Thursday, September 30th, 2010

Good and Great Translators – An Interview with Chiara Conte

Happy International Translation Day! In celebration of this annual event, we want to honor and highlight the accomplishments of Chiara Conte (pictured on the right), the Chief Italian Linguist here at CSOFT. In this featured interview, Melissa Taing (left) enjoys a lively chat with Chiara, who lights up with passion about the challenges and rewards of her work, and expounds on the difference between good translators and great translators.

A picture of Melissa Taing and Chiara Conte of CSOFT international having a conversation about the difference between good and great translators.

Chiara Conte grew up in Otranto, a remote seaside village in southern Italy with a population of just over 5,000 people. Chiara brings with her nine years of translation experience, having first obtained a bachelor’s degree in Translation and Interpretation at the University of Lecce, later having received two master’s degrees: one in Asian Languages for International Cooperation from the University of Cà Foscari in Venice, and the other as a Linguistic Expert for International Enterprises from the University of Salento.

In her free time, Chiara is an avid reader and self-professed lover of pizza in all its forms. She’s got a feisty wit and is quick to laugh—both at herself and at others. She was an absolute delight to interview, so I hope you all enjoy.

What’s been the most useful thing you’ve learned throughout your years of translating?

Chiara: I learned that whatever you studied is not necessarily going to take you to where you want to be. I personally left the world of translation after getting my bachelor’s degree. I thought it would be more interesting to do something different. Later, when I managed to put into practice what was only in the books, I realized how rewarding it is to be in this field.

So definitely practice. Practice was the most useful thing that I learned. Practice, and having a team behind you—this helps a lot with technical support. Being part of a team is also what made me realize that I really wanted to work full-time for an LSP and not be a freelance translator.

What is the difference between a good translation and a great translation?

Chiara: I really think the care and attention to details is what makes somebody produce great output. Because in translation, even when you’re talking about technical or manual translation, it’s not literal translation at all. You need to apply QA to yourself.

What does that mean? It means that you go over all issues—go the extra mile—no matter what kind of time constraints you are working with. Anybody can translate, but a great translation comes about when you the care into what you do.

Language evolves, so you must keep up with the changes and use technology to the fullest extent. You need to understand terminology and other reference materials. A lot of pressure is put on translators in terms of time, but regardless of that it’s so very important that you make sure what you’re translating is accurate and that you’re giving a real sense of the source text to the target audience. Again: no literal translations. You need to put yourself in the shoes of the final audience and see if what you’ve translated is not only technically accurate but actually reads naturally.

It’s never a waste of time to double-check and second-guess yourself. Because what’s most important is that you are meeting the client’s needs, so you must put yourself and your own opinions aside and ask, “Am I delivering what they asked for?” If you can answer that question with a yes, then you have just produced a great translation.

Do you think technology has impacted your work a lot?

Chiara: Definitely. Definitely. I was previously involved in the recruitment of new translators. Sometimes the years of experience a translator has plays a big role in their qualifications, but the way translators manage technology is also very important. The help that technology can give to QA and to producing a great translation cannot be overlooked. With technology we can expand. We talk about TMs, we talk about TM management… I really think translation technology significantly improves the final output you deliver to clients. Definitely.

What is your most challenging or rewarding experience you have had in you translation career?

Chiara: The certainty that there’s a real reaction on the side of the client. Talking about technology, QA, or even internal review is what makes me really ready and happy to work in a tough manner—on a review or on a translation.

I think the most challenging thing is, first of all, following what the clients want, and then making them happy. And since of course they don’t know all the languages that we deal with, being able to get feedback or having rounds of discussions on linguistic issues is important but sometimes overlooked. It’s challenging, but it’s the most rewarding phase of the whole translation process.

I’m just a piece of the whole system. The idea that you have views to follow, that you have to adhere to—for example, a style guide or terminology glossary—I really think that these are the things that make your work even better. Technical translation is hard, and some might think it’s really only related to terminology, but it’s not, especially when marketing content is involved.

This exchange with the clients in the background is so important. It’s challenging because you have to follow rules and you have to respect the rules, sometimes always just saying “yes” because it’s a matter of preferences on the client’s side. But then, it’s really rewarding when you manage to give your best output and get a good reaction from the clients.

So the most challenging is also the most rewarding.

Chiara: Yes. I think so.

What do you think are some misconceptions that people have about translators or translation work?

Chiara: From a personal point of view, I really think that the main issue is that sometimes companies or single project managers or even people on the net looking for translators, they think the most important thing is that the person can deal with two languages… they don’t care about specialties. I really think that’s a misconception.

I have to say that happens a lot with many companies. Just because they know that you’re a native speaker of a language, they think that you can deal with any kind of content. And this is definitely not true. The root of the problem is that there should be much more attention paid to the real skills and subject-matter expertise of the translator.

What advice do you have for clients to make the translation process as efficient as possible?

Chiara: I would like the world to work like this: I would like all clients to provide glossaries, terminology databases, to provide real references for websites too. (Laughs)

Sometimes the websites that clients direct us to are not updated in the right way. And if you are looking for something that is not in the terminology database—not even in the style guide—it’s a real problem on the translator’s side. I think that in a perfect world—I mean, we know that perfect cannot always be perfect (smiles)—we can at least glossaries and more references.

Real references on the style that these companies want their products to have in the final market. I mean, a client who decides to localize their products should be prepared enough to have a terminology database. More user-friendly terminology… maybe creating a folder or forum where the translator can become familiar with the style the clients would like to have.

I think it’s impossible to ask a person, a translator who doesn’t have anything to do with the original contents themselves or the company, to be at the same level as their internal teams. If clients create tools for translators, they really have to study the way to make them as best as possible, make them very user-friendly. It’s too complicated to understand sometimes. Sometimes just to get the right settings in a file is so complicated, and maybe it’s just to translate fifty words. They have to think that somebody not internal is going to work on it.

This is great advice. Any last comments?

Chiara: Once you get familiar with the technology, you can really get the best out of this profession. Really. And technology is not only machine translation. We are talking about the tools to be able to manage a 20,000 word project, along with your skills and yourself.

If you understand translation memory, it’s a pleasure to keep translating. At the moment you can’t rely on MT. It’s the same thing if we go back again to good and great translations. You can have a piece of translation done in ten minutes if you’re that skilled—1000 words in two hours—but if you don’t spend time checking your work, if you’re not clever enough to understand that a translation is only a piece of your work, it’s just as if you didn’t translate anything at all, in my opinion.

Really, a bad translation and a machine translation are on the same level—until the QA stage. Also, experience. I’m not talking about 10 years of just translation experience; I’m talking about experience of dealing with files on a daily basis. The more you get familiar with what the content is, the more you know how you have to present your output.

And I think all of this depends really on how someone values him or herself, because everybody can say, “let’s translate this or that,” but the QA stage is something that needs to be implemented, with your own patience; it makes everything perfect in the end. It closes the circle of all your effort.

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2 Responses

October 8, 2010
Harper

Great interview :) Thanks for posting!