As for housing, traditional urban housing construction used mainly brick, wood or stone, which required more time to build and, thus, was more expensive. Growing demand clearly fed the demand for these markets. Americans fell in love with the automobile and the freedom it created. The post-war economic boom created the discretionary income to allow people with average income to eat at restaurants on a regular basis. Various government subsidies and discounted loan rates allowed young couple to purchase their first flats and houses. As for expectations, the first generation of buyers was thrilled to receive a reasonable product at a reasonable price and could not afford the luxury options. Thus, the “good enough” model thrived in a fertile market.

Most interestingly, most companies that took off using this approach subsidies have evolved in the opposite direction. For examples, even the most functional types of vehicles, vans and pickups, come with numerous options, free or at additional cost. No automobile manufacturer advertises “we have one model: take it or leave it”. Likewise, the fast-food chains, from McDonalds to KFC, boast complicated menus even in their specialty. It is hard to understand and pick which hamburger or chicken option to order due to the incredible range of options. In housing, the term “cookie cutter” today is derogatory and implies that a given house is similar to countless others. Many buyers now seek “character” (which in the UK seems to mean wooden beams in the ceiling). A 2-bedroom bungalow circa the 1950’s is considered undesirable by many. In fact, it is quite difficult to find any company today applying the simplified approach used by leading companies in the 20th century.

Looking at the conditions that created the success for this pioneering and successful approach, I am convinced that some enterprising small company will use the same technique in the future to create an empire. Clearly, many basic goods are priced very high for low and even average income consumers. At the same time, world population and, even more important, the number of people with disposable income will likely increase. The major issue is how many consumers will be satisfied with a functional project without bells and whistles. It is clear that expectations of aesthetics, performance and status influences buying decisions. Somehow today having the same car, eating the same food and living in the same house layout as all your neighbors are considered undesirable. There may be such a product out there but I was unable to think of any.  It will be interesting to see how this innovating entrepreneur will overcome the current sentiment that good-enough is bad-enough (as Bullwinkle would say).

* Caption pictures to help the blind fully access the Internet.

Picture from the Wikipedia site.

Last respects to a (my ex) founding father (in-law)
Sun, 09 Jan 2022 07:32:00 +0000

[Silver platter*]

There is an axiom unknown to most people getting married that you also marry your partner’s family. I can add that divorce is similar, for better or worse. This week, I learned with great sadness of the death of my ex-father-in-law, Yoel Bashani. He was one of the thousands of Jews that dedicated their lives to the establishment and survival of the State of Israel and paid a high price for that choice. I had the privilege of knowing him for some 20 years.

Yoel Bashani was born in 1927 in Irbil, Iraq to a family whose long tradition was that the oldest son become a rabbi. He rejected this path and instead becoming a Zionist. He guided groups of Jewish families to Israel through the wilderness to Israel until he was arrested. He then awaited execution of his sentence until he was ultimately released and sent to Israel. After fulfilling his dream of working in agriculture in a kibbutz, he became a leading Arabic interpreter in the General Security Services, attaining the civiliian rank equivalent to brigadier general in the military. He served many years in the south of Israel, far from his home in the North and later worked closer to home as he approached retirement. He dedicated his active life to the survival of Israel.

This choice brought him great satisfaction and came at a terrible personal price. He was away from his family most of the week for the many years he worked in the field. Later, he became a loving grandfather as my daughter and his other grandchildren can attest. From day one, he accepted me as his son, which is the most any son-in-law can ask. He was not a great conversationalist but his words had weight and wisdom. A man of principle, he would tell you the truth, both rare finds in this world. His smile was warm and genuine. While principles do not make for an easy life, I always respected and liked him for his integrity.

The American founding father John Adams wrote “I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy…” Yoel Bashani, like many of his compatriots, gave his children and grandchildren the privilege of not studying war and politics. It was a honor to have known a founding father and be respected by him. May his memory be respected and his soul rest in peace.

* Picture captions allows the blind to fully access the Internet.

Picture via  png.com.