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SSL certificate

The nature of this site is essentially informative, and I don’t ask customers to fill in any forms. All the same I felt it wise, and perhaps reassuring, to install a security certificate here. From now on you should see the famous padlock on the address bar, and see that the full URL is now “https://wilding-translation.com/”.

DIY Brexit blow

Laughably enough, Britain is trying to do things for itself. In an ironic blow, DIY enthusiasts who want to use Bosch equipment now face a Brexit hurdle.

I am in the middle of translating a sales leaflet that recommends the use of certain Bosch tools to assemble a piece of furniture. Going to the Bosch website to check my terminology, I note that:

due to the current situation, Bosch are unfortunately unable to deliver to Great Britain at this time. They are very sorry for the inconvenience.

What fun it is, being a third country!


Perpetual Motion Patent Application

Just so that we can remind ourselves that patents are not always what they are cracked up to be, I could not resist throwing light on US 20120161564 A1, which declares itself to be a “Device and Method for Recycling Energy”. Let me quote part of the opening paragraph directly:

“The device includes a battery, motor, and generator. The battery powers an electric motor, which in turn powers the generator, which then simultaneously re-charges the battery and powers external equipment. With this feedback loop, the system sustains itself, while at the same time powering an external device, and requires no fuel or connection to an external power source to recharge the batteries.”

In other words, it’s a perpetual motion machine. A young would-be technologist should be well aware by the age of about 14 that this can not fly. We can rest assured that the application will never be granted – I think the term we would see is something like “conflicts with established physical principles”.

But I can’t help but wonder how it came into being. I looked for clues, like a priority date of April 1, and I put the applicants names into anagram finders to see if they came up with something like “ha ha fooled you”, but failed to find anything. Is it a student prank?

New look website

Refreshing this website, simple as it is, was overdue. Most of my customers, actual or potential, I’m sure, would be looking at the website on some kind of desktop screen, so perhaps being mobile-friendly is not that important, but these days it seems really old-fashioned not to be mobile-friendly. But these changes are always a fiddle, so I had been putting it off.

But with a change of hosting service, moving from Australia to Europe, something went wrong in an admittedly very small corner of the presentation. I decided to bite the bullet: the website is not complicated, by any stretch of the imagination, so it’s now got a new theme, a new look, and been slightly reorganised.

The content is almost unchanged, although I have clarified the best ways of getting in touch with me. The biggest change is to the note on my availability. Years ago I had tried to use a twitter-feed to update it, but for one reason or another that only worked sometimes. At that time it was a “widget” in the right-hand sidebar, and when I abandoned the Twitter-based method I left it where it was. But with the more modern presentation, the “right-hand” sidebar can equally well appear underneath. I’m trying to follow the motto of “don’t make your readers think,” so it now has its own page, and that page has an entry on the menu which is easy to find. You can also directly bookmark that page to use for quick reference, if you like.

Less tangibly, I think it just looks nicer now. The header picture by the way is a Birmingham skyline, and I must confess that I nicked the original from the Birmingham Post and Mail before doctoring it for my purposes. If that august publication has any objection, I’ll find something else!

Counting words or characters (again)

To charge by the word, or by a character-based measure? The “line” of 55 keystrokes is of course the one I use, but there are other systems – it should be possible to convert precisely through a simple multiplication.

Why mention it again? Because on a recent large job I noticed that the translation process sent the word count up by no less than 35%, representing an uncertainty that neither the client nor the translator is likely to be comfortable with. Contrast this with the character-based measure of size. Measured that way, the text also changed size. It shrank. By well under 1%. I suggest that neither the client nor the translator is likely to be troubled by that.

No, I am not happy to charge by the “source word” for unseen texts

I have recently again been asked by an agency for my rate, which they require expressed “per source word”. For those of you who can read German there was a good discussion of this matter at the site of agency Intra. It is no longer hosted there, but I got a copy from the wayback machine, and put it here.

Let me say that I do understand that agencies need to know, in advance, what a freelancer is likely to charge for a given translation. We freelancers are, I think, sensible if we reserve the right to modify this on site of the actual text, just as we really must reserve the right to decline any job when we have actually had an opportunity to see the relevant files. But it is a commercial reality that agencies need to be able to estimate what a particular translator is almost certain to charge for a given job.

There was a time when the publishing world thought of the “word length” of, let’s say, a newspaper article as a purely nominal estimate, based on a double-spaced typed page, with an average of 10 (English) words per line, 30 lines per page. The typewriter wrote at 10 characters per inch, and that was that. Because the actual, precise word count is constantly available from your word processor, people have adopted the idea of using this as a measure of the “size” of a given text. But, as any agency with any experience of German should know, this is a very bad idea when it comes to measuring German. The problems are easy to see.

Firstly, I leave aside the issue of quoting for work simply on the basis of the quantity of text, ignoring questions of complexity, subtlety or style. There are things to be considered there, but for this article I will assume that we are dealing entirely with run-of-the-mill texts, typical for what a particular translator or particular agency handles.

The most obvious point is that German is positively famous for its long collocations, written without spaces to form a single word. People who don’t know the language sometimes think that it is a particular difficulty of German: “oh, all those long, long words.” In fact, of course, it is just something you quickly get used to. Let’s take a couple of examples.

We begin with something very simple: the source text says “Ich bin Alex”, and our translator summons their skill to convert this to English: “I am Alex”. Three words, in each case, and no obvious problem.

Next, we are translating a patent, written in German, for a new and inventive hairbrush. As is typically the case with patents, the document will probably not call it a “hairbrush”, to exclude the possibility that a competitor will come along with something very similar and say: “oh, but ours isn’t a hairbrush, it’s a multi-row comb, so your patent doesn’t cover it.” For this reason they will be likely to have an expression such as, “a hair alignment device, such as a hairbrush or comb”. It sounds comical, but there are good reasons for it. So our German text refers to a “Haarausrichtungsgerät”. As I say, not as strange as it might look, because “Haar” refers to our hair “Ausrichtung” is alignment, and a “Gerät” is a device. (This is, by the way, a joke – as far as I know “Haarausrichtungsgerät” is not a real German word. But it could be!)

Now if we measure these texts by the “target word”, things are bad enough. If we do that, we are saying that the amount of work, skill, and so on involved in translating “hair alignment device” is exactly the same as that involved in translating “I am Alex”. Clearly not true. If, however, we base our charging on the number of characters, we have 21 characters as against 9 characters, and we would be saying that the translation of the long phrase is worth a bit more than twice as much as the short phrase. You might argue that the factories too high, you might argue that it is too low, but at least it is a factor, and it recognises the fact that the first phrase is longer and more complex than the second.

If, however, you want to measure by the “source word”, things are even worse. For the reasons described above, agencies will naturally want to work on the basis of the source text, because they want to know in advance what you are likely to charge. Commercial reality again – in its way, it’s fair enough. But what happens here is that we end up saying that “Haarausrichtungsgerät” is only one word, and therefore that the translation of “I am Alex” is three times as difficult, and justifies a payment three times higher than the translation of “hair alignment device”. This is no longer merely “bad enough” – it is downright ludicrous.

The solution is simple. With one click of the mouse I can see the number of characters in my text. When working in Word it’s at the bottom left-hand corner of the window. “Characters (with spaces)” is what it says. You can use this directly, but the numbers tend to be large. More conveniently, and conventionally, you can divide it by 55 and get the number of “standard lines”. Asking for advanced pricing based on counts of the number of German words is highly unsatisfactory. To my mind it suggests that an agency who wants to do this may be lacking in experience.

Taking about 1 million recently translated words from my database, I see that on average I write almost exactly five English words for every four German words, but the length in characters tends to be usually within 1% or so of the source. In fact my translation is more often marginally shorter than the original than marginally longer. The problem, of course, is not that the average German word is longer than the average English word, but that the spread of lengths is much higher, and that the really long words tend to occur in texts that are, in any case, more complex and difficult to understand and require a more specialised vocabulary to express in English.


Why you should use a proper translator

A perfect example from “My Switzerland” and the German version.

Read the first, and you may think that the Swiss are being refreshingly honest when they introduce “The city of Zug, well-known for its steep taxes…”, although you’d think they would at least quietly ignore that flaw. Read the second, and you will hear of “Die Stadt Zug, bekannt durch die tiefen Steuern”. Ahh, “low” taxes, not steep ones!

Machine translation? Or just poor quality? Perhaps the taxes are so very low, they had no money to pay for a proper translator!

I am asking them for comment, and will report.