Pathway through the social networking jungle

Signpost in blue sky with clouds“Don’t judge a book by its cover”. The social networking virtual world is a true jungle and the wide range of offerings available can be overwhelming: as a translator, which networks should I use? Which ones are useless? What do I need? What can I realistically expect from each network and which networks can help me reach my objectives and/or respond to my needs? Many colleagues have decided – arbitrarily I shall add – that social networking and social marketing are “a waste of time”, “useless and stupid”, “for desperate amateurs” and the like. Is that really so?

This webinar version of my presentation at the ITI conference 2013 and the ProZ.com Porto International Conference has two objectives: hopefully break some prejudices by showing that nothing is black or white, and provide a neutral yet hopefully thought-provocative overview of the main social sites, which ones don’t make sense for our profession, which ones do make sense and are useful , what can be realistically expected and achieved with them.

The aim is to provide students with concrete and translation profession-oriented information. For both industry newcomers as well as seasoned translators – any translator wondering about social networking, considering doing it but not sure how or already doing it.

Date: July 23rd.
Complete info and registration: click here

Cracow Translation Days 2013

800px-Krakow_rynek_01The Cracow Translation Days will be held from 6–8 September 2013.

The Cracow Translation Days are an international conference for professional translators that offers more than just plain vanilla. With a focus on professional education, networking and intercultural exchange, this is not just another conference in an impersonal convention centre, where the goal seems to be to attend as many talks as possible in as little time as possible. The Cracow Translation Days give priority to quality, not to quantity.

The organisers have chosen a special location for a special conference, the Benedictine abbey of Tyniec, 13 km southwest of Cracow, and put together an extensive social programme in and around Cracow.

Registration for this non-profit conference is now open. Abstracts for talks, workshops or roundtables are being accepted until 31 May 2013.

For more information, please visit the conference website.

(GxP Language Services is not affiliated with the organizers nor is organizing or helping to organize this event. We will just be attending it.)

Interview with… André Lindemann

A.LindemannI had the pleasure of interviewing BDÜ’s President, André Lindemann. With 7000 members, the BDÜ (German Federal Association of Interpreters and Translators – Bundesverband der Dolmetscher und Űbersetzer e.V.) is Germany’s largest professional association in the industry. It represents 75% of all professional translators and interpreters in Germany and has been representing their interests since 1955. We covered many topics in this interview, and it has been a true pleasure – thank you again, André!

The German version of this interview is available here.


Hi André. Thank you for agreeing to this interview. What can you tell us about your background and your career? Who are you and how did you come to this profession?

I grew up near the German-Polish border in the state of Brandenburg, which is once more my place of residence and where meanwhile, I’m in the second half of life, happily married and have an adult son.

I originally wanted to study for a degree in criminology after secondary school then, in the early Eighties, I was persuaded by my future employer – the Ministry of the Interior of the erstwhile GDR – to study for a degree in translation and interpreting, which I was awarded in 1986 at Leipzig University for the languages Polish and Russian. I subsequently interpreted and translated for all areas of the Ministry of the Interior (police, justice, fire, etc.) until the end of 1990. After German reunification and a three-year period of constant change in employment and vocational orientation, I finally landed back with the police in 1994 as a staff interpreter and translator.

You are an interpreter and translator for the Brandenburg State Police, but also self-employed. What does a typical day look like for you?

If there are no interpreting assignments pending outside normal office working hours – or at the office – I cross the border to Poland and go to my office at the Joint Centre of German-Polish Police and Customs Cooperation in Świecko, where I provide translation support to my colleagues in international police legal assistance, or in the coordination of German-Polish police cooperation. Several times a week there are conversations, work consultations, conferences and training sessions which require interpretation for representatives of the Polish and German security authorities (police, border guards, customs, prosecutors, etc.). What I particularly love about my professional work is the constant change between translating and interpreting.

My part-time self-employment is currently limited to appointments at the courts for interpreting and translation for a few regular and new customers.

The majority of my spare time is dedicated to my work for the BDÜ (Federal Association of Interpreters and Translators). Just like the profession, the association is also in a phase of change and here, I can actively contribute with my involvement. Together with the positive results of the task, cooperation in association committees has an almost family atmosphere, which provides me with an extremely high level of satisfaction.

Your working languages are Russian and Polish; why not English as well? How does one manage in this profession in 2013 without English?

These days, I’m actually working as an interpreter with just one working language: Polish. Although I continue to translate from the Russian language, I’m no longer working as an interpreter, because for decades, I have no longer had enough activity to provide the practical experience required.

In professional practice, I get along quite well without English, dealing as I do almost exclusively with German and Polish police officers. The situation is different in my volunteer work for the BDÜ, where my English is not always good enough for international meetings and conferences in particular and unfortunately very few participants speak Polish. I am therefore currently trying to refresh my knowledge of the English language a little but in important conversations, I always rely upon the support of a competent interpreter.

You are president of the BDÜ. What can you tell us about the goals, structure and tasks of the BDÜ?

With over 7,000 members, the Federal Association of Interpreters and Translators (BDÜ) is the largest association for our profession in Germany. It represents about 80 percent of all organised translators and interpreters in Germany, is the contact point for government, industry, trade, and it is responsible for all matters related to both the education and training of and for language service providers. Experienced members of the association become involved, for example, as reviewers of translations, as auditors of state examination boards or as consultants in the development of new vocational qualifications.

The BDÜ has been representing the interests of professional interpreters and translators for over 50 years and the BDÜ umbrella organisation, based in Berlin, represents 13 affiliated member associations. The member associations work at provincial state level or are grouped by profession, such as the “Verband der Konferenzdolmetscher e.V. (VKD) im BDÜ” (Association of Conference interpreters) ”. Internationally, the BDÜ is networked with European organisations like EULITA or FIT Europe, as well as the global umbrella association, the International Federation of Translators (FIT) and the CIUTI.

How did you come to this position as President of the BDÜ?

I had been taking part in the association’s work for a long time, so the simple answer to this question is that the General Assembly of the Association elected me to the function. As a BDÜ member since 1993, I “took office” two years thereafter with their Berlin-Brandenburg state association, where I performed various functions up to January 2009, most recently as Chairman there. A few months later, I was elected to the National Executive Board of the association, where I took on particular responsibility for the areas of interpreting and translation in the legal field, as well as the activities of staff interpreters and translators. I was then elected President of the BDÜ at Speyer during April 2011.

BDÜ_ Logo (Internet)Can you tell us something about the petition to increase the fees and remuneration of interpreters and translators working for the judiciary and your commitment to it?

The BDÜ and the other German professional associations have been fighting for decades to generate reasonable compensation for interpreters and translators – both those who work for the judiciary – as well as those who work in other areas. In terms of preparation of the amendment to the JVEG (German Judicial Remuneration and Allowances Act) – a law which inter alia covers the remuneration of interpreters and translators who are appointed by the judiciary and law enforcement authorities –we have, in recent years, been very active. We have been conceiving and agreeing our substantive position, carried out countless discussions with ministries and members of parliament and have repeatedly presented our reasoning to reinforce support of our individual agenda items.

It is only in the judiciary sector in Germany that remuneration for our freelance colleagues is regulated at law, so the representation of the interests of our members here is particularly important and this can trigger a signal for the entire profession.

After our demands were not adequately accounted for in the draft legislation published, we searched for further ways to influence policy-makers and in doing also submitted an e-petition to the German Parliament for the first time. With a lack of detailed experience here and the difficulty in Germany of mobilising  a relatively small sector, I am not quite dissatisfied with the result: we were, after all, supported by 4,915 signatures.
In addition, and as far as I know for the first time in history, many individual interpreters and in particular translators who were affected referred the matter by means of personal letters to members of parliament and ministries, thus further increasing the pressure on the government.

During recent years, we can certainly note heightened perception of representatives of the profession in political circles. Meanwhile, politicians proactively ask about the expertise of our association wherever it is a case of our professional activity. It was for the first time that a representative of the profession was invited to a public hearing in the Federal Parliament in the person of the BDÜ President.

Further discussions by the Federal Parliament on May 16 about the legislative package will show the extent to which the interests of our members have been successfully represented. Having been made party to the latest information, I’m confident that the results of this work in connection with the law targeted for the early summer will at least bring a noticeable improvement in compensation for many colleagues, even if it understandably lags somewhat behind some goals that are quite ambitious and does not satisfy all.

How do you respond as an association to increasing globalisation and the resulting pressure on prices?

By definition, economic globalisation also offers our industry many advantages, since all those who want to export or import something must communicate with their international partners. In addition to that, there are contracts, operating manuals, and much more that needs to be transferred from one language to another. For this, qualified resources are required and all forecasts predict that in the area of language services provision, a continued annual growth of 10% is expected. That is one side of the coin. But of course globalisation also means increased competition, so that rates are in fact under pressure. This has, however, only had limited influence upon the German market, according to our own research. The BDÜ rates surveys in recent years rather indicate stable rates or indeed slightly higher rates.

As we see it, informing the public – especially potential clients – about the significance of quality in language services, the possibilities for finding a qualified linguist, the benefits of in-house language services and the dangers of machine translation are among the most important tasks for us as a professional association. We also attach great importance to the continuous professional development of our association members, especially in the entrepreneurial area. Overall, the BDÜ annually runs more than 250 different training events. As an association, we have established that colleagues who are most successful are those who can name a clear specialisation for themselves, can position this in the market and who have an entrepreneurial mindset. We are therefore working to constantly improve the business skills of our members and to assist them on their way towards specialisation.

As a German association, or in cooperation with other associations, what do you do to assist translators in positioning themselves better within the international marketplace?

The BDÜ provides its members with diverse possibilities for general or sector-specific marketing via the on-line search on the association website or using various lists of specialised professional interpreters and translators that are available. On the other hand, the association is expanding its continuous professional development offerings, particularly in the field of basic entrepreneurial skills base of its members. As an example last year, they were offered two series of free webinars covering various topics such as estimating, bidding, price negotiations and similar.

How do you see the German translation market?

Even although Germany is no longer the export champion of the world, exports still play a key role in the German economy. This inevitably leads to a high requirement for translation, whereby the time factor is increasingly becoming a decisive element, because translations of manuals, operating instructions or websites in several languages must be done timely and concurrently.

Despite these requirements, and by contrast to the translation markets of many other countries, the German translation market is still highly-fragmented, with many single-person or small enterprises and not quite so many large operators. This also becomes evident from statistics, according to which a micro-census showed that of approximately 38,000 interpreters and translators in Germany, more than half of all translators are self-employed and working alone. Reverting specifically to being able to react appropriately to the requirements that the marketplace sets, it will become ever more necessary to build networks and it is particularly here that the networking facilities offered by our association constitute a competitive advantage.

What is your opinion of the future for translators and interpreters?

Of course, I have no crystal ball for the future, but the question of where the journey is heading has already been touched upon. We assume that the market for language services will continue to grow dynamically with the progress of continuing globalisation, which means that the aforementioned tendency for pressure in the areas of deadlines and remuneration will together provide increasing competition.

For present and future translators and interpreters, it will be dependent upon their ability to perform correctly with well-founded language and translation skills as qualified translators and / or interpreters. In addition to that, we can add specialisation, which also encompasses the principle of “lifelong learning”. Thirdly, ‘willingness’ should be mentioned. The willingness to work together either on a project-related basis or permanently in multilingual or cross-functional networks, while adapting our entrepreneurial profiles to the market in such a way that they offer higher added value to the client and can ensure an adequate personal return. There is one thing that I am 100% sure about: Despite the fact that virtually everyone is somehow able to communicate in English, and despite ever-improving machine translation tools, people will ALWAYS need those who can reliable and competently communicate between two languages and consequently between two cultures.

Thank you very much for your time André!

(Translated from German by Textklick)

Understanding English medical terminology

Webinar by Alessandra Martelli, April 22nd. 

“The technical language of medicine can sound pretty obscure at a first glance: words like electrocardiography and echocardiography can look pretty alike and might sound confusing.

In medical translation, precision and utmost attention to terminology is a must. This webinar is designed to provide participants with a good grasp on English medical terminology based on the morphology of medical terms – i.e. how medical terms are created.

In an hour, we will go through the most common Latin and Greek roots, prefixes and suffixes used in medical terminology and you will learn how to recognise these elements and use them to decode medical terms effectively and precisely.”

Complete info and registration here.

Picture credits: Photo protected by copyright. License purchased on iStockphoto.com –www.istockphoto.com

People who rock the industry – Erik Hansson

It’s time for the  January 2013 interview! with Erik Hansson. Happy reading!


 Hi Erik! Tell us about you (your personal/professional background)

Thanks a lot for giving me the opportunity to take part in your interview series! I’m a Swedish native (born in the city of Lund in the southern part of Sweden) and have been living in Germany since 1991. The reason for moving to another country? Well, that’s an easy one: my German girlfriend. I guess I’m just one of the many who at a certain point in their life decide to take the leap and leave their home country.

As I have always been very interested in foreign countries, languages and cultures, I knew as far back as my early teens that I would probably live abroad later on in life. I had English and German at school, and finished my education with a three-year course at a technical college with a focus on electrotechnology. After having worked as an assembler and quality checker within the medical-technical industry (with a focus on audiometry and dialysis) for some years, it was time to take another path, so I signed up for a university program in political science. Definitely a fascinating subject.

What were the turning points in your career that got you where you are now?

One of my turning points was when I moved to Germany and more or less by chance got started as an English teacher for adults. Back in the beginning of the 1990s, there was a huge demand for English language trainers in different courses aimed at unemployed adults in the eastern part of Germany. Around 1994, I started to do my first translations from German into Swedish parallel with the English training courses. In 1999 I decided to leave the training sector and focus entirely on translations. Over the years, my clients who once had sent me Swedish translation work came back and asked if I could also provide translations into other languages. This was the start of my agency business. In the new millennium, I got more active on different professional portals which meant that I got in contact with many new colleagues. With today’s social media it has become even easier to build up networks with peers.

You studied political science. How does one go from this subject matter to software and technical translations?

Well, honestly, that’s a good question! In addition to my fascination for languages, I have always been interested in questions regarding politics, democracy, policy-making and governance. Certain sub-disciplines of political science intersect with ethnic minority rights. This also includes everybody’s right to communicate in their own mother tongue. For practical reasons, my soft spot for ethnic minority issues is quite peripheral during my daily work with technical documents to be translated from German into Swedish. Nevertheless, I’m still very fascinated by subjects such as minority languages and bilingualism.

Tell us about The WinTitus Software Project.

Around eight years ago I realized that I spent far too much time just on daily administration tasks at the office, such as updating the address data for clients, creating quotes, issuing invoices and keeping track of payments. Instead of handling all these data manually, i.e. having one directory for addresses, another one for quotes and a third one for invoices etc, I thought about a software solution for this. Together with a programmer we developed a tailor-made project management software.

Since we started using WinTitus in 2005 we have saved probably thousands of working hours – one of the basic features is a database where we store all of the relevant data for all of the partners we are interacting with (translators, agencies and end-clients). When creating a quote in a certain language pair, the database can suggest exactly those translators who offer this language pair and work in this particular field. Generating a quote takes less than a minute this way.

If the client accepts the quote, we can quickly convert the quote into a job and don’t need to enter all the data again. Once the job has been done and the translation has been delivered, we convert the job into an invoice – and you’re right, it only takes a second.

Apart from the quick processing, we can also easily keep track of payments. It’s always a nice feeling to know if a client has paid the last invoice due five weeks ago when they suddenly give you a call and ask for another quote. Getting a clear picture of the client’s payment behavior is only a mouse click away.

Together with the programmer we are constantly improving WinTitus and implementing new features, such as individually defined units for charging (per source word, line, page, hour etc). There is only a German interface of the program, but we do have plans for other languages.

You are a DVÜD founder member and member of the Advisory Board. What are your tasks and what does the DVÜD do?

When we founded the DVÜD in November 2011, our motivation was that we wanted to place a focus, different from that of existing professional organizations, on our work. We might have the same aims as similar organisations, but we want to take a different road and utilize the modern networking advantages that Web 2.0 technologies offer, and this is a vast field!

We are at the very beginning of our work, but are already the talk of the town within the translation sector in Germany. In our very first year we achieved a lot, such as launching the website http://www.dvud.de and the DVÜD forum, offering free or discounted services from our partners (insurance companies, lawyers, tax consultants) and networking among colleagues. We also organize webinars on different subjects such as calculating translation services, generating quotes, negotiating with clients, integrating the standard DIN EN 15038 in daily translation work and many more topics. These webinars target young colleagues who have just finished their studies, career changers who originally worked in other business sectors, as well as experienced translators.

Our main objectives are to strengthen the professional status of translators and interpreters within the German economy and to explain our contribution to the export business. Another important objective is to lobby for decent rates for translation and interpreting services.

In our opinion, it’s very important to explain to freelance translators what they need to do to be successful in the market, and how they can act as convincing business people towards their clients, either agencies or end clients. Translators who don’t perceive themselves as business people can’t expect to be regarded as equals by their clients when it comes to negotiations about the rates. This is a key issue when negotiating with clients.

What is your take on MT and post-editing?

lapla_0503

Sending off a tweet from Swedish Lapland – always on duty.

Even if we still laugh at the outcome of some machine translations, we have to keep in mind that this technology is constantly developing, and getting more sophisticated. MT is here to stay, whether we agree with it or not. However, it is also important to know that this technology will never be as reliable as human translations as it cannot be used for any text or subject, and cannot detect the language style which is suitable for a special target group.

In order to get an acceptable outcome, i.e. to only translate the gist of a text, the source text must be written in a so-called controlled language, i.e. standard phrases and vocabulary. It is not realistic to assume that a high number of documents in the future will be written in controlled language and thus be suitable for MT.

The main question however, once clients have realized that the outcome from MT is not good enough, is whether we as translators will have the courage to turn down post-editing jobs, or accept to pull the chestnuts out of the fire for clients who use MT. In many cases, just as much (if not more) effort is required to edit a bad translation as that required to translate the text all over again, and the outcome is very often mediocre compared to a new translation from scratch. Those who decide to get into the post-editing business have to know how to charge for their services.

What piece of advice would you give to someone starting out in the industry?

Act as a professional translator and get specialized within clearly defined fields; don’t jump on every possible job. Join a professional organization which has a mentorship program for young translators. Keep your eyes wide open for different webinars which will bring you further in your profession. Attend translators’ gatherings and establish a network with other colleagues. Take part in discussions on social media.

In your opinion, what does the future of our profession look like?

Well, I am quite optimistic about the future. We alone are responsible for the path our profession will take. There will always be a demand for translators, but we need to raise the standards, i.e. do what is necessary when it comes to networking, marketing, attending webinars and learning how to sell our services at decent rates. In order to reach these rates, it is crucial that our clients understand what translation work really means, and what the consequences of using MT or less qualified translators could be. There is a lot of work to be done

 Erik, thanks a lot for your time!

Medical/Pharmaceutical Translations 2012-2013 Trends

Weather Vane with Dollar SignBack in January 2012, I made the following forecasts for 2012 compared with 2011.

  • A higher volume of work
  • An increase in rate levels for qualified translators
  • The social networks growing in significance
  • The specialised ‘tools of the trade’ are required as ever, but the definition of exchange formats and workflows needs to be driven ahead
  • Machine translation has yet to fulfil its promises
  • Translation associations should be looking at extending their range of educational and CPD facilities
  • Representing the interests of the translation profession must be reinforced

The original article is here (only available in German)

Now that the year 2012 has come to an end (and the world has survived – contrary to expectations in some quarters), it is worth considering to what extent these predictions have changed and whether indeed new and interesting trends have developed.

Volume of Work/Rate Levels

Here, we would benefit from data that are more topical and reliable. The first two statements for the medical/pharmaceutical sector are still applicable in my opinion; albeit based upon data from a small group of LSPs with which I maintain close contact in that respect. Nevertheless, I increasingly note suggestions in various blogs and forums that could lead one to conclude that the market should be substantially more dynamic than it is from my vantage point. I would like to see more information about the scope of orders and rates, since information like this could help us to identify seasonal and absolute trends. Using such data, it would be possible to react and the data would lessen the partly hysterical cries about sinking rates which – in my opinion – are certainly to the detriment of our profession.

Social Networks/Internet Culture

The social and professional network tools (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Xing and Google+) are becoming ever more important and the previous translation platforms (Proz.com, Translatorscafe etc.) are suffering from increasingly less importance. This can be seen variously in the increasing number of translation groups e.g. on Facebook, LinkedIn, Xing, where more and more business is transacted and also in the range of CPD facilities being made available via these groups.  Professional associations such as the German BDÜ took their time to set foot onto the social networks but in the meantime, they have understood the significance and are presenting themselves professionally on these platforms.

Unfortunately this development does not just have positive aspects. As a freelancer, it is impossible to follow all groups within which interesting projects are posted and also as an LSP, it is becoming ever more difficult to find specialists for specific projects on the various platforms.

For this reason it will be necessary to develop aggregators that bundle the various offers. On Twitter, we have made a first step towards combining job offers from various sources by means of our @Translate_Jobs account. We also offer similar services to embrace news from the translation profession with @Translate_News, interesting blogs and events in the profession with @Translate_Blogs and @TranslateEvents.

These solutions are, however, limited by the facilities that Twitter offers, which is one of the reasons why we launched our Alexandria platform to cover the area of CPD opportunities.

Specialised Tools/Interoperability/Crowd and Cloud Services

In the field of interoperability, good things are happening as the two top dogs MemoQ and Trados benefit from ever more functions to improve interoperability between the individual programs. Here it only seems natural that recent weeks have seen massive criticism of the hermetically-sealed protected design of the across program. I am somewhat more cautious in this respect, since I thoroughly recognize the necessity for closed workflows and would prefer an appropriately optional functionality from other vendors. At the same time, I would naturally appreciate it should across deign to open up.

What I cannot, however, understand is how one can work as a translator with the cloud services that are springing up like mushrooms. This is a TM solution that can only bring disadvantages to the translator with a lack of their own TM, no traceability of tasks performed etc. etc.

Machine Translation

I would appreciate having a functional system, but unfortunately have yet to find one. There is nothing more to be said, other than the fact that I will keep my eyes open. What I find interesting are two aspects:

a) We translators are told more and more that there is a an enormous and ever-growing market for bad ( i.e. machine) translations. Well, that is fine for those who are happy to read dross, of which there is an appalling abundance on the Internet. The main problem as I see it is that the time will come when readers actually believe these to be bona fide translations.

b) At the same time, I hear that trained MT systems within limited domains and certain language pairs can produce results that are supposed to be better than those produced by human translators. But the decisive point is that so far, nobody has been capable of showing me such a system or its results. Last year, several MT vendors explained to me just how remarkable their systems were, but when push came to shove, I saw nothing convincing other than impressive statistics that were of no consequence whatsoever.

Now that I have set up Trados Studio with TMs including several millions of words and autosuggest dictionaries of up to 1 GB in size, I can reach a level of productivity where I can indeed ask myself to what extent I need MT for our language pairs and specialized areas.

Education and Continued Training

Here, there is something afoot. Germany’s BDÜ and DVÜD, as well as other providers, have significantly increased the range of their online CPD facilities. In fact at first glance, it might seem to be superfluous that we are entering the market with our own offering (http://alexandria-library.com). However, with the Alexandria Project, we do indeed have several objectives in mind. With it, we would like to create a central platform (by means of collaboration with as many vendors as possible e.g. Diléal and Localize.pl), upon which we can offer continued training and resources for new entrants to the profession and specialists within the various languages. In addition to that, we would like to offer specialists a platform that enables them to present themselves in order to improve their reputation in the profession and with future clients. Thirdly, we want to start using this platform as soon as possible to draw the attention of potential customers to the necessity of qualitatively acceptable translation, whilst attempting to educate them about how they can identify suitable language service providers, or rather what they themselves can contribute in order to achieve optimal results. In that department, we still ‘have the builders in’ but we shall soon be expanding what we have on offer. Feedback and suggestions will be very welcome indeed because Alexandria is – after all – intended to provide an interesting service to as many translators and customers as possible.

The Interests of the Translation Profession

So far, I was disappointed to observe that translation associations carry out too little to promote the profession externally in a way that generates interest. Translators and translation associations seem to be too occupied with themselves (i.e. with translation per se) and enter much too little into contact with possible customers, whose lack of information about translation, quality, processes and rates tends to lead them down into the depths frequented by the so-called ‘bottom feeders’. It would be laudable to see several national associations deciding upon closer cooperation with each other and being outwardly active in terms of customer education and representing the profession. A common European job portal of translation associations could help in this respect. Here, customers looking for translation service providers would at least have the reassurance that the translators fulfil certain minimal criteria of professionalism. This would draw attention away from the Internet platforms such as Proz and TC, where all the cut price vendors who often provide bad quality lurk, since customers seeking quality would finally have a qualitatively more valuable service at their disposal.

Conclusions

I am not sure to what extent much changed in the profession during 2012, but I see a careful trend for translators taking on more responsibility for their own fate and success and emancipating themselves from the clutches of major organisations and company groups. In 2013, this positive development can lead to a wider movement coming together that brings us forward as a profession. I will be delighted if we can make our contribution to that with Alexandria and Trikonf 2013.

People who rock the industry – Simon Andriesen

For this last interview of 2012, I interviewed Simon Andriesen, CEO of Medilingua and Board Member of Translators without Borders, major contributor to the TWB training center for translators in Kenya… and much more. A fascinating and inspiring colleague – discover him now!


P1040571Hi Simon! Tell us about about you. Who are you?

Hi Anne, I am Simon Andriesen, CEO of MediLingua, a medical translations firm based in the Netherlands, and Board Member of Translators without Borders (TWB).

Your background is quite interesting – how does one go from a masters degree in history to working for the Associated Press and then to medical translation?

Oh well, when I got my degree, journalism was one of the options, or rather: a way out to escape from teaching, which is what I knew I did not want to do. It was great fun for a while, but it was more translation that journalism, and after a while got fed up with it, and started a text bureau, together with Jaap van der Meer, whom I had been friends with since high school. The company (INK International) developed into the first software localization firm in Europe, and to cut a long story short, the company grew rapidly and in the early 90s we had a staff of 200 persons, half of them in our head office in Amsterdam, the rest in offices in 9 different countries across Europe. We then sold the business to RR Donnelley & Sons, the largest printing company in the world, who, just like us, worked for IBM, Microsoft, WordPerfect and so forth. The only thing they did not do, was what we did. To keep the story short, we sold the business to them, and I moved to the US for a few years, with my wife and daughter. After 2 years I came back to Europe and left the company to set up a similar firm, but then dedicated to medical. Donnelley eventually sold the translation division and it became rather well-known as Lionbridge. So you could say that INK, the baby Jaap and I had nurtured for a dozen years, is the core of what Lionbridge now is. But they are in a different league, of course. When we sold INK it was a company with $20 million revenue, and 200 people on the payroll; Lionbridge is by now well over $450 million today, with a few thousand people. MediLingua is focused on high-end medical translations. We provide 50 or so languages to 200 regular customers, with a staff of 15, who are managing around 500 different translators world-wide.

You are also a member of the Advisory Board of the Life Sciences Roundtable during the LocWorld conferences. What is your role there?

The Advisory Board is composed of 6 representatives from companies on the demand side of medical translation (Siemens, Medtronic, and  St Jude) and the supply side of medical translation (Lionbridge ForeignXchange, and MediLingua). The board prepares the Life Sciences preconference day-and-a-half before each Localization World conference. I have been involved with LocWorld since 2004 and enjoy supporting this great event and its 2 conference organizers, Donna Parrish of Multilingual, and Ulrich Henes of the Localization Institute, who are also fellow-directors in Translators without Borders. The Advisory Board puts together the program, invites speakers, moderates the sessions, and so forth. Basically, our aim is to come up with a great program twice a year.

You’re a Translators without Borders  Executive Board Member. How did it all start?

The founder of TWB, Lori Thicke, called me the day after the earthquake in Haiti in 2010. TWB had received hundreds of test translations from translators who offered their help. Lori asked for MediLingua’s support in reviewing these translations, as most of these were medical. Several translators/editors started the same day with the reviews. And one thing led to the other. I was invited to join the Board and found myself focusing first on Operations, and when the TWB Translation Workspace, generously donated by ProZ, was up and running, I redirected my focus to Training. The Executive Board and Rebecca Petras, the TWB Program Director, meet every 2 weeks via Skype, and together we basically run the organization. It is a lot of work and every time I am amazed by the dedication of the directors, and by the amount of time that is put into it.

2012-08-10 15.02.42You’re currently working on a program to train translators in Kenya. Tell us about this program.

Within the Board, we decided to help create translation capacity for underserved languages. Our pilot language is Swahili, a language spoken by around 60-80 million people in East Africa. During the course, which is partly based on the MediLingua course Medical-Pharmaceutical Translation, participants get an introduction to translation, as well as basis medical know-how about 20 Africa-relevant health issues, such as pneumonia, diarrhea, my other types of infectious diseases. They do lots of exercises and Paul Warambo, our local course instructor, projects the translations on a screen and discusses the results. This works very well.

In 2012, we gave our short course (4 days) to over a hundred persons, and the longer, advanced course (6 weeks) to a few dozen people, all of them with strong language skills but no translation experience. We currently employ 13 of them, and they work in our translation center in Nairobi, Kenya. The team is specialized in healthcare information. This is crucial in any country with too many patients and not enough doctors, and also in Kenya, where health information is only available in English. Which is the wrong language for the vast majority of the population. We know of too many stories where people suffered or died for lack of information, rather than lack of medication. And for health information to be accessible, it has to be in the right language. During a recent conference in Tanzania, where I was invited to make my point about health information in the right language, I spoke a few sentences in my own language, Dutch, which I knew nobody would understand. I then asked them to imagine how they would feel if they had serious health problems and somebody providing help would talk to them in a language they did not understand…

You regularly go to Kenya – tell us about our Kenyan colleagues.

Yes, since late 2011 I have been in Kenya for a few weeks every few months. Our center is located on the campus of the Bible Translation and Literacy, who focus on Bible translations into ‘small’ African languages. Also on this campus is SIL, the developers of Ethnologue, the database that lists details of all 6,900 living languages. Together with our TWB health translation team this campus is the place in Africa with the most people involved in translation.

What other countries have similar needs for healthcare information in local languages? What can be done?

Africa counts around 2,000 different languages. If health information is available in English, French or Portuguese, this is not helping people who do not or not sufficiently speak these languages. We as TWB can help by providing training and by supporting translators. The translation world can help TWB by helping us finance our work.  Our sponsor program is rather successful, with many LSPs listed as Silver sponsors, some Gold and a few Platinum!

P1040566Many young translators are considering specializing in medicine. Based on your experience, what would you recommend them to achieve this?

Young translators aspiring to go into medical need to build translation routine first, and at the same time invest in medical know-how. As a medical translator you must be able to understand what you translate, and you only get that by studying medical info, for example from med school books, or you can read all medical articles on Wikipedia. That way you become familiar with the medical language. It is a difficult mix, but in my experience it is less difficult for a talented translator to become a medical translator than for a doctor who has no feeling for language.

In your opinion, what is the current state of the medical translation market? And its future?

It seems that every Tom, Dick & Harry is now providing medical translations and not in all cases with acceptable results. As medical translation specialists we do a lot third-party review work, and far too often, we have to conclude that the quality is simply not good enough. Big companies hope they will get the best price-quality mix by organizing tenders and even auctions. We actually decline most of these invitations; it is a lot of work and as it seems that only the price is taken into account, and not the price/performance mix, we find it hard to win. Too often the focus is on the word rate. We know what it takes to generate safe, high-quality medical translations and we use that expertise for our calculations. Many others charge less. But what if the work is rejected by the authorities? What if a product has to be taken off the market due to poor patient information? What if a patient dies because it was not clear whether to take 4 tablets per hour or 1 tablet every 4 hours.

In your free time (do you have any? ;)), what do you do to take a break?

I spend whatever free time I have with my wife and with our daughter, when she is around. To take a real break from work I run a few times per week. My best accomplishment is the half marathon in 2 hours 12 minutes, but most of the time I do 10 km, which I usually complete within 55 minutes. I play the cello in our local symphony orchestra, and this takes me one evening plus a few hours per week.