[Transcript] ATA Continuing Education Series Podcast – Episode 13 – Financial Translation Tips and Tricks

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Episode 13: Financial Translation Tips and Tricks with Amanda Williams

Angela Benoit: Hello, and welcome to the continuing education series, a podcast produced by the French Language Division of the American Translators Association as a benefit for our members and those interested in joining us. Our series strives to offer educational content about the craft of French-to-English and English-to-French translation and about our division. I’m your host, Angela Benoit, and it is my pleasure today to welcome Amanda Williams of Mirror Image Translations. Amanda is an ATA-certified French-to-English translator. She specializes in corporate communications, accounting, finance, and international trade. And, as a bonus, Amanda and I are recording this podcast together over a cup of tea in beautiful Annecy. Amanda, welcome!

Amanda Williams: Thank you so much for having me!

AB: Thank you so much for being here! So, we are going to discuss this series of financial terms that all have one thing in common. Their translation is not what a lay person would have expected it to be, and I believe we are going to see just incollable Amanda is at financial terminology. Now, before we get started, would you like to tell us a little bit about the universe of a financial translator?

AW: Yeah, so, when Angela first reached out to me to ask me to do this podcast, I started thinking about what I wanted to talk about, and it turns out what I originally had put together was not what you talk about on this podcast.

AB: Uh oh! [laughter].

AW: But Angela was super nice and said, “Hey! Why don’t we just throw that into the introduction? So, we’re going to start by going over something a little different, and it’s really what I like to call “How to Do Financial Translation Right.” Instead of pitfalls and tricks, I want to going to talk about how to do it right.

AB: And that is super important. You do want to do it right. [laughter]

AW: How to be better, okay?

AB: Yes, yes.

AW: So, just so I don’t waste all that original work I put together.

AB: Oh, no, no, no! It was great! We just had to bring the nerdiness back, but we’ll get there.

AW: Alright, so, I want to talk about some tips. Consistency, as a financial translator, is essential. Sometimes we get so focused on the section we’re doing, and sometimes, you know, if you’re translating a document de référence or a document de base, or shareholder meeting notices, CSR reports, you know these huge reports that can be five or six hundred pages long, and you’re working on a 50,000-word section, it might seem like you’re doing the whole thing, but you’re not. You’re only doing a small section, and you might be consistent in that one section you’re doing, but you’ve got to think about the whole big picture. So, consistency, both in what you’re working on and the big picture, is just key. And then, also, client terminology is more important than you think. We all have our favorite words, words that we like more than others, but what we like isn’t important. What the client likes is what is important.

AB: Mmhmm.

AW: So, we have to make sure that, as translators, we understand what our client’s corporate voice and corporate culture is, and that we are accurately transmitting that into what we’re writing. And then, this seems basic, but I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen the opposite in, you know, reviewing, revising, and just looking at other reports over time. Little things like dialects, not being consistent through a report, not only with spelling but tiny little things like the UK says “as at” with the date, and we say “as of” instead of “as at,” things like that.

AB: Which I tripped over in the preparation of this podcast. I thought it was a typo.

AW: Yeah, you know, I didn’t like it when I first saw it, but I had to get over it. “As at 31 December,” they just say that, okay.

AB: There you go.

AW: But you’ve got to keep those things consistent and keep them in mind, not just for your section, but the entire report, right?

AB: Mmhmm.

AW: And, not getting caught up in translating everything exactly how it is in the French. Yes, we’re crunching through a lot of volume, but you still have to translate things like they’re supposed to be translated. You know, we put verbs with the rest of the clause. We don’t break things up as much as they do in French. You know, you rearrange sentences, as needed.

AB: Mmhmm.

AW: So, it’s important to remember to do those type things even if you’re crunching out 3,000-plus words a day, and, if you don’t have any experience in business, accounting, or finance, then don’t translate about business, accounting, or finance. And we’ll go over that in a little bit more detail later on. [laughter]

AB: We’re going to find out exactly how it’s possible to trip up and make mistakes, just for lack of knowledge and lack of experience, and, you know, it’s… we need great financial translators, but we need those financial translators to go out and gain that experience, I think.

AW: Yes, yes.

AB: In the real world, before they attempt to do the very difficult exercise that we’re going to be doing now. And I get the easy job. I’m so lucky. I’m going to throw out some financial terms, which I did not find. Amanda found them for me. I’m going to throw them into the air, and Amanda’s going to tell us what they mean, and how we translate them, and also how we do not translate them. So, I think our first one is relatively easy. Are we ready to get started?

AW: Yeah, let’s do it.

AB: Okay, here we go. Let’s talk about “les procédures de contrôle interne.”

AW: It’s funny, because you’d think that the knee-jerk translation would be to translate it as it looks, but it’s not. What I see all the time is that people translate this as “internal audit procedures,” but you really actually should translate this as “internal control procedures.” Sarbanes–Oxley is the reason why. And what that means is the SEC started requiring small companies to document their internal control procedures over financial reporting back in 2007. And, so, companies are required now to put together internal control procedures showing that they have control over their financial reporting, and the term “internal control procedures,” in fact, has kind of leaped over into other domains as well. Back in my prior career as a trade compliance manager, I had to create and implement internal control procedures for customs compliance as well.

AB: Wow.

AW: So, it is a term that you use in industry, and it’s not, nine times out of ten, it’s not going to be audit, it’s going to be internal control.

AB: Okay.

AW: But we think of “contrôle” being “audit,” and, generally speaking, it’s not.

AB: No. Is this because the “contrôle,” the control procedures happen inside the company and the audit would be from an external party coming in and auditing?

AW: Yeah, and sometimes companies do internal audits as well, but in this context, they’re talking about control. Like, do you know what’s going on in your company. Do you have procedures in place that show and document how you handle and manage risk, how you handle and manage your reporting, you know, and your finances, things like that.

AB: And, as translators, we’re told so many times that “control” is not “contrôle” and “contrôle” is not “control.”

AW: Right.

AB: You’re almost tempted to go and find something else just to not use it, and this is the one time.

AW: Right.

AB: This is the one time.

AW: Tricky!

AB: Yup, very tricky. Alright, next up. We actually have a small family of terms that go together. Now in preparing for this episode, Amanda mentioned to me the IFRS. And I had to sheepishly go look it up, because I had no idea what she meant. I didn’t want to admit that to her. It stands for “International Financial Reporting Standards,” and we’ll put that up on the website for those of you who are interested and going to look it up so you don’t have to scramble for a pen just right now. So, let’s take a look at a few IFRS terms. We’re going to start with “secteur opérationnel.” What is this, and what do we do with it?

AW: So, this is just one of those terms, you know, you’re not going to use the word “sector,” you’re going to call this an “operating segment.”

AB: Okay then. I would have had no idea.

AW: It’s what it is.

AB: I would not have known to look at the IFRS for lack of knowing of their existence. Okay, next up we have “participation ne donnant pas de contrôle.”

AW: That’s called a “noncontrolling interest.” It used to be called a “minority interest,” but a few years ago the IFRS said, “Nope, we’ve changed our mind. We don’t want to call it minority interest anymore, we’re going to start calling it “noncontrolling interest,” so, over the past few years, we’ve had to start pushing clients who have been reluctant to change from “minority interest” to “noncontrolling interest,” and say, “Alright, guys, IFRS doesn’t want us to use this word anymore. We’re going to have to start using “noncontrolling interest.” So, little by little, we have to get customers on board with the correct terminology.

AB: And this is the translator pushing the client to use their own industry-specific terminology.

AW: Yeah.

AB: That’s amazing.

AW: If you want to be a good translator, you go, you go…

AB: …the extra mileage. You have to know that before your client even knows it.

AW: Right.

AB: That’s outstanding. The next one, it sounds simple, but wait until you hear the proper way to translate it: “immobilisation corporelle.” What happens here?

AW: So, I see this a fair amount of time. The term in translation for “immobilisation incorporelle” is “intangible asset.”

AB: Okay.

AW: So, one would think that “immobilisation corporelle” is “tangible asset.”

AB: Mmhmm.

AW: But, the good old IFRS says that this should really be “property, plant, and equipment.” That’s the proper accounting term for this word in French.

AB: And if you are not intimately familiar with the IFRS, you would completely… that one would fly over my head. I would have not gotten that right in a million years.

AW: Yeah.

AB: And then, you take an English–French translator, and… “propriété, plante et équipement…”? Euh, pardon, “propriété, usine et équipement.” [laughter] You have to be able to figure that one out in either direction. That one’s amazing. I can’t believe I just said “propriété et plante.” And we can’t go back and erase that. It’s immortalized. It’s not immobilized, but it’s immortalized.

AW: Okay.

AB: Our next term is right up there with the “contrôlé/control” question. We hear it everywhere, to say everything, but in the financial universe, “activité” means something very specific.

AW: Yeah, this one’s fun. And it doesn’t help that French clients really love this word, and I think they prefer just a straight, literal translation into English, but it drives me crazy because we do not use this word in English much. We just don’t. If you go and you look at the annual reports of Facebook, of Pfizer, of Amazon, of Google, of Proctor & Gamble, you’re not going to see the word “activity” hardly at all because it’s just not something we say. Yet, if you go to the annual reports of a French company that’s been translated into English, you’re going to see it 5,000 times.

AB: Mmhmm.

AW: This word is usually going to be “business.”

AB: Yes.

AW: Sometimes, it can be “operations,” especially in an industrial context, if you’re talking about a company that has manufacturing processes or industrial services, like logistics or something like that, then you very well in some contexts say “operations,” but “business” a lot of times can replace “activity.” I urge all of you, every time you see “activité” to think, “Could ‘business’ or ‘operations’ go here?” And if your client argues about it, try to fight it.

AB: Yeah, yeah. Provide some examples.

AW: Yeah.

AB: With texts written directly in English, there’s no “activities” in them at all.

AW: Yeah, I’ve had this fight before, and I have won. It can be done, you guys, I promise.

AB: Amazing. We’ve got another one that sounds simple. What should be aware of when we run into “conformité”?

AW: I see “conformity” all the time, and I don’t get it, you guys, I just don’t. It’s going to be “compliance.”

AB: Okay.

AW: “Compliance,” “noncompliance,” and then, sometimes “en conformité avec” or whatever, that’s going to be “in accordance with,” too, not “in conformity with.”

AB: Interesting.

AW” Or “pursuant to.”

AB: Mmhmm.

AW: You know, but yeah. Let’s stay away from the “conformity.”

AB: Okay, no “conformity.” Interestingly, in the other direction, because I translate in the other direction, “compliance” naturally becomes “conformité,” we’d never think twice about it.

AW: Yeah.

AB: But that’s because we don’t have the option of another strange word hanging out there, like the “conformity” you just mentioned, but yeah, a pitfall in one direction. Great one.

AW: Yeah.

AB: Okay, so that was part 1 of our episode. Now we’re going to do, we’re going to segue to part 2, and we’re going to turn our attention to some full sentences, as opposed to just terms or expressions. We’re going to look at a French text or French sentence. We’re going to look at how to make a complete mess of the translation, and then we’re going to do things the right way, with Amanda’s help. So, I’m going to start with the first French sentence. Here it is: “Le 31 décembre 2014, elles sont essentiellement composées de créances de TVA, 3,4 million d’euros, de charges constatées d’avance, 2,7 million d’ euros, et d’avances et acomptes fournisseurs, 6,3 million euros.” Now, would you like to read the problematic English, or should I go for it?

AW: I’ll do it.

AB: Okay.

AW: Let me preface by saying that this was UK English, so we’ve got that lovely little starter “As at…” “As at 31 December 2014, they essentially consist of VAT receivables, 3.4 million, charges recorded in advance 2.7 million, and supplier prepayments 6.3 million.”

AB: Now, before I got into that, I just want to say that that sounds perfectly fine ot me. [laughter] I don’t see the problem. But I’m a lay person, so I’m going to let Amanda take this one home and tell me exactly how I’m wrong.

AW: Okay, “the charges recorded in advance” is a literal translation that should not be there, basically. So, the correct way to say this would be, “As at 31 December 2014, they essentially consist of VAT receivables, 3.4 million, prepaid expenses for 2.7 million, and supplier prepayments for 6.3 million.”

AB: I think this a perfect example of how the expert eye can pick up the problem, and everybody else…

AW: Yeah.

AB: …is just, I would have never seen that. That’s a great example. Thank you, Amanda.

AW: You’re welcome.

AB: On to the next one! The French version is, “toute re…” oh, excuse me, “toutes les autres dépenses sont comptabilisées directement en charges dès qu’encourues,” and the terrible English—I’ll go for it this time—“All other expenditure is recorded directly as a charge as soon as incurred.” Okay, what’s wrong here?

AW: “Charge,” basically.

AB: Okay.

AW: We have two ways of fixing this. We could either say “All other expenditure is reported directly as an expense as soon as incurred,” or, you could make it even easier and say “All other expenditure is expensed as soon as it’s incurred.”

AB: Okay. And do you mind me asking what the problem with “charge” is?

AW: So…

AB: I’m just curious

AW: Yeah, this is an income statement thing. So, when you’re in accounting, and you’re running a company’s accounting, every action that the company does is going to be either recorded as income or as an expense.

AB: Okay.

AW: So, basically, they’re not using the correct terminology. So, if you take a company, and you sell it, …

AB: Mmhmm.

AW: You’ve just made income. So, you would record the sale of that business as income on your income statement. But then let’s say you were sued by a company for a million dollars because you did something terrible.

AB: Oh, no.

AW: Alright. That would be an expense.

AB: Okay. And you know what, the minute I asked you that question I… something came to mind. You charge your customers.

AW: Right.

AB: That’s where that word goes.

AW: Right.

AB: I was charged this morning when I went shopping.

AW: Right.

AB: But I’m an individual not a company with an income statement.

AW: Right.

AB: That makes a lot of sense.

AW: Yeah.

AB: Alright. Next one. “Les opérations entre l’entité et une participation ne donnant pas de contrôle sont traitées comme des opérations portant sur les capitaux propres.” I’m not sure what I just read. [laughter] Do you want to give us the bad English?

AW: Sure. “Transactions between an entity and equity interest that do not provide control are considered equity transactions.”

AB: Okay. And what is wrong, and what should we say?

AW: The problem is “that do not provide control.” That’s just a very long, roundabout way of saying what you need to say.

AB: Mmhmm.

AW: The correct way would be “Transactions between an entity and noncontrolling interests are considered equity transactions.”

AB: Okay. I just noticed something with this one. Obviously, the “do not provide control” came from “ne donnant pas…

AW: Yeah.

AB: …for to give,” and, in the corrected English, we got rid of the verb, which is so unusual, like, we usually add verbs in English, and this time, we whisked him away with very elegant “noncontrolling interests,” which I’ve actually heard before. I think I know what it means.

AW: Yeah.

AB: And strangely, the correct version starts to make sense to me, even as a nonfinancial person.

AW: Sometimes you don’t need more verbs and words.

AB: Yeah, you just need more clarity.

AW: Exactly.

AB: Amazing. [laughter] Okay, next one. “En application de la norme IAS 19R, la société comptabilise les écarts actuariels, en moins des capitaux propres, en autres éléments du résultat global, net d’impôts différés.” Okay, let’s take a sip of tea [laughter], while Amanda reads us the bad one. Or would you like me to read the bad English?

AW: I can do it.

AB: Okay.

AW: “In application of IAS 19R, the company recorded actuarial differences as a reduction of equity under ‘other overall income’, net of differed taxes.” Alright.

AB: Mmhmm.

AW: So, we’ve got a couple issues here. The “application” drives me a little bit bonkers, and it’s not “overall income.” We call that “comprehensive income.”

AB: Okay.

AW: So, my sense is, “In accordance with IAS 19R, the company recorded actuarial differences as a reduction of equity under ‘other comprehensive income,’ net of differed taxes.”

AB: Wow. I was not sure what happened to this company? What did happen to this company? But this is another perfect illustration of “you need to know what you’re talking about” because, even in, like, general life, the difference between “overall” and “comprehensive,” I mean, they sound like two great synonyms, but they’re not.

AW: Yeah, “comprehensive income” is just, it’s a term that’s widely recognized, and you want to make sure that you use the term that all accountants are going to know…

AB: Yes.

AW: …and understand.

AB: Absolutely. You don’t want to send them on a journey to try to figure out what you would have said, what you should have said.

AW: Right. With translation, that’s what you’re supposed to do, is make it to where they understand what you’re saying, you know, they’re not supposed to have to interpret what you wrote.

AB: Exactly. Okay, next one. “Autorisation à donner au directoire en vue de l’achat par la société de ses propres actions (27ème résolution). The incorrect version: “Authorization to be given to the executive board in view of the company’s purchase of its own shares (27th resolution),” and I’m kind of excited to say that when I originally read that, without reading the correction, I sort of sensed what was wrong with “of its own shares,” but I will let Amanda tell us more.

AW: What I did is—“purchase of its own shares,” that’s just a mouthful, right?

AB: Mmhmm.

AW: In English, we have share buybacks, so the correct translation would be “Authorization to be given to the executive board for the company’s share buyback.” And you’ll notice, I got rid of “in view of.” “For” is good enough. You don’t have to be fancy.

AB: Nope, this is more straightforward.

AW: Yeah.

AB: And you’re not attracting attention to the wrong things.

AW: Exactly.

AB: “Share buyback.” I’ve read about that in the news, and it kind of jumped at me. I was mildly proud, for two minutes.

AW: Yay! [laughter] Hurray!

AB: And, we have one more. It’s the last one for today. “Opérations avec apparentés.” First of all, what is an “apparenté”?

AW: It’s a “related party.”

AB: [laughter] I had no idea!

AW: Yeah, when a company has subsidiaries

AB: Okay.

AW: Yeah, those subsidiaries are “apparentés.”

AB: Oh, okay.

AW: Alright, so, this is the incorrect version, it’s called “Operations with related parties.”

AB: Okay.

AW: And, the correct is “Related-party transactions.”

AB: Nice.

AW: A lot of times, “operations” should be translated as “transactions” in financial translation.

AB: Mmhmm.

AW: Not all the time, but definitely, you know, look at the context. If you’re talking about a purchase, a disposal, any kind of…

AB: Money’s changing hands?

AW: Yes, yeah, any time money’s changing hands, it’s going to be transaction, not operation.

AB: Yes. “Operation” almost sounds surgical.

AW: Yeah.

AB: We don’t want that. “Transactions.” Which, why do we even use “opérations” in French? We have “transactions,” but “opérations” is better.

AW: They always use “opérations.”

AB: Yup. For some reason. Amanda, we did it!

AW: Yay!

AB: We survived financial terminology. Well, I survived, you did awesome. [laughter]

AW: Thank you.

AB: Thank you for these examples. Thank you so much for taking the time to sit down with me today, on this beautiful afternoon.

AW: Yeah.

AB: It was a pleasure to have you.

AW: Thank you so much! It was a pleasure to be here!

AB: This concludes our episode for today. Our podcast is produced by the French Language Division of the American Translators Association. Our current administrator is Eve Bodeux. Our current assistant administrator is Jen Mercer. You can subscribe to the continuing education series podcast on Soundcloud at soundcloud.com/ata-fld, or on iTunes by searching for the words “continuing education series” in the iTunes store. You can contact the FLD at divisionfld [at] atanet [dot] org, or visit our website at www.ata-divisions.org/FLD, and make sure to put those last three letters in capital. In uppercase. You can also get in touch with us on social media. This is Angela Benoit signing off. Thanks for listening, and à bientôt !

Amanda N. Williams is an ATA-certified French to English translator specialized in business, international trade and financial translation. Prior to becoming a translator, she had a career in international trade where she held roles in sales, operations and trade compliance management.

Amanda currently serves as assistant administrator for the ATA’s Literary Division. She also served six years on the Board of Directors of the Atlanta Association of Interpreters and Translators (the Georgia Chapter of the ATA). You can find her on Twitter as the Adorkable Translator (@Adorkable_Trans), on her website at www.mirrorimagetranslations.com or you can reach her via email at amanda@mirrorimagetranslations.com.

Transcribed by Joan Wallace. She has been a full-time freelance translator for nearly 30 years. She holds ATA certification from French to English and Spanish to English, and also translates from Thai to English. She works primarily in medical and pharmaceutical translation, although she occasionally wanders further afield, including an ongoing collaboration with a historian involving French-English translation of 19th-century handwritten documents. She is based in Madison, Wisconsin. You can connect with her on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/joanwallace

FLD Continuing Education Series – Episode 19 – ATA Certification Study Group

ATA French Language Division Podcast
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Welcome to the 19th episode of the French Language Division’s Continuing Education Series. In this episode, podcast host Andie Ho and certified FLD member Emily Moorlach talk about Emily’s experience participating in the FLD’s ATA certification exam study group and her experience taking the online certification exam.

Emily also recently wrote about her experience for the Savvy Newcomer. Check out her post, Taking and Preparing for ATA’s Online Certification Exam.

Did you know the FLD has two study groups, one for French to English and one for English to French, to help its members ace the certification exam? If certification is one of your professional goals, you could participate. These groups are a free benefit for FLD members.

Emily Moorlach is an ATA-certified French to English translator who began her career in 2016 as the Translation and Interpretation Program Manager and freelance official document translator for a non-profit organization. In 2019, after a whirlwind trip through 45 cities in Europe, Emily returned to the U.S. to start her freelance translation business, Langue Vivante LLC. She holds a B.A. in French and a B.S. in Accounting from Iowa State University. Emily also studied at La Sorbonne in Paris and has held positions as a high school French teacher and luxury travel advisor. Her main specializations include official documents, corporate communications, and tourism industry materials. For more information, visit www.langue-vivante.com.

ATA Podcast host Andie Ho is a certified French to English translator specializing in the food industry. She earned her M.A. in translation from Kent State University and is now based in the Houston area. She currently serves as the ATA’s French Language Division administrator. You can follow her on Twitter at @JHawkTranslator or email her at andie@andiehotranslations.com.

HOW TO LISTEN

SOUNDCLOUD: You can listen to or download Episode 19 and all previous episodes on Soundcloud here.

ITUNES: This episode and all previous episodes are available on iTunes here. You can subscribe or listen online. Like what you hear? Rate us and review us! It really helps get the word out.

FLD Continuing Education Series – Episode 18 – ATA Certification

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Welcome to the 18th episode of the French Language Division’s Continuing Education Series. In today’s episode, podcast host Cathy-Eitel Nzume and certified FLD members Matt Bunczk and Beth Smith share their experiences taking the ATA certification exam.

Matthew Bunczk is an ATA-certified German-to-English and ATA-certified French-to-English translator specializing in business, legal, and financial translations. He is based near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in French from Ursinus College and a Certificate of Proficiency in Paralegal Studies from Delaware County Community College. His undergraduate studies brought him to Strasbourg, France, various parts of Europe, and Senegal, West Africa. After providing translations to employers on an ad hoc basis starting in 2006, he decided to turn translation into a career and has been translating full-time since 2015. You can find him on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/matthewbunczk.

Beth Smith is an ATA-certified French to English translator living near Houston, Texas. She specializes in advertising and marketing (especially cosmetics and luxury goods), entertainment, and literary translation. You can learn more about her work at www.itranslateFrench.net or check out her Twitter hijinks here: @BethTranslates.

ATA Podcast host Cathy-Eitel Nzume is a certified French to English and English to French Court Interpreter, translator, Department of State Certified Linguist and legal professional. She specializes in legal and conference interpreting as well as legal and financial translation. You can find her on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/cathyeitelnzume/ or on Twitter at @CathyENzume.

HOW TO LISTEN

SOUNDCLOUD: You can listen to or download Episode 18 and all previous episodes on Soundcloud here.

ITUNES: This episode and all previous episodes are available on iTunes here. You can subscribe or listen online. Like what you hear? Rate us!

Translator Testimonial: Joining an ATA Certification Exam Study Group

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By Amber Marcum Combaud

In December 2020, I took part in the French Language Division’s monthly meet-up. A longtime member of the ATA but trepidatious newcomer to the live, informal meetings held since the beginning of the pandemic, the chosen topic of discussion drew me in and motivated me to extend my normal work hours (GMT+1) to fit it into my schedule. That topic was feedback: giving and getting it, and hosted by Karen Tkaczyk. At the end of an hour spent pleasantly chatting with other members on both sides of the Atlantic and sharing our experiences—and apprehension—about feedback, the FLD announced it would launch an ATA Certification Exam Study Group in January 2021.

A no-brainer decision

After learning of this new FLD activity, making the decision to participate and integrate it into my CPD goals for 2021 was a no-brainer. After I completed my certificate in translation through the NYU SCPS’s online program in 2010, the idea of sitting for the ATA certification exam was enough to make me break out in hives. Though I now have a number of years of full-time freelancing under my belt, the added stress of having to fly back to the US to sit for it always made me push the exam to the bottom of my to-do list. The accountability, group dynamic, and the possibility of connecting with peers were all factors that convinced me that this was the perfect time to rise to the challenge and I planned to join this new group.

Certification exam practice à la FLD

The FLD was inspired by the Slavic Languages Division’s 2017 concept to form its own remote, asynchronous study group. In contrast to the SLD’s approach, the FLD’s self-study group is a less formal version, designed to suit the style and dynamic of the division. At the beginning of each month, an email is sent out by Andie Ho with a short text to translate under exam conditions, along with some context as to the purpose of the text, similar to the instructions that would be given on an actual exam. Links to the ample resources available on the ATA website are provided each month for newcomers. These cover the certification exam itself, a framework for standardized error marking, along with error descriptions. From that point, the translator is free to organize their practice as they wish. They must simply alert Andie by the stated deadline in order to be paired up with a partner for review and feedback. The pairs or groups (in the event of an odd number of participants in a given month) determine how they exchange feedback, whether via the Track Changes mode in Word, a Zoom or telephone call, email exchanges, or a combination of these. A separate, dedicated Discord channel was also created as a forum for terminology, discussing challenges and asking general questions.

How I approach the practice texts and feedback

Translation strategy

I generally complete the translation towards the end of the month so that the text is top of mind. To train myself for the actual exam, I try to stick to an hour max. for all steps in the process: reading the instructions and the full text, term identification, research, drafting, revision and a “read-aloud” review. A side-by-side comparison with the original is important for ensuring that I haven’t left out any words or ideas, a mistake that could be costly. In an exam situation, I would move on to the second passage after the revision step in order to leave time for my text to mature in my mind before doing any tweaking prior to submittal. Depending on the subject and type of text, most months I am able to stay within this timeframe, but in others I have pushed it to 1.5 hours. This would be risky in a real exam, since the time limit is three hours.

The feedback phase

Once partner assignments have gone out, I take the time to review the original passage as well as my own translation, listing any questions I might want to bring up with my partner. As I read through their text, I try to keep in mind the fact that the first item in the list explaining what the certification exam tests for is “compliance with the specifications of the Translation Instructions.” While the goal is certainly not to train as a grader, following the example of one of my peer reviewers, I now try to apply the grading framework in order to identify types of errors. This helps me to keep to the neutral side of constructive criticism. Finally, since the Framework for Standardized Error Marking does allow points to be awarded for “up to three specific instances of exceptional translation,” I make a point to highlight well-written phrases and good word choices in the person’s text as well as smart approaches to prickly issues in the original.

Regarding feedback

I’ve most appreciated when we’ve been able to create dialogue regarding the challenges of a specific text and individual choices. In general, I have received feedback in Track Changes in Word, but I have also been able to connect virtually with a few of my partners to make their acquaintance on Zoom. This has been a positive, satisfying part of my experience. Overall, the process has allowed me to open up more to constructive criticism and confront potential blind spots with humility.

Personal takeaways

A wider range of texts to translate

From the start of my career, I’ve had a pretty narrow niche, due to how I got my start as a translator in a technical field. When I began freelancing, I was able to branch out into other fields and types of documents. The study group has provided a refreshing variety of topics to work on, and not having a choice in the assignments has been beneficial to help me identify and break free from old patterns.

Style

Living in Europe, at times I am asked to conform to UK spelling rather than US. This means that my eyes have become more accepting of spelling variations, an area where losing points would be nonsense! Further, being surrounded by French speakers can prove dangerous if I allow Romance-language structure too much influence on my writing in English. Going into the practice test and any real exam sitting, I’ll know to pay particular attention to both of these points.

Unexpected situations

Through the proposed texts, I’ve encountered a few unexpected situations, like a presumed typo in a company name. While I’m not sure that this curveball was intended, I’ve been able to research how to handle this situation were it to arise during a real exam sitting. I’m also better prepared to manage the technical aspects of what graders expect in terms of deliverables.

Next steps

As summertime is quickly approaching, my next step is completing a practice test passage. I’m also considering how to take advantage of this typically slower period of the year to do more self-study. If all goes as planned, I’ll sit for one of the remote exams offered in September.

In the future, once I’ve reached my goal of certification, I’d like to join a Rev Club. I’ve really enjoyed getting to work with other translators in this non-competitive setting and enriching my own work through contact with theirs.

Advantages of the remote, asynchronous format

  • You can participate on your own time, per your schedule.
  • Joining the study group does not require you to translate the text each month.
  • The long-term nature of the group allows you to familiarize yourself with the dense information about the exam over a longer period of time and break it down in smaller, easy to digest portions.
  • Participants can choose a way to meet and give feedback that suits their personality, preferences and/or schedule.
  • The Discord channel is open for discussion outside your assigned pair or group.

Limitations of a remote practice test group

  • It can be hard to gauge improvement, as the type of text changes each month.
  • There is no benchmark translation with which to compare your work.
  • You may find that translating one text per month may not be enough practice and it could be difficult to maintain momentum.
  • Feedback and interaction with peers vary.
  • Not everyone sees or is connected to the Discord group.

Possible routes to refinement

Getting started

For an into-English group, it could be helpful to spend the first month focusing on the Into-English Grading Standards. This would set aside time specifically for reading the available resource materials, getting familiar with the test format and dos and don’ts, as well as questions, before starting to work on translation passages.

Fostering group interactions

Because the group is not static, and not everyone completes the translation each month, you may end up working with the same partner on multiple occasions. In this event, the Discord channel can be used to request additional input on a specific point or to share something you’ve learned. An additional benefit of doing so is that other FLD members may see your post and get involved in the discussion.

Involving already-certified translators

One particular component of the SLD’s study group cycle that stands out as a potential improvement to the FLD initiative is the Expert Feedback step. The article linked above mentions that “the organizers put together a list of challenges encountered and solicit feedback from volunteer experts… the reviewers do not grade each individual translation, but do provide overall guidance on common challenges.” I found this appealing, although it would require care so that guidelines and expectations are clear for both participants and volunteer CT.

Final thoughts

Over the past five months, the experience has given me the opportunity to meet and exchange feedback with five different colleagues, only one of whom I had ever crossed paths with in the past. This has been the most surprising benefit of committing to working towards certification. When I first joined the ATA, I lived outside a major metropolitan area without a local chapter. In spite of attending the annual conference in NYC in 2009, I found it difficult to stay in touch with members before social media was considered an essential part of our professional lives. Thus far, I’ve really appreciated feeling a sense of belonging to the FLD and developing stronger ties to the ATA by extension.

No matter the form it takes, a certification exam study group is a golden opportunity to invest in your professional development. In the end, it only requires a few hours each month. If this inside look at what the FLD study group can be has motivated you to give it a go, contact divisionFLD [at] atanet.org to sign up and specify if you would like to participate in the French to English group or the English to French group.

Amber Marcum Combaud

Amber Marcum Combaud holds a professional certificate in French to English translation from NYU and a Bachelors in French and Linguistics from UVA. She got her big break in translation thanks to a wine and cheese party. Thereafter, she spent five years working as an in-house technical and corporate communications translator–project administrator for a company in the power generation niche. Currently based in Marseille, she began freelancing in 2016 to serve a wider range of clients in the energy, industry, and construction sectors, local businesses seeking to expand their horizons abroad, and individuals. An active member of the Société française des traducteurs in PACA, she served as a delegate from 2017–2019. In her free time, she enjoys cooking, paddle boarding, art museums, and live jazz. amber [at] amc-communication.com / www.amc-communication.com

 

Beat the Machine: 4 Little Words, 1 Big Challenge

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By Sam Mowry

How it can be March 2021 when it feels like it never stopped being March 2020, I’ll never know! But it’s a new month and a new chance to compare translations. If you need a quick refresher, you can read about the premise of the Beat the Machine mini translation slam in our inaugural post here. Very simply, we’re out to prove how much better human translators are than machines and maybe learn something from one another in the process. After last month’s technical beast, we’re going in a very different direction this month with by far our shortest sentence ever:

Le réveil fut brutal.

Yes, it really is just four words long! This is an excerpt from the book L’Insomnie by Tahar Ben Jelloun. Rather than showing you what Google Translate would have given us (feel free to check, if you’re curious!), here is the context for this sentence, which ends a chapter:

Mes rêves étaient denses et riches. Je me voyais voguer sur les flots bleus de la Méditerranée, comme si j’étais sur des skis. J’allais très vite, des oiseaux de toutes les couleurs m’accompagnaient. Je chantais, je dansais, comme dans un film de Fred Astaire ! J’étais heureux et je crois même que je m’entichai d’une femme brune à la longue chevelure. Mais quelqu’un me disait à l’oreille : « Attention, c’est la mort ; il arrive parfois qu’elle se déguise pour faire diversion ! » C’est alors que je suis tombé dans la mer, je me noyais. Le réveil fut brutal.

Despite the rest of these words before it, I’m only asking for a translation of the very last sentence there. Four words, including a tense we don’t have in English and a noun that doesn’t have a direct equivalent. There are a million ways to go with this, so let’s see what you do!

Submit your translation here by March 31, 2021, and the blog post discussing it will go up in April!

Please note the following:

  • Only FLD members will have their translations posted on this blog. Membership is free for current ATA members, so if you aren’t a member yet, make sure to join before you submit your translation!
  • You are free to submit your sentence anonymously, but half the fun will be crediting the creative submissions we receive by name and recognizing their authors.
  • You may submit as many times as you like in case you have a stroke of genius after your initial submission. This month in particular; you are encouraged to submit as many times as you like!

Have you translated or read a particularly pesky sentence this year that you can share for this project? Please send it along! Are you interested in helping us do the same virtual translation slam, but from English to French? We’d love to have one or more volunteers to do this series, but in reverse! If you’re interested, please contact Ben Karl, the À Propos editor, at ben [at] bktranslation.com or myself, Sam Mowry, at sam [at] frenchtranslation.expert to let us know!

Beat the Machine: Putting Technical Translation Under the Microscope (Sort Of)

 

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By Sam Mowry

Welcome to the February follow-up of our Beat the Machine challenge! In our January post, I suggested a sentence to be translated and asked FLD members to submit their own versions, presumably improving upon the machine translated option. Now it’s time to go over some of their particularly interesting solutions.

As a refresher, this is what we were working with:

La gestion des résultats hors spécification a été revue au travers du dossier suivant : n° XYXY relatif à la fiche n° 123 de maléate de trimébutine dont le point de fusion a été mesuré non conforme ; l’hypothèse d’un capillaire trop rempli pour l’analyse a été confirmée par les séries de mesure n° 2 et n° 3 qui ont donné des résultats conformes.

And here’s what Google Translate gave us:

The management of non-specification results was reviewed through the following file: No. XYXY relating to sheet No. 123 of trimebutine maleate whose melting point was measured as non-compliant; the hypothesis of a capillary too full for analysis was confirmed by series of measurements n ° 2 and n ° 3 which gave consistent results.

Isn’t that fun? No points awarded for guessing this month’s theme, which is clearly SUPER DUPER technical. If it weren’t patently obvious (see what I did there?), this sentence was supplied by our beloved FLD colleague and technical translator extraordinaire, Karen Tkacyzk. Thanks, Karen, for this fascinating glimpse into technical translation. While this sentence struck fear into many hearts this month, mine among them, it’s an excellent opportunity to reflect and appreciate how varied the world of translation is. Even within a single language pair (French into English), the range of materials to be translated runs the gamut from literary fiction to texts like this one and literally everything in between. From a marketing perspective, it’s a good reminder that it’s almost impossible to specialize too narrowly, because this kind of extremely specific text exists in the world and needs to be translated. From a competition perspective, it’s a delight to remember that the vast majority of FR>EN translators are your colleagues, not your competition. I’m just one example, but this text is so far from the kind of texts I work with, and more importantly, it’s even farther from the kinds of texts I have any desire at all to work with. There are more than enough topics for everyone—and on the rare chance that there are many translators specializing in your language, direction, and specific subject: what a gift! A community you can reach out to when you get stuck on a term!

 Karen, blessedly, provided two translations, in her words, “the first one fairly faithful and the second more me writing what they mean”:

Translation 1:

The management of out-of-specification results was reviewed through file No. XYXY regarding form No. 123 for trimebutine maleate, where the melting point was measured as nonconforming. The hypothesis given of testing having been done with a capillary that was too full was confirmed by second and third measurement series, which gave conforming results.

Translation 2:

The management of out-of-specification results was reviewed through file No. XYXY regarding Certificate of Analysis No. 123 for trimebutine maleate, where the melting point measurement did not comply. The hypothesis given, that this was caused by testing with a capillary that was too full, was confirmed by two more series of measurements, where the results complied.

 To translate this yet again into what the sentence actually means (for laypeople like myself): there was a result that didn’t fall in line with the numbers it was supposed to. It was used as a case study for how that kind of result is handled. In this case, specifically form 123 in file no. XYXY, the melting point of a specific chemical seemed wrong. The people testing hypothesized that there was too much of said chemical in the tube to get an accurate result, which they verified by doing it two more times. Then the results were good.

Due to the nature of this sentence, evaluating the submissions we received is more a case of pass/fail, “Is this correct?” than critiquing fun turns of phrase. If you submitted a translation for this sentence, thank you! I really appreciate it, and you did a great job. All the submissions we received were reasonably accurate. I wanted to highlight one that read as particularly smooth to me, as someone without a technical background:

Out-of-specification result management was reviewed using File No. XYXY relating to Sheet No. 123 for trimebutine maleate, whose melting point was found to be non-compliant. Test series No. 2 and No. 3 yielded compliant results, which confirmed the hypothesis that a capillary tube had been overfilled during testing.

I asked Karen for her professional opinion, and she noted that, “Whoever submitted it knows what’s going on and is a decent technical translator.” Congratulations, anonymous submitter! Karen said that the only thing she’d change is that “during testing” at the end of the sentence is ambiguous, but in the source, it does mean the first series. She suggested “…during initial testing,” or “…during the first series.”

Thanks again for all of your submissions! Stay tuned for next month, which I promise will be very different indeed!

Did you forget to submit a translation in time? Not to worry! Share your version on Twitter and tag the French Language Division (@ATA_FLD) and me, @SamTranslates.

If you would like to submit a sentence for a future slam, I would like that very much! You can contact me, Sam Mowry, directly at sam [at] frenchtranslation.expert or on Twitter at the handle listed above. You can also contact the À Propos Editor Ben Karl at ben [at] bktranslation.com.

If you’d like to help launch a similar slam but into French, please also reach out!

Polishing the Style of Your French-to-English Translations

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By Kate Deimling

How do we know if a translation is good? Most people probably think of accuracy first, but we shouldn’t forget about style. Of course, a translation must accurately reflect the meaning of the source. But the way it expresses this meaning is also important.

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The style should always be tailored to the context and the audience: a marketing text needs a certain kind of writing, while an international development report requires a very different tone. Style is especially important for writing that wants to inform and convince: to convince someone to buy something, to convince someone of an argument, or simply to convince them to continue reading! After all, the reader will close the book or navigate away from the screen if they don’t feel engaged.

Here are some translation strategies for dealing with common features of French style, along with tips for efficient revision. For this post, I’ve cherry-picked points from a talk I gave at the October 2020 virtual ATA conference. Examples are all from my own translations.

Creating Contrast with Si

Si is a very common connector word in French that can be translated a variety of ways. When si is used for contrast, the word “if” is a lot weaker in English, and alternatives will make a stronger impression. Here’s an example:

French: Si la Baigneuse est un sujet traditionnel de la peinture et de la sculpture, Picasso l’investit d’une manière toute singulière. 

Photo credit: Fiskhumla (Creative Commons license via Wikimedia)

English translation 1: While the bather is a traditional subject in painting and sculpture, Picasso treated it in a very unique way.

English translation 2: Although the bather is a traditional subject painting and sculpture, Picasso treated it in a very unique way.

English translation 3: The bather is a traditional subject in painting and sculpture, but Picasso treated it in a very unique way.

These are all acceptable choices for translating “si,” though the second two versions are probably more common in US English.

Don’t “Bury the Lede”

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“Burying the lede” means hiding the most important information later in the news story, instead of emphasizing it at the beginning. Here’s an example where the translator should move the essential information to the front of the sentence in English:

French: Au fil des années, sous l’impulsion de ses directeurs et de ses ingénieurs qui, sous l’influence du terrain et des chantiers, ont créé leur propre champ de recherche, le LRMH a grandi.

English translation: The LRMH has grown over the years, spurred on by its directors and engineers who have created their own field of research through fieldwork and major projects.

Reordering sentences improves the translation more often than you might think. Here’s a sentence from a report on young people and the internet. It took me some time to figure out how I wanted to rework it for a stronger effect in English:

Photo credit: Sharon McCutcheon via Pexels

French: La nécessité de mieux comprendre le rapport des jeunes à Internet, aux plateformes et aux réseaux sociaux apparaît d’autant plus forte dans la période actuelle où les mesures de confinement liées à la crise du Covid-19 impliquent une utilisation plus grande des outils numériques.

My initial translation followed the French sentence structure:

English translation 1: The need to better understand young people’s relationship to the internet, social media, and online platforms appears even more crucial in the current period, when isolation measures due to the Covid-19 crisis involve increased use of digital tools.

When revising, I thought this sounded a bit stilted. So, I asked myself: how would this sentence read if I saw it in an English-language report? I decided to rearrange the relationship between the two key elements: “in the current period” and “even more crucial.” This is what I came up with:

English translation 2: Today, when isolation measures in response to the Covid-19 crisis have increased the use of digital technology, it is more crucial than ever to understand young people’s relationship to the internet and social media.

What’s the Best Way to Revise for Style?

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Does this mean we should revise our translations over and over again to perfect their style? No. With tight deadlines and a demanding workflow, this just isn’t practical. Plus, you can tinker with a translation forever without coming up with a single “right” version. So, how can you approach revising in a way that’s both effective and efficient?

Here are a few tips:

  • If time allows, set your translation aside and revise it later when you can take a fresh look at it and catch any phrasing that sounds awkward.
  • Read over your translation while putting the source text aside. Read aloud to check for readability. This can help catch proofreading errors too!
  • Make stylistic changes in the context of surrounding sentences. For instance, instead of repeating the conjunction “but” in two adjacent sentences, rephrase one sentence with “although.”

Extra Tips

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  • Know yourself and your tendencies!
  • If you translate fast, you may have produced an overly literal translation. Make sure to set the translation aside and read it afresh when revising. This will help you focus on issues of style.
  • If you tend to be a perfectionist, estimate how long revising should take. (You’ll need to come up with your own sense of this timing, based on the fee for the job, client expectations, the purpose of the translation, and so on.) Then set a timer. Check the timer and pace yourself as you revise so that you don’t spend too long on any one section.

Now you’re ready to polish those translations until they shine!

 

Kate Deimling

An ATA-certified French-to-English translator, Kate Deimling loves learning new things, whether she’s translating a museum audioguide or a report on climate change or writing copy about gemstone jewelry. She holds a Ph.D. in French and previously worked as a French professor and an art journalist. She has translated six books and her volunteer activities include serving on the PR committee of the ATA and directing the mentoring program of the New York Circle of Translators, an ATA chapter. In her free time, she enjoys reading, writing, cooking, and playing word games. You can find her online at katedeimling.com.

Beat the Machine: New Year, New Challenge

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By Sam Mowry

It’s a new year and a new chance to learn from our respected colleagues to improve our translations through the Beat the Machine Mini Translation Slam. If you need a quick refresher, you can read about the premise in our inaugural post here. Very simply, we’re out to prove how much better human translators are than machines and maybe learn something from one another in the process. This time we’re going a different direction, with a sentence submitted by technical translator extraordinaire Karen Tkaczyk, so you know this is going to be a wild time:

La gestion des résultats hors spécification a été revue au travers du dossier suivant : n° XYXY relatif à la fiche n° 123 de maléate de trimébutine dont le point de fusion a été mesuré non conforme ; l’hypothèse d’un capillaire trop rempli pour l’analyse a été confirmée par les séries de mesure n°2 et n° 3 qui ont donné des résultats conformes.

Not exactly poetry! This is what Google’s output looks like:

The management of non-specification results was reviewed through the following file: No. XYXY relating to sheet No. 123 of trimebutine maleate whose melting point was measured as non-compliant; the hypothesis of a capillary too full for analysis was confirmed by series of measurements n ° 2 and n ° 3 which gave consistent results.

The technically minded terminology sleuths amongst us should have a field day with this one!

Submit your (obviously) much better translation here by January 31, 2021, and the blog post discussing it will go up in early February!

Please note the following:

  • Only FLD members will have their translations posted on this blog. Membership is free for current ATA members, so if you aren’t a member yet, make sure to join before you submit your translation!
  • You are free to submit your sentence anonymously, but half the fun will be crediting the creative submissions we receive by name and recognizing their authors.
  • You may submit as many times as you like in case you have a stroke of genius after your initial submission. I will only discuss one submission per person in the review post.

Have you translated or read a particularly pesky sentence this past year that you can share for this project? Please send it along! Are you interested in helping us do the same virtual translation slam, but from English to French? We’d love to have one or more volunteers to do this series, but in reverse! If you’re interested, please contact Ben Karl, the À Propos editor, at ben [at] bktranslation.com or myself, Sam Mowry, at sam [at] frenchtranslation.expert to let us know!

 

Beat the Machine: 2020 Wrap Up

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Welcome to part two of our second Beat the Machine challenge and our last Beat the Machine post of 2020! In our September post, I gave a sentence to be translated and asked FLD members to submit their own versions, presumably improving upon the machine translated option. Now we’ll go over some particularly interesting options.

As a refresher, this is what we were working with, taken from Le Devoir:

Mais si les relations sont aujourd’hui plus conflictuelles que jamais, il était pour ainsi dire écrit dans le ciel que la formidable croissance économique chinoise des quarante dernières années, orchestrée qui plus est, depuis huit ans, par un régime Xi particulièrement autoritaire et expansionniste, finirait par déboucher sur une lutte de pouvoir de grande envergure entre la Chine et un empire américain qui n’est forcément plus ce qu’il était.

Here’s what Google Translate gave us:

But if relations are today more conflictual than ever, it was almost written in the sky that the tremendous Chinese economic growth of the last forty years, orchestrated moreover, for eight years, by a particularly authoritarian and expansionist Xi regime, would eventually lead to a large-scale power struggle between China and an American empire that is not necessarily what it used to be.

We have plenty to work with, so let’s dig in! We’ll start with each phrase before talking about strategies for breaking down the sentence as a whole.

Mais si

“Si” to start a sentence is a well-known and fully despised French convention. The five respondents all chose different and equally valid solutions: “However,” “Though,” “Since,” are very appropriate. Two particularly interesting options here were simply starting the sentence with “And…” which is a fun way to mix up sentence structures in English (and reflets the French! You can view the full paragraph this sentence was taken from in the September post). One respondent, Beth Smith, foreshadowed the broad timeline of the rest of the sentence by starting with “Nowadays…”. I particularly like this option because it conveys the sense of “So, this thing…” that the “si” hooks into, but also incorporates a time element.

…les relations sont aujourd’hui plus conflictuelles que jamais…

“Relations” and “relationship” were both used, and both are valid here. The international aspect suggests “relations” (as in “foreign relations,” “international relations”), but since it’s between two specific entities, I think relationship is also applicable. All of the human respondents discarded Google Translate’s painfully literal “conflictual,” which is apparently a real English word. Interestingly, out of five submissions, they all selected one of two options. “Contentious” was more popular, with three submissions, and the other two used “fraught.”

…il était pour ainsi dire écrit dans le ciel…

Here we come face to face with Google Translate’s nemesis: figures of speech. I assure you that no skywriting was involved in announcing this news. In another distinct win for the humans, none of the human translators fell for this trap. Many good options here: “it almost seems like fate,” “it was inevitable,” “we might have predicted,” and “It was almost a foregone conclusion.”

…que la formidable croissance économique chinoise des quarante dernières années, orchestrée qui plus est, depuis huit ans, par un régime Xi particulièrement autoritaire et expansionniste…

Formidable had a number of good options: incredible, remarkable are both very solid. My favorite, from Andie Ho, was “prodigious.” The rest of this section is frankly straightforward (“economic growth,” “authoritarian and expansionist”), and the real problems come with how you fit it in with the rest, so we’ll address that later. One fun twist I particularly liked was offered by Ben Karl, who opted for “four decades” of economic growth instead of forty years. Since “eight years” comes up only a few words later, this is particularly clever to avoid repeating “last x years” almost immediately.”

…finirait par déboucher sur…

“Finir par” is another known and loathed French construction. All five translators combined “finirait par déboucher sur” into one expression, rather than getting bogged down by needing to render every word in English, with something like “would result in leading to” or similar. Good options included “lead to,” “end in,” “end up as.”

…une lutte de pouvoir de grande envergure…

Google Translate gave us “large-scale,” which is adequate. Two translators used “major,” and my favorite option was submitted by Andie Ho, who used “all-out brawl.” That seems a little bit more aggressive than the French, but it certainly is large-scale, and I love the idiomatic use of brawl.

 …entre la Chine et un empire américain qui n’est forcément plus ce qu’il était.

Everyone stuck pretty close to the source here, perhaps as an effect of fatigue from battling through the rest of the sentence. But it’s not inaccurate to say, “between China and an American empire that is no longer what it once was.” A more literary option might be “an American empire no longer in its heyday,” or perhaps “an American empire past its prime.”

Sentence breaks

Obviously, this sentence is a little unwieldy in English, and are a couple options to handle that. One person left it as one sentence, which is ultimately fine. Two people set off a section in the middle with em dashes, and one person used both em dashes and also segmented the first section as a separate sentence (“Nowadays, the relationship is more contentious than ever.”) The decision of how much to split off into a separate sentence depends heavily on the surrounding context and how much you want to vary sentence length for that reason.

Piecing together some of the best parts of all the sentences, here is a suggested composite:

Since the US–China relationship is as contentious as it has ever been, it almost seems like fate that China’s prodigious economic growth over the last forty years—orchestrated for the last eight by an especially authoritarian and expansionist Xi Jinping regime—would eventually lead to an all-out brawl between China and an American empire decidedly past its prime.

I don’t know about you, but I’m really pleased with that! That’s a considered sentence that does a number of clever things and avoids all of the worst pitfalls Google Translate replicated. Chalk up another win for the humans!

Did you forget to submit a translation in time? Not to worry! Share your version on Twitter and tag the French Language Division (@ATA_FLD) and me, @SamTranslates.

If you would like to submit a sentence for a future slam, I would like that very much! You can contact me, Sam Mowry, directly at sam [at] frenchtranslation.expert or on Twitter at the handle listed above. You can also contact the À Propos Editor Ben Karl at ben [at] bktranslation.com.

If you’d like to help launch a similar slam but into French, please also reach out! We would love to get this going in both directions.

Beat the Machine: September Translation Slam

A vintage toy robot
Photo Credit: Unsplash

By Sam Mowry

After a rollicking start to our Beat the Machine online translation slam, we’re back with a new sentence! If you need a quick refresher, you can read about the premise in our inaugural post here. Very simply, we’re out to prove how much better human translators are than machines and maybe learn something from one another in the process.

Here is the sentence for this month:

Mais si les relations sont aujourd’hui plus conflictuelles que jamais, il était pour ainsi dire écrit dans le ciel que la formidable croissance économique chinoise des quarante dernières années, orchestrée qui plus est, depuis huit ans, par un régime Xi particulièrement autoritaire et expansionniste, finirait par déboucher sur une lutte de pouvoir de grande envergure entre la Chine et un empire américain qui n’est forcément plus ce qu’il était.

What was that I said last month about French being fond of long sentences? This one will give you ample opportunity to wade through and potentially break into as many shorter sentences as you see fit. The sky is the limit!

For context, Xi refers to Xi Jinping, the President of the People’s Republic of China, who has been in power since 2012. His name doesn’t require any particular treatment, and “Xi regime” would be a fine translation in this context (but feel free as always to get creative!).

Here is the full paragraph the sentence came from:

Que Pékin ne joue pas franc jeu en matière commerciale est notoire et que la dictature chinoise ait depuis longtemps à l’ordre international un rapport « inadéquat » est incontestable. Que M. Trump joue la corde antichinoise à l’approche de la présidentielle, il fallait s’y attendre. Mais si les relations sont aujourd’hui plus conflictuelles que jamais, il était pour ainsi dire écrit dans le ciel que la formidable croissance économique chinoise des quarante dernières années, orchestrée qui plus est, depuis huit ans, par un régime Xi particulièrement autoritaire et expansionniste, finirait par déboucher sur une lutte de pouvoir de grande envergure entre la Chine et un empire américain qui n’est forcément plus ce qu’il était. Nous y voilà. Pour l’heure, l’ordre du monde est façonné par les faucons des deux côtés.

If you’d like to read the full article from Le Devoir, you may find it here.

Here is Google’s feeble attempt:

But if relations are today more conflictual than ever, it was almost written in the sky that the tremendous Chinese economic growth of the last forty years, orchestrated moreover, for eight years, by a particularly authoritarian and expansionist Xi regime , would eventually lead to a large-scale power struggle between China and an American empire that is not necessarily what it used to be.

Submit your much better translation here by September 30, 2020, and the blog post discussing it will go live in October!

Please note the following:

  • Only FLD members will have their translations posted on this blog. Membership is free for current ATA members, so if you aren’t a member yet, make sure to join before you submit your translation!
  • You are free to submit your sentence anonymously, but half the fun will be crediting the creative submissions we receive by name and recognizing their authors.
  • You may submit as many times as you like in case you have a stroke of genius after your initial submission. I will only discuss one submission per person in the review post.

Have you translated or read a particularly pesky sentence this year that you can share for this project? Please send it along! Are you interested in helping us do the same virtual translation slam, but from English to French? We’d love to have one or more volunteers to do this series, but in reverse! If you’re interested, please contact Ben Karl, the À Propos editor, at ben [at] bktranslation.com or myself, Sam Mowry, at sam [at] translation.expert to let us know!