Donnerstag, 15. Februar 2018

Happy New Lunar Year

Today is the First Day of the Year of the Dog, in Vietnamese Mậu Tuất, and I wish all my readers, friends, and clients a Happy New Lunar Year, health and success, good luck and fortune in the following year.

Donnerstag, 10. August 2017

A short fable

Some days ago I was craving for something new to eat. I haven't eaten chocolate for a long time, or other sweets and candies. So I decided to give a bakery near my house a try. However, while entering this shop I also realised that I had not been there before. How could I know whether their cakes and cookies are delicious or not?

I approached the woman, who worked there, and pointed to one of the cakes. It looked quite nice, a small cake, about 25cm diametre and filled and topped with cream.

"I would like to purchase that tart," I told the saleswoman. She seemed to be enjoyed. "The cake is 250 000 Dong (roughly 10 US-Dollars). "I am, actually, not willing to pay now. I do not know you. How can I know whether it is good or not?" She looked a little bit surprised and disappointed. I, therefore, suggested: "Okay, let us make a deal. You give me the cake now and I will try it. If it is good, I come back tomorrow and buy another one - I will pay that one, though. If your cakes are really good, I might come long-term and buy it every day and you will get a lot of money." The woman looked a bit stumbled, but she agreed. And then I went home with my free cake and enjoyed it. However, the following day I was not at the bakery again. I thought I might give another bakery a try, which is not as near as the one I purchased the cake, but a little bit further away. The owner was a rude man, who - after having told him my proposal - threw me out. I am now thinking if I should give the first bakery a second visit and pay - I might try to bargain on the price of the cake. It was not that bad, but also not that fantastic...

I have chosen the title "Fable" for this short posting. And I am sure, you have already realised that this is a fictitious story. No one would go to a bakery and get a free cake telling that woman or man who works there that you intend to pay in the future. You also would not do such thing if you went into a new restaurant, clothes shop or a new petrol station.

However, this story is real. In fact, I deal with it every day. You would wonder what proposals I get as a translator from creative clients. They try all tricks on me to get something for free. Most clients seem to think that translators just work for free. I mean, yeah. I have nothing to do the whole day, except translating your latest novel. Although this might be a funny story for some readers, in fact, it is my everyday experience. If you change the words "baker" with "translator" and "cake" with "text" and adapt it to an office environment, it depicts my daily experience in dealing with proposals and queries from customers. And not only I am getting honoured by such clients, but many of my colleagues too.

This lack of respect seems to be quite common in translating business. Even translation bureaus approach me with ridiculous proposals, such as tests (Could you please do this 18-page test for free until tomorrow?). I decline all tests which have more than 300 words, especially when the texts are fully consistent in themselves. A good translation test will always test different styles and kinds of texts and topics. Why would I ask a baker to show me his certificate, or ask him/her to show me how to bake the cake? Every translator has a portfolio of texts, maybe even a list of previous clients or probes of the work. And even if problems arise, professional translators will always offer to rework parts of a text or lower their invoice - if there is a real problem.

So, dear readers, if you are a client who seeks translation, think of this first, before asking for free work. And if you are a translator, do not let you down and accept stupid proposals. Do not work for free. Most translation bureaus will offer you a compensation for your test, or the test will be a test. Do not translate pages over pages for free! Translation is work, and as such it must be paid. Like all other work is too.

Samstag, 1. Juli 2017

Japanese: A Language without grammar

When I discuss with friends, clients, other people, I stumble sometimes over sentences like „oh, Japanese is easy“ and „Japanese has no grammar“. I am always stunned of such statements. You even find them in a textbook and you just think that someone who is or at least pretends to be an expert of Japanese won’t write such nonsense.

It seems clear that this can only be stated when you define grammar to be „forms and flections“. So, a language like Latin or French, German and Russian has a lot of grammar, whereas Japanese has none. I could, actually, agree to that, if grammar really would mean that. But grammar is nothing else than rules to describe what is considered as being correct language use by the majority of the native speakers.

As a German native, I can talk about everything I want in my mother-tongue. I can do the same in Japanese. How comes, though Japanese does not have „grammar“? What most people do not know and the textbook writers clearly not state is that Japanese have grammar, but they just use different sets of rules. I wonder how someone like my professor, Prof. Jens Rickmeyer, ever could write a grammar of Japanese language; or think of Samuel E. Martin’s grammar of Japanese, which – I have to use my memory – might roughly have 1,600 pages. I mean, that is more than writers can bring on paper about English grammar. So, Japanese must at least have enough grammatical stuff to fill 1,600 pages!

And if it does not have so much grammar and is sooo easy to learn, I wonder why of 140 students who started studying Japanese in my academic year, only 3-4 actually graduated? I remember that I started Japanese in October 1997, and in December the course was reduced by 80% already.

So, what textbook writers do not tell you is that, for instance, Japanese uses a totally different approach in verbs of giving and receiving. It also uses a totally different set of politeness. The lack of subjects, in my opinion, can be more difficult than the Western approach of explicit marking. The vast amount of aspects troubles even me, after having studied it for nearly 30 years now! Although Japanese verbs have only 14 suffixes, but ask someone who speaks Japanese why they use iku, ikimasu, irasshaimasu or mairimasu – all those words actually meaning roughly someone goes (not all can mean I go, only some, whereas mairimasu cannot mean you go, e.g.) – why, yeah, the explanation can be found in a grammar.

So, the next time someone tells you that Japanese has no grammar and is therefore so easy to learn, explain them roughly the basic rules of the three words for giving and receiving...

Donnerstag, 29. Juni 2017

Vietnamese literature translation - an advertisement

Literature of extra-European countries still has a bad stand. It depends on the publishing houses, their editors and sales analysts whether a book comes to publication or not. It is often only after publication that you find out whether the book is in or out.

Vietnamese literature has not had that much attention. Most books on Vietnam are books dealing with the time of war. Modern, recent literature is actually unknown in the West. Some of the older books, premodern Vietnamese, are translated by French scholars. However, compared to Japanese literature, we hardly know anything about Vietnam.

The Mekong Review Magazine publishes modern Vietnamese literature, short-stories, novels, and essays. They just created a new project on Kickstarter to translate two Vietnamese stories into English. They are looking for donations on Kickstarter to achieve this goal.

You can find a newspaper article here.
The web page of the magazine here.
And a link to the Kickstarter Project here.

Dienstag, 27. Juni 2017


I find it interesting that in my life I chose only professions which are not "copyrighted". They actually can be done by everyone, because there aren't any laws preventing one to call himself "Historian" or "Archaeologist" or "Translator"...It all actually depends on the recognition of colleagues, the acceptance into the higher circles of your profession.

However, everyone who

- saw Indiana Jones can call him/herself an archaeologist. No need to study for years, as long as you publish weird nonsense theories and appear in every second National Geographic documentary. Screw the acceptance of studied archaeologists at well established universities - they are too far away from reality, and in most cases part of the system which hides all prehistoric secrets to prevent humanity reaching the next evolutive step. If this does not work, there is still Atlantis or some aliens, you can cite.

- literally bought a dictionary can be a translator. Even worse, today you can download dictionary apps in every language. Some of them even do the translation for you. In the 1990ies everybody laughed about those weird translations in technical manuals, done by people who just did not know what they did. Today it is common standard. The level of translation quality, especially in public like the Internet, is amazingly low.

The damage done by those "professionals" is horrendous. It damages our whole understanding of how academics, education and learning works.

Dienstag, 20. Juni 2017

Tests and tests and tests

In many professions it is common to make a test during the application process. This ensures the employer that the candidate has the expected qualifications at hand and not only on a certification. I studied Japanese Language, but I have to admit - I forgot a lot of kanji and vocabulary. A university degree just does not prove anything. And even a regular Nihongo Noryoku Shiken N1 proof would not show much, since sometimes translation companies need someone with a more specialised, diversified vocabulary. The JLPT just only shows your command of regular, general Japanese.

So, tests must be done. I usually get a test sent to me when I apply at a translation company for work. However, in most professions which are not translation, it is common also to get paid. I have done so many tests now that I sometimes just refuse doing more. I have, personally, more the feeling that some companies use those tests as a free income source. Let a qualified translator translate a test, for which he is not paid, and then sell that translation back to the client. Some minor errors are okay and welcomed, since the company does actually not pay anything to the translator and will receive 100% from the client. Unbabel, e.g. which I already mentioned in another posting, let me do one test after another and did not stop, even as I had reached the number of test documents for its evaluation. Other companies just ask me for help. Can you do this, can you do that.

As a rule of thumb: Professional translation companies will pay for the test. Ot they will use a testing system which is a test, like extraction of words, multiple choice tests etc. Or even an oral interview via skype. If you get documents, especially whole documents, it smells a little bit sketchy.

Samstag, 10. Juni 2017

Looking for a job? Maybe not on these sites...

In this post I will present some websites, some online translation companies or outsourcing websites, which in my opinion are not very helpful to earn some money. I would not ask you to avoid them, but I have been member on some of them for months without earning a cent.

Now, first to say, Unbabel does not offer my language pairs, so I decided to make an account as English to German translator. However, I was a member for several months until I finally decided to delete my account. The reason: I was in endless training sessions. When you make an account you have to proof your ability for your language pair by doing about twenty training tasks. You earn some points, not money. The training tasks are short, not much to do, so one will not die by accepting that. However, I did 56. And I was still not evaluated. Later, I read in the FAQ that they do not evaluate new members if they belong to a popular language pair - which English/German probably is. So, no chance for me to step further. Anyhow, those 56 training tasks are already a pain for me. I mean, doing them took several houses and after about 4 months I deleted my account: The work was therefore for nothing. However, please remember that I was doing English/German there. They had several other languages, so if you have the right language pair you just might get some money out of it. Since opening and closing an account is free, there is no loss. And if you feel you just do not get evaluated leave it.

At first glance this page looked nice. And they even offered my language pairs Japanese and Vietnamese. So I did the tests and translated about 5 texts (English-German; Japanese-English; Japanese-German; Vietnamese-English and Vietnamese-German). I have not heard anything from Lingosaur. Since there is no life sign I cannot even be sure whether this site is still active. Without evaluation you can also not get further, get no jobs and therefore earn no money. I still have my account but there seems nothing to happen on this page.

There are many pay-sites, meaning they want you to pay some money upfront to become member or to get a job. Leave them. Avoid them. You want work and get money, so do not become a member and pay. At least not if you could not even try a kind of free version. I specially will except Proz from this, because it is a kind of translation organization and also provides a lot of benefits for the paying members. However, if you stumble over sites which want you to pay 39,99$ to get access to thousands of jobs, please, use your common sense!

The next two pages are outsourcing pages. The biggest one of them is upwork; everyone who works freelance knows them. They, sadly, have gotten a kind of bad reputation. And I must admit that I am also not feeling very well with upwork. I had once an account but not used it. I was quite active, when it had been Odesk. Later it became tiresome. So, they closed my account some years ago. Some months ago (3 months to be true) I opened a new one. I am amazed how many Vietnamese and Japanese translations there are. And even Classical Japanese, my favourite language! I loved reading Classical Japanese literature at university. And I still can translate Classical Japanese. I have even seen one kanbun job there! However, after three months I come out with 0 jobs. Okay, I am still a beginner. And I am again "new" to Upwork (many jobs there require you to have at least 100 hours worked on UW). But I really wonder, why my excellent qualifications (I actually studied Japanese, and the premodern Japanese) do not get me to any jobs there. I guess, I am too expensive. And after reading through some forums in the web, this might be true. What counts on Upwork is to be the cheapest of cheap. I cannot work for 0.0000006cents! I was offered to proofread a document with 100,000 words for not even 18 Dollars! Okay, you can google and read what happened to others on Upwork. I do not really recommend it, but it might be still an option for fishing for some clients. And not to mention that some people actually make money on Upwork. Maybe I am only unlucky.

Freelancer is a similar page, but smaller and not as professional as upwork. It looks at first glance quite nice. However, you have just to pay for everything. You want to get better listed you pay. You want your quote up, you pay. You are German with German as native tongue - please proof it by taking the German I to III tests. The test, what a surprise, are not for free (110,000VND or roughly 7€). The whole membership in Freelancer is build around the goal to make you signing up for the higher membership, The bidding is enormous. You can see who gave a quote of how much to whom. That is a little bit tricky too. And there are endless companies from India, Bangladesh and the Near East bidding on every translation job, even if they do not have the languages. They will just look out for a cheap translator in the wide world of the web.

Look also out for Vietnamese companies. I received a mail via TraduGuide and Proz two weeks ago from Lokpat, a Hanoi-based company. They asked me to send in a quote for Vietnamese to German and vice versa and I send in 0.02€/word. This quote is already ridiculous. No one, not even I in Vietnam, could live on such an income. Colleagues of mine translating in this pair start with 0.15€/word. All I got back is a reply "that with your expensive quote you probably cannot start in our company". Probably, because my enthusiasm in working for a company which considers 0.02€/word in one of the most exotic language pairs as expensive, is also very low.