FLD Continuing Education Series – Episode 18 – ATA Certification

ATA French Language Division Podcast
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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.

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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. 

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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:

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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

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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!

Beat the Machine: Weaving Musical Genres in Austria?

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Welcome to part two of our inaugural Beat the Machine mini translation slam! In our July post, I asked FLD members to re-translate a complicated sentence to improve upon the machine translation output provided in the post. Now it’s time to review some of the submissions!

Before diving in, I would like to acknowledge that I may have had a little bit of hubris when selecting this first sentence. One of my favorite FLD members suggested it and I thought, “perfect, this thing is a mess, let’s do it!” Then I sat down to tackle it myself and… eesh, this sentence really was a challenge! The good news is that this has been a fun learning experience for us all, and I now know what I’m looking for in future sentences. The other good news is that many of our colleagues were clearly less daunted than I and submitted some really creative solutions. So, let’s dig in!

To refresh our memory, this was the sentence we were working with:

L’excellentissime pianiste classique autrichien Friedrich Gulda n’eût peut-être pas été d’accord, lui qui ne cessa de transgresser les deux grands ordres (jazz et classique) en les reprisant et déprisant dans des concerts qui filaient standards de jazz, classiques des classiques.

And here’s what DeepL gave us:

Perhaps the excellent Austrian classical pianist Friedrich Gulda would not have agreed, as he never stopped transgressing the two great orders (jazz and classical) by reproducing them in concerts that spun jazz standards, classics from classics.

As foreshadowed, there are a lot of things we’re working with here. There are four different parts to this monster, so let’s take it part by part before addressing some really neat things some people did with the structure of the sentence as a whole.

L’excellentissime pianiste classique autrichien Friedrich Gulda…

In the first seven words, everyone agrees about three of them. “Friedrich Gulda” and “Austrian” are pretty concrete! Things immediately diverge after that. Some of the options for excellentissime were excellent, brilliant, and outstanding. However, two people did something pretty clever here, opting for “virtuoso” in English. This is particularly delightful because it folds the level of skill into the noun: Friedrich Gulda, classical piano virtuoso. The alternative, [adjective] + [classical pianist], is perfectly accurate, but virtuoso conveys a level of talent beyond “excellent” that better matches excellentissime (the –issime meaning very excellent) and changes up the sentence structure ever so slightly.

…n’eût peut-être pas été d’accord…

Everyone went with either “would not have agreed” or “would have disagreed.” This a fun reminder that you can structure even seemingly straightforward text more than one way. The difference is slight, but real, and which option is “better” depends on the rest of the sentence: is the goal fewer total words? Shorter words? Depending on the context, choosing something like “may have begged to differ,” could potentially be great.

…lui qui ne cessa de transgresser les deux grands ordres (jazz et classique)…

Here’s where things start to get messy. Ne cessa de became: ceaselessly, always, continued to, constantly, and continually. So many options to convey “something that never stops!” Transgresser is clearly a problem in English, as “to transgress” is much weightier than just mixing musical genres, not to mention the moral or religious overtones. DeepL fell right into this trap. Our human options here included “intermixed,” and “transcended.” My favorite solutions were “went outside the box,” which, while it could use a stronger verb than “went,” encompasses the notion of transgressing in a more palatable way, and my very favorite, “pushed the limits.” He didn’t necessarily break the boundaries, as a transgression might suggest, but he’s right up against it.

…en les reprisant et déprisant dans des concerts…

Oh no, wordplay in the source! The holy grail here would be to come up with something that has the same kind of parallelism or at least some kind of interplay as reprisant et déprisant. Options included: “combining and undoing them,” (accurate, if not a little clunky), “reappraising and transforming,” (yet clunkier, in my opinion). “Taking them apart and putting them back together”: we’re getting there, it’s literal but closer to the mark. “Deconstructing and reconstructing,” is almost there and is the best non-metaphorical option that was submitted; it checks both boxes, opposite words with a similar structure to match the source.

However, there was one superlative submission here that does all of the above but also leads into the next part of the sentence beautifully: “unraveling and reweaving them in concerts.” I swooned.

…qui filaient standards de jazz, classiques des classiques.

The swoon-worthy submission continues: “…that spun together jazz standards and classical classics.” This is why I love this option so much for the previous part. The translator saw filer in this section and put it to excellent use in the previous one, using a thread metaphor to describe how Gulda took apart and reassembled the musical components. The use of “spun” continues the metaphor perfectly.

Lastly, “classical classics,” submitted by two translators, is snappy and alliterative, and I don’t know what more you could ask.

Sentence breaks? What are those?

This mouthful of a French sentence reminds us that what is valued for style in French doesn’t always correspond to what we look for in English: French sentences can run on and on and on. And I actually chopped this sucker in half before issuing this challenge! Two of the translators used a period and broke it into two fully separate sentences; one person used a semicolon for the same purpose. One option that surprised me was to pull the initial verb (“might have disagreed”) all the way to the end, so it read something like “Friedrich Gulda, [description], who [did the things], may well have disagreed.” This, again, is a decision where context matters, and this option may or may not flow into what comes next in the text. But it certainly has the option to, and that’s awesome. Next time, I’ll provide more context so that we can better evaluate options like this one.

Putting it all together, this is a string combining my personal favorite individual translation solutions for this sentence:

Friedrich Gulda, the classical piano virtuoso who continually pushed the limits of two great genres (jazz and classical), unraveling and reweaving them in concerts that spun together jazz standards and classical classics, may well have disagreed.

You know what? I think that’s pretty good! That’s a well-crafted sentence. And, given the notable lack of preceding or following sentences, I can claim it is ideal for the context. So… whew! We made it! I hope that it was useful and informative to see how many options there are for even simple phrases, and what neat things you can achieve with even mundane words. Stay tuned for next month, where we’ll do it all again (with a more approachable sentence this time!).

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] translation.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!

Beat the Machine: A Mini Virtual Translation Slam by the ATA FLD

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Beat the Machine: A Mini Virtual Translation Slam by the ATA FLD

Greetings, fellow FLD members (and interested onlookers)!

My name is Sam Mowry and I’m here to help us all translate better. Strong words, I know, but one thing I’ve found to be true in my translation career is that the more exposure you have to translations, particularly good translations, the better translator you become. To that end, this is the first in what I hope will become an ongoing series of posts here in À Propos.

The premise is simple: I’ve never met a translator who, when confronted with someone else’s translation, doesn’t secretly or not-so-secretly think to themselves, “I could have done it better.” Moreover, as human translators, we know we’re vastly superior to every machine translation option on the market. We’re going to combine those concepts into a monthly “beat the machine” virtual translation slam (and by that I mean slamming those machine translations into the ground!).

Every two months, I will post a French sentence with an English translation produced by a widely available machine translation engine. This will incite the faithful readers of this blog to rise to the challenge and show how much better it could be by submitting their own versions of the translated sentence. The following month, I will publish a blog post where I share some of the best submissions and discuss what makes them so good. This is a chance to show what a difference the human touch makes and improve our own translation practices in the process by seeing how other translators approach the same problem.

Sound good?

The first sentence is:

L’excellentissime pianiste classique autrichien Friedrich Gulda n’eût peut-être pas été d’accord, lui qui ne cessa de transgresser les deux grands ordres (jazz et classique) en les reprisant et déprisant dans des concerts qui filaient standards de jazz, classiques des classiques.

Fun, right? Hat tip to FLD member Beth Smith, who provided this sentence. Here is what DeepL spat out:

Perhaps the excellent Austrian classical pianist Friedrich Gulda would not have agreed, as he never stopped transgressing the two great orders (jazz and classical) by reproducing them in concerts that spun jazz standards, classics from classics.

You are no doubt chomping at the bit already to submit your much better translation of this sentence. You can do that HERE.

Submissions must be received by July 22, 2020. The follow-up blog post discussing the best solutions will be posted on or around August 1, 2020.

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. When you log in to your account on the ATA website, the number of divisions you belong to is listed at the top of the page. Click “Modify” to change which divisions you belong to (and add the FLD!).
  • 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.

Finally, we’re hoping to continue this series with all of your help! Have you come across a particularly pesky sentence 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, or myself, Sam Mowry, to let us know!

Happy translating!

Sam Mowry is an ATA-certified French into English translator specializing in international development, medicine, official documents, and being mouthy on the internet. She can be reached by email at sam@frenchtranslation.expert or directly on Twitter at @SamTranslates.