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.


The total rate for a project depends on factors such as difficulty, volume, deadline, my own capacity, and the world price for coffee.

The most recent survey by the German Federal Association of Interpreters and Translators  (BDÜ) should help you find a realistic estimate.

Price per word

German – English €0.16 English – German €0.15

Hourly services (proofreading, editing, subtitling, transcription)

Hourly rate (DE/EN) €50


Consecutive Simultaneous (Conference)
German ↔ English €710 €750

Repetition discounts

Repetitions 70% discount
100% matches 70% discount
95-99% matches 50% discount
85-94% matches 40% discount
75-84% matches 20% discount
50-74% matches No discount
No Match No discount


Should clients pay for proofreading?

Whether it’s software coding or writing: Quality assurance costs money. Somewhere between 30-50% of a decent translation’s price are costs of review.

Some reasons include:

  • You need a second pair of eyes – or you have the author spend more time on correction, both of which cause higher costs of labor.
  • You want the proofreader to be more experienced than the translator. A rookie will either overcorrect perfectly fine writing (and cause huge cleanup costs) or not catch real errors.
  • To find a professional, you need to pay a professional. Some agencies charge clients too little (or pocket a too high cut), skew their budgets towards translation over proofreading, and end up not really knowing what they’re buying or selling.

Clients can insource the proofreading by having their staff do it, provided someone speaks the target language. So it’s best suited for jobs involving your country language and English / a world language.

Even if your staff are not native-level speakers of the target language, they should be able to check the translation for consistency with the source and correctness. For the linguistic quality, you have to rely on the translator.

Some of the benefits of in-house proofreading include:

  • Clients know their job best. A translator should be able to produce a well written text, but technical details might escape them. The best proofreader is a subject-matter expert, not a native linguist.
  • Direct communication produces better results. You can clarify all questions with the translator without having a third party involved. As a side effect, you improve your working relationship with your supplier and the quality of future jobs.
  • The translator will be prepared to rework their translation in detail. But be aware that you won’t find any translator who puts in this extra effort at or below the market rate.

Whether you choose to insource or outsource the proofreading, ask the translator specifially what portion of your project’s time and budget they allocate to it. Ask them who will do it.

If you want to save costs and improve your control over the final product, offer to have your people do the proofreading.