A Translator’s Guide to Building a Website

I recently gave a talk to translation students at Dublin City University on how to set up and build your own website. For translators, having a website is pretty essential these days but many people think it’s a lot more complicated than it actually is. This presentation breaks the process into a number of fairly simple steps. I hope you find it useful.


Update: I gave a modified version of this talk at the
Irish Translators’ & Interpreters’ Association CPD session on starting out in the translation industry on 21 September 2013. You can download the presentation slides here.



Localisation – When Language, Culture and Technology Join Forces

First published as: Byrne, Jody (2009) “Localisation – When Language, Culture and Technology Join Forces”. Language at Work, Issue #5

When you switch on your computer and type up a letter, what language do you see? What about when you visit a website or play a computer game? Does your mobile phone speak your language? Chances are that each of these technological marvels of the modern age communicates with you in your own language. For many of us, this is so commonplace and seamless that we hardly give it a moment’s thought but behind the scenes there is a whole industry dedicated to making sure that technology bridges the gap between language and culture without you even noticing.

Once upon a time, if you wanted to use a computer for whatever reason, you had to be able speak English. The alternative was a tedious process of trial-and-error using a dictionary and your powers of deduction. The reason for this is that Personal Computers were originally developed in the sunny, English-speaking climes of Silicon Valley in the USA where engineers and programmers concerned themselves with producing the next technological break-through. Back in the 1980s it never occurred to companies that there could be people in the world who did not speak English, or worse, who, even though they spoke English, actually preferred to speak their own languages. Over time, however, companies realised that in order to break into foreign markets and maximise profits, they would have to provide foreign language versions of their software rather than expect those pesky foreigners to learn English.

And so, once software was developed it was sent back to the developers who were told to “translate” it into whatever languages were required according to the company’s sales and marketing goals. Developers were less than enthusiastic about this, naturally. After all, they had done their job and now they were expected to do even more work which, strictly speaking was not their job. What’s more, because individual products, like languages, had their own peculiarities, customs and conventions, the process of translating the software was often time-consuming, incredibly complex and not always successful. One way of describing this process is to imagine baking a fruit cake and then being told afterwards to remove the raisins from it!

Read the rest of this article on the Language at Work website…


Believing the technology hype…

These days it seems technology is everywhere. Just the other day, the bin in our local foodcourt, having been somehow instilled with a technological soul, thanked me for dumping my half-eaten cheeseburger into it.

Thank you for eating me. Sorry about the cholesterol!

Thank you for eating me. Sorry about the cholesterol!

I’ve always been a big believer in technology and there was a time when I would dump a perfectly good mobile phone because a newer, shinier one with more bells and whistles came out and I would buy gadgets just because they were new and revolutionary. I even taught myself MIDI programming because Roland launched a synthesiser that you could play with a guitar. The epitome of what industry types call an “early adopter” I was always first in line to try out some new piece of software or some such gizmo but lately I’ve found myself suffering from technology fatigue and I’m starting to question exactly how useful all of this technological gimmickry really is.

Although people seem to assume I do, I don’t have an iPhone and have no plans on getting one because I really don’t need or want one (they’re far too trendy for my liking and I’m not that much of a sheep) and can’t be bothered learning how to use something that I’ll probably break and have to replace in 6 months anyway. I don’t use Twitter because I can’t see the point and if I’m honest, my ego doesn’t need that much of a boost and my stalker tendencies haven’t developed to that level yet (although I do use Facebook and Myspace, shame on me). I refuse to get a Sky+ box (Tivo for you Americans) although I did dabble with digital radio before it inexplicably died in a splutter of electronic epilepsy. I’m not sure whether my newly emerging Luddite nature is because I’m getting older (bah!) or because I’m getting cynical but either way I’m increasingly sceptical about gadgets billed as absolutely essential.

The proliferation of technology does seem pretty unstoppable in virtually every area of our lives and translation is no exception. We are constantly told that in order to keep up with the competition and attract those high-value projects we simply have to embrace ever more sophisticated technologies. Of course with a few exceptions, none of this technology comes cheap. But then again, if we are to believe the promises of increased productivity, improved quality and consistency, customer satisfaction, world peace and an end to hunger isn’t it worth it?

In translation, the mantra among those in the know is that nobody can realistically expect to work as a translator without technology. I’m a whole-hearted believer in this. I can’t imagine a translator not using a PC, not translating directly onto the screen by overwriting the source text). But is all this technology going too far? Lots of people I know hate translating with TM tools such as Trados or Deja Vu because it spoils the enjoyment of translating and if I’m honest, I’m not a big fan of translating with them either and there is at least one study that I know of which shows that TM tools can actually damage the quality of texts. There’s also the fact that I now automatically factor in an additional hour or two at the end of a translation project to fix whatever unforeseen and unpredictable calamity will invariably befall my leading tag-based translation memory tool. Terminology management tools, too, may be useful but unless someone sends you a ready-made database you can waste so much time creating one that it’s just not worth the effort. So for all the promises and hype, you have to wonder whether the technology really does help us as translators.

I feel something of a hypocrite because I teach technologies to my students and hammer home the importance of it yet I have my misgivings about the tools.

TranslatorBot 3000™ - Upgrade Now!

TranslatorBot 3000™

The technology companies, however, seem desperate to try and fuel this obsession with technology by churning out update after update and new product after new product even if what they are offering doesn’t seem to really offer anything new, worthwhile or even useful. You get the impression that the people pushing for more technology in translation won’t be happy until they we’ve been turned into translating cyborgs, one and the same with our computers. But dig beneath the surface gloss and you’ll find that what they are offering in many cases is a way of dealing with the increased workload and problems which their products themselves have caused. Just look at some of the latest releases which were supposed to add new features but which have been so buggy that translator forums are filled with frustrated users’ stories and people are being advised to wait until a service pack is released.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that software and other types of technology are just tools. They are supposed to help you do something else. They’re a means to an end, not and end in themselves. You should only use something because you need to, because it will help you do your job better or more easily not because you think you should because of some mercurial promise of everlasting revenue by a software company. Buying something simply because it’s new or because the company makes a fuss over some new feature or other (possibly because they want to boost their cash-flow to see them through the recession and which in reality provides very little benefit to the ordinary translator) is a waste of time, money and precious sanity. The long and the short of this technology business is don’t believe the hype, do your research and buy what you need. And if you do need to indulge in frivolous purchases, buy a guitar, a vocoder,  a remote control helicopter or a robot.


Are translators too reliant on the Internet?

I had a strangely unsettling experience over the weekend which has left me a little concerned for the future of translation and possibly even the world as we know it.  OK, maybe not the world, just translation. What happened? I couldn’t access the Internet! Yep, my ISP decided that the day I started on a large medical translation was the day they would shut down half of their network for “essential maintenance”. Typical!

A drug-eluting coronary stent

A drug-eluting coronary stent

So there I was, ready to start working on a medical text (on coronary stents and aortic aneurysms no less) and about to do my usual ritual of spending some time scanning the web for parallel texts and clarifying the meanings of unusual terms, but not this time. After the initial indignation bordering on rage at the fact that I couldn’t get online, this indignation gave way to unease. What if there was term I didn’t know? How would I find out how to translate it?  Now I have dozens of general and specialised dictionaries at hand and over 12 years experience as a translator so there really wasn’t anything to worry about but not having Internet access, and more specifically no Google, knocked me sideways and it took me a good half hour to regain my composure.

Google has helped reinforce my belief that translators shouldn’t put too much faith in dictionaries because they are often out of date and won’t tell you which of the various synonyms is correct. On top of that they rarely tell you how to use a particular word; the style and general language usage of certain genres of texts often being every bit as important as the specialised terms they contain. (I have to confess that I have been known on occasion to advise students to forget about paper dictionaries and use Google instead because parallel texts in particular are the only way to go when translating.) But Google has also made researching subjects much faster – or at least it seems that way. You mightn’t really find the answer any sooner but you’ll plough through a lot more material looking for it in the same time. I think I’ve gotten used to the fact that with access to Google, you can find the answer to any question providing you know how to search and more importantly, how to separate the wheat from the chaff in search results and you can do this much more quickly than nipping down to the local public library. There’s also a certain reassurance that comes from simply knowing it’s there.

This begs the question of whether we (I’m assuming it’s not just me who’s been affected by this) have become too dependent on the Internet. Yes it’s amazingly useful and fast, and yes it helps us to access enormous amounts of resources but what would happen to us as translators if we woke up one morning in an apocalyptic post-Internet age where Luddites danced through the streets rejoicing at the fact that there was no Internet and no search engines, iPhones, netbooks or online databases? Would we have become so reliant on the Internet that we would have forgotten how to do translation the old-fashioned way (”acoustic translation” for want of a better term – ok that’s probably not as funny as it sounds in my head). Would the quality of translations suddenly plummet? Would translators simply sit there, bewildered and at a complete loss as to where they should start?

Or am I just getting my undergarments knotted over nothing? Is lamenting the good old days when translators used pens and paper and the occasional carrier pigeon and never resorted to such demon-possessed trickery as the interweb the same as yearning for the “make-do” days when people could darn socks, use an abacus or wash half a dozen kids with one bathful of water? Useful skills maybe but, let’s be honest, not particularly desirable or likely ever to come back into fashion. Was translation “purer”, more honest and more difficult back then? Who knows?

As for my translation, I finished it on time and my subject knowledge of the area and old-fashioned paper dictionaries came through in the end… it just took a little longer to get started.


Translation and the Internet: Changing the Face of an Industry

First published as: Byrne, Jody (2007) Translation and the Internet: Changing the Face of an Industry. Ian Kemble (ed.) (2007) Translation Technologies & Culture. Portsmouth: University of Portsmouth, pp.23-34

Abstract: The purpose of this paper is to discuss the impact of technology on translation from the point of view of a freelance translator and translator trainer. In particular, it will examine the role of the Internet on the way we train translators as well as the way translators find work and produce translations. The paper will look at the role of the Internet as a source of work and show that in addition to changing how we translate, it has also changed what we translate. These changes in turn necessitate a significant reassessment of the way educators prepare translators for professional life. The paper will also discuss the challenges and opportunities the Internet presents for the training of translators. Continue reading