Beat the Machine: 2020 Wrap Up

A vintage toy robot
Photo Credit: Unsplash

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.

SAM at a Glance

A veteran SAMiste shares her experiences at the 2018 Medical English Seminar in Lyon—will you join her in 2020?

By Anne-Charlotte Giovangrandi

Photo Credit: Indelebile photographe
This article was originally published in Translorial, the journal of the Northern California Translators Association (vol. 41, no. 2, fall 2019) and is republished here with permission.

Short for Séminaire d’anglais médical, SAM is organized every other year in Lyon, France, by the Société française des traducteurs, the French sister association of the ATA. Presented as a medical English writing and terminology training course, SAM is geared toward translators working in French and English who specialize—or wish to specialize—in medicine. It attracts linguists from all over the world, most coming from France and the UK. This article reviews the 2018 conference, which was held over five days at the medical school of Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1. As registration for the 2020 conference will open early next year, now seems to be a good time to spread the word!

In March 2018, participants (nicknamed “SAMistes”) who were lucky enough to arrive in town a bit early attended a welcome cocktail party on Sunday night. Newcomers were given the chance to start getting to know other participants over a glass of wine and plates of local charcuterie and cheeses, while old friends from previous conferences greeted each other joyfully, happy to reconnect.

Lectures and terminology sessions

The conference format alternates medical lectures (presented in French or English by expert guest speakers) with related terminology sessions led by Nathalie Renevier, a renowned translator, translation instructor, and terminologist who has translated numerous health and medical publications. The 2018 conference presentations covered a wide range of subjects: acute medical care, developmental coordination disorder, type 2 diabetes, the MeSH thesaurus, schizophrenia, dermatology, PTSD, and European Medicines Agency templates. In 2016, the presentations were just as diverse, including sessions on Alzheimer’s disease, influenza viruses, statistical analysis for clinical trials, and three cancer-related presentations.

All attendees can benefit from the lectures, which are presented simply enough to appeal to newbies but nevertheless provide enough detailed information to satisfy the intellectual curiosity of seasoned members of the field. The terminology sessions, in which audience participation is encouraged, are invaluable for our community of linguists. The organizers facilitate the learning process by providing all presentations, including all the terms discussed during terminology sessions and many valuable references, shortly after the event. Personal medical glossaries no doubt expand tremendously by the end of the workshop!

Hands-on learning

The first afternoon of the week is always spent working hard: the SAMistes are split into small groups to translate a 350–500-word excerpt from a selection of medical texts. In 2018, possible passages featured subjects as varied as genetic mutations, lip physiopathology, bulimia, and schizophrenia. The texts are sent before the conference, and most of the participants read them in advance; some even manage to prepare a draft translation to use as a starting point. Working in groups is not common in our profession, so this exercise offers participants a rare opportunity to glimpse colleagues’ methods for tackling a translation task, share tips and favorite resources (both paper and online), and brainstorm the perfect term or idiomatic expression to produce the best collaborative target text.

Over the course of the week, each group presents their translation to all the participants, with one of the guest speakers or organizers answering questions and providing feedback.

The extras

SAM offers multiple opportunities to network, chat with colleagues, and have fun, whether during the coffee breaks, over lunch at one of the nearby restaurants, or while attending the specially organized gourmet dinner. In 2018, attendees also enjoyed a guided tour of the fascinating exhibit Venenum: A Poisonous World at the architecturally stunning Musée des Confluences (http://xl8.link/204).

Some fun to conclude the hard work

In what has now become a tradition, SAM concluded on Friday afternoon with two translation slams (one for each translation direction) between two translators brave enough to each present their own translation of the same satirical scientific article. If you want an idea of the type of humor, check out the Onion article chosen for the 2018 English-to-French slam (http://xl8.link/203).

Attendance has grown steadily over the years; 2018 saw 60 participants, including the organizers and the terminologist. Almost three fourths of them were returning SAMistes. No wonder, as the format is quite addictive, as are the culinary delicacies of the host city! As a mise en bouche, the full program for 2018 is available at http://xl8.link/206.

 

An English into French translator since 2010, Anne-Charlotte Giovangrandi moved to the San Francisco Bay Area from her native Switzerland almost 20 years ago. Holding a translation certificate from New York University and a master’s degree in psychology from the University of Lausanne, she has developed a double specialization, translating patient-facing medical documents and transcreating marketing/advertising content (high jewelry in particular), an area in which she can let her creativity run free.

Why Overseas Translation Conferences Are Non-Negotiable

By Amanda N. Williams

While most of America was grilling out, drinking beer and enjoying the fireworks on the 4th of July, I was sitting in a conference room learning about hedging foreign exchange (FX) risk, the transition from LIBOR and EURIBOR to alternative interest rates, BASEL 3 capital requirements and interest rate benchmarks, and participating in workshops on how to edit for the European Central Bank and write clear corporate communications, among other things. I plan on spending my 4th of July holiday the same way every year.

Spiez, Switzerland. Photo credit: Amanda N. Williams

Why on earth would I do this to myself?

I’m sure we’ve all heard one version of this or another, but over the past ten years, our market landscape has started to change. New technologies are being introduced every day, translation companies are consolidating into mega-companies, some translators are experiencing pricing pressures—the market is fracturing, and we’re all trying to find our rightful place and still make a good living in this new world. For me, finding my place involves constant work to improve my subject matter expertise, target language writing skills and source language skills. I want my work to stand out. That’s why I make it a priority to attend conferences overseas every year.

Portfolio table, ASTTI conference 2019. Photo credit: Martin Hemmings

But can’t you do all those things in the US? Not nearly to the same extent. I’ve found that conferences in Europe tend to be much more specialized and in-depth. They’re often in your source language country (although that wasn’t the case for this Swiss conference I just attended), and I’ve noticed that at European conferences, translators are more open to showing their work (in portfolios and in workshops), so you get to see some really outstanding translations. It really opens your eyes to a whole new world of possibilities and pushes you to take your own work to the next level.

ASTTI Financial Translation Summer School

Nestled in the Bernese Highlands of Switzerland on the shores of Lake Thun, Spiez is a picture-perfect Swiss city that looks like it came straight out of The Sound of Music. You couldn’t pick a better location for a highly specialized translation conference. On July 3, 2019, over 80 financial translators from 10 countries as far away as the United States and Australia came together to attend this three-day deep dive into finance and financial translation, organized by the Association suisse des traducteurs, terminologues et interprètes (ASTTI).

ASTTI session in progress. Photo credit: Rosie Wells.

We spent our days attending incredibly technical sessions and rigorous three-hour hands-on workshops and our evenings cruising the pale blue waters of Lake Thun or relaxing with a pint at the quirky and quaint Piratenbar, hidden on a back street near the lake. Downtime is practically required after concentrating so hard all day, and the conference organizers managed to strike a perfect balance for attendees. Here are some of my favorite highlights.

Translations are like fingerprints – no two are alike

This year, ASTTI hosted its very first translation slams—French to English, English to German, English to French and English to Italian. The French to English slam pitted Martin Hemmings, MITI (our distinguished speaker at ATA60 in Palm Springs, by the way) against Sylvia Smith. It was one of the most fascinating slams I’ve ever seen.

French to English translation slam: Martin Hemmings vs. Sylvia Smith. ASTTI conference 2019. Photo credit: Michael Dever

The ASTTI organizing committee did a fantastic job selecting these slam participants. They are both talented translators with impressive portfolios in their own right, and their respective styles couldn’t be more different. Sylvia works for a Swiss bank and has a very technical background, while Martin mainly works for big NGOs, government agencies, and corporations looking for target audience-focused translations. Both translations were well-written, but completely different. Sylvia took a careful banker’s approach, adding in explanations where she thought necessary, while Martin assumed the target audience had the appropriate background knowledge to understand the text and focused on style and concision. Sylvia’s translation ended up being longer than the French while Martin’s was 20% shorter.

That slam was the clearest example I’ve ever seen of how two exemplary translations of the same text can be so utterly different.

And for those who have not yet met Martin or seen his work, you don’t want to miss his two workshops at ATA60 in Palm Springs. Trust me on this. I squealed with joy when I learned he was coming to present at the ATA conference.

Getting into the nitty gritty

As I mentioned above, this conference was highly technical. Full hours were devoted to specific topics in finance. I love this because the more we know about a subject, the better we’re equipped to translate about it. I dealt with accounting in my former career, but the world of accounting and finance is so vast there’s always some aspect of the field you can learn more about. And things change all the time, so it’s important to get refreshers and updates on a regular basis.

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For the most part, the presenters of these sessions were not translators—they were bankers, university professors, a former CEO of the Belgian Stock Exchange and current macro-economist, a member of the European Central Bank, etc. Who better to teach us about current trends in accounting and finance than the people living them?

“The most important investment you can make is in yourself” — Warren Buffet

Sunset dinner cruise on Lake Thun. Photo credit: Amanda N. Williams

Is it expensive to attend conferences in Europe every year? Yes. Is July 4th weekend the most optimal time to go? Not exactly. Will these things deter me from going? Never, because what I gain from these conferences is invaluable—new leads, new colleagues and friends, a whole lot of knowledge and a thirst to constantly improve. Every year I attend, I’m a little less afraid of a machine taking my job as AI and NML progress, and that peace of mind is worth its weight in gold.

 

 

 

 

 

Photo credit: Amanda N. Williams

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.

Pleats, Pockets and Problems: the Deceptive Ease of Fashion Translation

by Liza Tripp and Denise Jacobs

After a typical translator’s day working on dense annual reports and ponderous litigation files, fashion translation seems fun enough. What better diversion than immersing yourself in skirts and dresses?

Yet as with all well-executed translation, challenges abound. Sewing terms are technical, precise, and sometimes mysterious. There are endless variations of pleats, pockets, darts, seams, necklines, sleeves, hooks, buttonholes, and lapels. Fabric finishes also vary widely depending on textile manufacturers and whether the items are intended for haute couture or the mass market. Fashion is visual, yet translators are often faced with descriptions of pieces that have no accompanying images.

Haute couture and visionary designers often reference historical clothing styles and techniques in their creations. Max Mara even maintains a private historical fashion archive, which serves as a resource for its designers: “Fashion is a culture. Designers don’t create alone,” noted the brand’s creative designer.[i] Sometimes designs make literal references to historical items, in which case translations are best served doing the same. Indeed “les paniers” on a Junya Watanabe dress with zippered duffels at either hip are a fairly literal interpretation of the historical “panniers.”

Watanabe dress with panniers.
Photo Credit: 1stdibs
Historical dress with panniers. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

In other cases, historical fashions serve to spur the designer’s creativity in developing entirely new and avant-garde concepts. Consider Margiela’s use of “blouse blanche,” not a blouse at all, but a white lab coat, pointing to the highly skilled French “petites mains” who worked in haute couture ateliers.

White lab coats at Margiela.
Photo credit: Instagram

The fashion house uses the historical term and the piece itself as a jumping off point for a multitude of items in its collections. These designs have included everything from all white clothing (some of them blouses!) to head-to-toe white down comforters worn as coats, right down to the plain white labels inserted in all of its pieces. Indeed, in Margiela’s case, the historical “blouse blanche” has become a way of branding the house itself—simple, exceedingly modern, but deeply connected to the past.

White “duvet” coat at Margiela.
Photo credit: Instagram

To complicate matters further, some terms are “one-offs,” where sometimes a more literal translation is warranted. Pierre Cardin once devised a pair of pantalons à roulettes, or roller pants, with a leg finishing in a roller-skate wheel shape. Recently, there was a description for an “inside-out poodle jacquard” in a review of John Galliano’s latest collection for Maison Margiela, which turned out to be exactly as described.

Pierre Cardin’s “roller pants”
© 1971. Image used with the permission of Jean-Pascal Hesse.
The very literal “inside-out poodle jacquard.”
Photo credit: Instagram

While having a photograph of the garment or accessory is, of course, the ultimate resource, translators are often left in the dark. Technical and fashion dictionaries can be helpful starting points. From there, we have turned to designers’ websites, online videos of fashion shows (time consuming, but elucidating), reliable fashion reviews (Vogue, WWD, New York Times, BoF), blogs and sewing websites found online, as well as museum and auction house catalogues. Reaching out to fashion houses or museums is also an option, time permitting. We were delighted when a museum in Paris even sent us photographs of the back of a garment we simply could not envision for a book translation.

As always, it is essential to conduct online research meticulously, with context, linguistic register, and final audience in mind. When in doubt, we recommend relying heavily on description, so your reader can see the item in question in their mind’s eye. Sometimes leaving a term in French can be an option, a way of naming the object where you otherwise could not. Obviously, this technique should be used judiciously and thoughtfully.

Yet, perhaps due to French’s longstanding role as the lingua franca of fashion, use of French in English is sometimes de rigueur. Indeed, when translating historical books on classic couture or biographies of legendary houses or couturiers, publishers and editors even mandate that certain words should be kept in French. haute couture, atelier, petites mains, flou and tailleur are a few examples.

Nevertheless, as can be expected in fashion, change is always in the air. English suddenly abounds in French, and very much so in fashion reporting. Sometimes the terms are simply borrowed (la fashion week, les shows, le vintage, le it bag) but words cannot always be handily back-translated into English. The word “oversize” in French, for example, often equates not to our English-language conception of oversize, but to descriptions like “roomy,” “relaxed,” or “slouchy.” Perhaps translating fashion texts is so tricky because fashion itself is a language. Miuccia Prada herself has said, “What you wear is how you present yourself to the world, especially today, when human contacts are so quick. Fashion is instant language.”[ii] As translators, we present texts that can be read and absorbed in a moment. Yet how we present that language should be a detailed process using mixed research sources and a bevy of translation techniques and styles.


[i] Olsen, Kerry. “In Max Mara’s Archive, Decades of Italian History.” New York Times, September 19, 2018, link.

[ii] Galloni, Alessandra. “Interview: Fashion is how you Present Yourself to the World.” Wall Street Journal. Updated January 18, 2007, link.


Liza Tripp has been a translator of French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese into English for over 15 years. Much of her French and Italian work is in the luxury fashion sector. She most recently translated Martin Margiela: 1989–2009 with Denise Jacobs, which was published by Rizzoli in conjunction with a show at the Palais Galliera in Paris. She holds a BA in French translation from Barnard College, an M.Phil. from the Graduate School and University Center of the City of New York, and a French to English Certificate in Translation from NYU SCPS.
Website: www.lizatripp.com

Denise Jacobs is a French to English translator focusing on illustrated books about fashion, jewelry, art, travel, and the French lifestyle. She has an MA and M.Phil. in French literature from Columbia University. In addition to publishing more than 40 books, she has also translated several biographies, documentaries, and television news program segments. Website: www.deniserjacobs.com