Author Archives: ايمال

Does it make sense to join a translators’ association?

“People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.”
Adam Smith

For the record: I am a member of the BDÜ, although it’s not easy to join when you start out without credentials.

I wouldn’t say that associations like the BDÜ or the ATA can do much to raise a sinking tide, but their lobbying does improve conditions not just for their members, but also for everyone else.

One example is the BDÜs work to reduce health insurance contributions for freelancers. Do note, they’re not campaigning to improve our social security per se, just to make it cheaper for us.

So lobbying / single-issue campaigning has a bad rep from a labor perspective. Still I think we laborers should organize in every possible (and impossible) way, just like the people who buy or services, be it consumers or capitalists.

Taking as an example reduced health insurance premiums: This means that it becomes easier to “start your own business,” although as a freelancer you’re not really a business, mostly because you carry much more personal and financial risk than some rich heir who’s shielded by a limited liability corporation.

If you go broke, you won’t have savings, so the public will pay for you, and you should compensate the public for this risk by paying at least your own full share to the mandatory health insurance.

No wonder that politically professional associations lean more towards liberalism (FDP) than socialism. Also, agency owners may join the BDÜ, although it’s nominally a translators’ organization.

So we’re in the same situation as prostitutes / sex workers, whose main employment type is disposable…err… freelance and whose main lobby organization is criticized for being funded by male brothel owners, while nominally the association only allow women to join.

Comparing prostitution to other freelance work actually has some merit, because it takes out the moral question. There’s nothing morally wrong with freelancing – or is there?

Three Berlin Hacks for everyone

Are you a naive tourist or a bitter Altberliner? Don’t be sour, fight the power! Here are hacks for some common nuisances we all struggle with.

1. Get an appointment at the Bürgeramt TODAY!

Need to register your address in Berlin and just can’t make an appointment online, because the Bürgeramt is booked out till next year?

Don’t despair! Just call the central hotline 115 as soon as they open, around 9 AM. They have a special magic calendar that’s closed to the pesky masses.

They will tell you which districts have free slots that day due to no-shows, cancellations or just their own bad planning.

2. Find a great bike in Berlin without breaking the law

If you live inside the Ring, you’ll have noticed that more bikes have been dropped here than allied bombs. So why pay for a Drahtesel, especially when bike theft is a Volkssport?

Bike shops aren’t that cheap – you’ll easily hinblätter EUR 150 for a halfway decent three-speeder. That’s about how much your rent gets hiked each month… So waddaya do, Robin Hood?

Before you end up in a high-speed chase with that beardo who left his Peugeot roadie outside Markthalle IX, just get up early on a Saturday or Sunday and take a walk around popular tourist spots, especially the axis from Görlitzer Park to Warschauer Straße or around any U-Bahn station.

Intoxicated kids lose not just control of their esophagaeal sphincter, they also lose their bikes, or they ditch them like last week’s lover for the slightest dysfunction. The treasures you’ll find might have small bugs like flat tires or a torn cable. Rule of thumb: If you can roll it home, it’s likely still useful.

If you want to tie the legal knot with your newfound treasure, you can go to the Fundbüro and hand in the bike. If they don’t find the owner in 3 months, you’ll get a certificate that the bike is legally yours. Chances are pretty high, because owners tend to report bike thefts only if the bike is valuable and insured.

You can also go to the police and ask them to check if your bike’s serial number is registered at all. Tell them you found it unlocked somewhere and want to see if it’s registered. If so, you might have to hand it in. If not, chances are you can just keep it.

3. Find an official translator or interpreter

Everyone and their granny is learning German now. So there are plenty of expats offering translation services.

But what if you have an official appointment (marriage, court case, etc.) and they demand a certified translation or a sworn interpreter?

There are just two places you can look. They’re both in German and Google ain’t one of them.

The first is the official directory of all court-accredited translators and interpreters in Germany.

The second is the membership directory of the German Translators’ and Interpreters’ Association (BDÜ). Not all members are accredited, but you can filter for offical translators/interpreters.

One final note: These directories will not guarantee that the provider is a great linguist, only that they hold a license. As with any service, identify your needs first and check the provider’s testimonials and other info before assigning a job.

How to write good titles for the web

What’s the better headline “Repairing the screen of your iPhone” or “Repair your iPhone screen”?

There are several good arguments preferring infinitives and compounds over gerunds, participles and prepositional phrases in all titles, especially when writing for the web. What does that mean? Always write titles as simple commands.

Here’s why:

  • Infinitives are easy to machine-translate. It’s also the way someone would enter a search query in Google, so it’s bad for your SEO.
    • BAD: “Repairing the screen of your iPhone” becomes “Reparieren des Bildschirms deines iPhones”
    • GOOD: “iPhone screen repair” becomes “iPhone Bildschirm Reparatur” – that’s how most people would google for this topic.
  • Call to action! Infinitives are also imperatives: “Repair your screen! Click here!” That’s why they’re also great for user interface items, such as buttons. It tells the reader “Do this to get that.”

Do you have any other observations? Please share!

3 collocation search tools to boost your writing

One common habit of second-language English speakers is to speak “dictionary English.” They might be extremely well-read, but they can sound stilted. I’ve been listening recently to Indian speakers on YouTube. They might use “Divine cow!” as an exclamation, when every six-year old American knows it’s “Holy cow!” And what’s the difference between “sacred cow” and “holy cow”? This can really be confusing to adult learners.

A harmonizing massage or a relaxing massage? Do you say the average German, the usual German or the normal German? Do you feel anxiety or do you experience it? Many of these constructions are correct, but what’s the idiomatic choice? Collocations are combinations of words that “co-occur more often than would be expected by chance.”

You won’t find them in a dictionary or thesaurus. Natives know them by gut feeling. They’re those worn-out figures of speech, that Orwell advised against.

For translations, however, collocations are very helpful, because they make texts sound less translated. They also help proofreaders justify their preferential choices. But how do you find them?

There are several smart ways to search for collocations. Google is the most obvious and works for many languages. However, it’s not targeted and you can’t search for combinations of word classes, such as adjective + noun.

For English, you can use, Skell, Just-the-Word or the paid Sketch Engine. These are basically concordance searches, or as I like to call them, statistical dictionaries.

The great advantage of these corpus tools is that they don’t rely on human-edited dictionary entries, but just analyze language use to give you the most common phrase. is great to compare word frequency, word order or finding synonyms.

Just the word is a very powerful tool for searching for word classes. If you search for “cow,” you can filter by word classes (noun, adjective) and collocations.

You can also check out the paid tool Sketch Egine. It’s free for researchers and is under development. It has a huge range of functions and a user-friendly interface. There are paid options for professional linguists.

What are your experiences with these tools? Do you know any other advanced tools for linguists? Tell me in the comments!

Translation Village in Turkey – Review

See more photos here.

Most translation conferences are by big business for big business or by academia for academia. They’re pricey, boring, or both. And at more casual translator meetings in Germany, I’m usually by the youngest – at 32.
It doesn’t have to be that way, I found out at the 2nd Translation Village at Aziz Nesin Mathematics Village in Sirince, Turkey.
I found this self-organized event in Turkey by a lucky accident. The idea: translators, interpreters, researchers and off-duty business people get together in a historic Aegean village for a weekend. Of the 70ish attendees, I talked to almost everyone – I just couldn’t avoid it. When was the last time you enjoyed talking to a colleague or business partner? Ever heard of a conference where you can bring your family for a vacation?
Life for translators isn’t easy, so why make it harder? Unlike Germany, Turkish universities are opening new translation departments. So many translators are young, and there are no traditional associations from the analog era.
Still the job prospects are not amazing. Graduates can “make it big” and land an in-house gig at Amazon (conquering Turkey this year), if they can average 800 words per hour. Or, as Turkey has no cozy government sector as provided by the EU or the German courts, aspiring linguists can become Uber-ized dorks like me, which has its ups and downs, but mostly it sucks.
This is also a reason why multinationals like SDL & Lionbridge or Amazon’s own language department control a vast part of the market. Western translators are still discussing whether MT-PE will replace “real” translation, while post-editing is the only work a young Turkish translator will find. New technical developments and constant price pressure erode old models (booth interpreting, etc.) much faster in Turkey.
So whether you freelance or run a language company, you have to stick your nose into all emerging branches, including not just new translation/interpreting modes, but also teaching, research, volunteering or even politics.
There’s no easy way in and no easy way out. Many of us will be driven out of the market or into new fields and few will reach a comfort zone.
I loved being around so many experienced and aspiring colleagues, the dedicated organizational team, our amazing interpreters, and the back-to-nature spirit.
With 10 years in the business and a couple of conferences under my belt, I’m telling you: Don’t miss the next Translation Village! It’s planned for September 2018. If you’re a student, a researcher, a business person, this is for you. The flight & accommodation will cost you way less than the sign-up fee for any European conference, you’ll have a great time, meet great people, and may even gather enough energy to survive another year in this shady business of ours. You’re also very welcome to prepare a talk or other activity, be it CAT yoga or bread baking (no academic credentials required)! Or why not become a sponsor? The lira/euro rate is almost 5:1, so with a relatively average European income, you can make a big contribution.
If you have any questions on signing up or getting there, please contact me

Paying for errors with CAT tool matches

Repetitions not only dump prices, they also prevent consistency.

I used to work a lot for agencies who served one big client, usually tech companies. They always demanded one particular CAT tool and would not pay you less for matches (previous translations stored in the database). So you were encouraged to reuse old translations, even if were really bad.

So for example, all the matches would be written in the passive voice, use wrong terms or be parrotting the source text, because obviously the previous translator had a) no idea or b) was using machine translation.

My translation would be very different, and so the output text would be an inconsistent wad that no one would bother to read.

I would even offer the agency’s project manager to batch-update the entire translation memory for free, but it wasn’t possible. Many CAT tools, most notably Across, don’t allow translators to change any entries in the translation memory. They are intended to collect work from countless anonymous contributors, who have no clue.

Many of the successful CAT tools obstruct translation processes, not just for service providers, but also for the client. So your data becomes so “secure,” even you can’t touch it anymore. The 100% matches are automatically inserted into the source text and locked, so you can’t edit bad pretranslations.

This was basically what is now happening with MT post-editing, but without the ability to post-edit. I’ve nothing against editing other people’s (or machines’) work, but it just isn’t faster than translating it right the first time.

This was around 2010. I’ve since stopped accepting high-repetition projects or projects where I have to use a specific CAT tool – even if they can pay quite well if you do it right. I do use my own CAT tool and translation memories provided by the client, but I will take the time (and money) to make the old matches consistent.

10 things to consider when speaking with simultaneous interpretation


  1. Especially for the hosts: Start off by asking if everyone can hear the translation and point out that there are headphones, because not all people notice it right away.
  2. When you’re speaking through an interpreter, it’s not one person holding a speech, but two. So if your speech is written, you need to submit your script to the conference organizers as soon as possible, so they can forward it to the interpreters. If you start holding a speech that no one is prepared for, the interpreter will have to stop because you’re too fast.
  3. If you submitted a script before the event, the interpreters will be sticking to that. If you add anything that’s not in your draft, you need to make a short pause or give the interpreters a sign.
  4. Free speeches are much easier to interpret live than written speeches and need less preparation. Don’t worry about breathing pauses, ems and errs – they’re great for all listeners, especially for the interpreters. There’s no such thing as too slow in public speaking. .
  5. If possible, the interpreters and the speakers should keep eye contact during the speech – and agree on hand signs. The alternative, especially if the interpreters are sitting in cabins, is that they ask their listeners to ask the speaker to slow down, which is not very elegant.
  6. Especially if you didn’t hand in your script before the speech, give the interpreters a short briefing before your talk about things you’d like them to highlight. Many speakers say bye and thanks to the interpreters, but if you say hi before your speech, it’s way better for you.
  7. Speak slowly and clearly – about 3 minutes per page at least. As if every sentence was a punch line and you’re waiting for an audience reaction – think TED talks. Do not mumble or rush through “boring parts” of the text – the interpreters have to interpret these too.
  8. Speak extra slowly and clearly when saying names of people and institutions, dates, numbers and figures. If the interpreters are working as a team, one of them might note down this data for the other.
  9. If your speech is longer than 30 minutes, you will probably have 2 interpreters. So they need a few seconds every 20-30 minutes to switch mics.
  10. Avoid colloquialisms and wordplay – punchlines don’t translate well. Funny stories are great though, because the joke is not in a few words but in the plot.