Frequently Asked Questions

Do you use translation software?

Never! I believe (even if I seem to be biased in this respect) that translation software is not able to deliver adequate and true translation in most cases (read an explanation below).

However, I do use electronic dictionaries but for reference only.

So, you can’t translate without a dictionary, can you?

No translator can while translating a serious text. A good translator may interpret the text for you but if you want to get a readable correct full translation which does not require additional explanations, you have to check some things in dictionaries. Open any large dictionary and you will see that a word has three or four translations on the average. Even if English is your mother tongue, you cannot know all of them, and if you have a technical or scientific text, you will be lost with terms unless you are a professional in this field; but you cannot be a professional in all fields, let alone translators who must know two languages at that.

Why is translation software bad and why are professional translators better?

Because languages are too polysemantic. Nearly every word in every major language has more than one meaning, and usage depends on the situation. You cannot put each English word into simple correspondence with a single Russian one. Very often you get too many options to guess right. You may often get nonsense or something contrary to the true meaing. To render the sense correctly, human mind must be involved. Only a human can understand the situation, that is the context and true meaning of the source text, and choose the right option based on that. A computer cannot since it has no idea of context: it only sees words in a text rather than meaning. A human usually sees meaning rather than words. This is where the fundamental difference between human and software translation lies and this is one of the reasons why computers cannot really compete with people when it comes to translation.

For example, translation software can give you “Than you like to be engaged?” while the girl just wanted to ask what you like to do. If she is “bored by you” it might just be that she was missing you. Also, if she asks whether you are boring to her, she may be worried that you are bored without her. Refuses may mean wedding. Your tie may become relationship in Russian, and the Russian word for relationship can be ‘ratio’. If a lady wants to ‘divide’ her life with a man she would actually like to share her life with him. ‘No respect at all’ translates to ‘Any respect in general’. ‘Call’ translates as ‘bell’. And so on. Those are actual examples from letters translated by translation software.

Add cultural differences here and you will get a pretty mess. Plus, there are things in both nations which are described with one word in one environment and take a lengthy sentense in another.

A good example of this is ‘active rest’. In Russian the word rest means holiday, fun time, not at work. It means the things that people do for relaxation and fun. And ‘active rest’ means that this person does not just lie in the sun, they do some sports or walk in the park or some such thing. When it is fully explained it makes perfect sense, but when a machine translator sticks it in the middle of the sentence it seems like a ludicrous oxymoron. A correct translation might be recreation.

You have no idea how long I can think about a single word but I will until I am sure that my choice is 100% correct. If I am not, I will let you know (and we may find the right choice together). But translation sofware will not take a second to think (which is natural since it has no brain to think) and provide you with the first meaning it finds in its dictionary no matter how silly it is in the situation (sometimes it can give another meaning in brackets). If such uncertainties did not come too often you could try and get the meaning but when you have to question every third word it is like looking for a needle in a haystack.

You might think that you understand the text but it is just you guess and what you guess seems reasonable to you, but the thing is that it is you who guesses and invents a story which sounds verisimilar. Why do you think your story is what was meant?

That is a problem but not the only one. If you studied English grammar, you know that words in a sentence come in a fixed order (subject + verb + object + modifier) unlike the Russian language where you can put words in virtually any order (thanks to endings the meaning does not change). This is something translation software does not know either as it translates word-for-word without discerning word functions (which is sometimes even hard for a human). For example, ‘bear killed hunter’ might mean that the bear was killed by a hunter since passive voice is shown by a special ending of the subject in Russian rather than ‘be +participle’ in English.

Now, what about idioms — expressions which cannot be translated word for word?

Finally, there is another point. To err is human. We all make mistakes when we write and are not always able to correct them all. Nowadays when we use the keyboard oftener than a pen it is typos that rule. And while human easily sees such mistakes, translation software just takes them as strange unfamiliar words and leaves them without translation. This can sometimes completely destroy the sentence.

There is a joke about the essence of programming: you have to magnetize a disk in the right spots. The same is true for translating: you have to replace Russian words with the right English ones. That is why professional translators are needed as much as professional programmers.

By the way jokes do not translate well if you use software. Very often they lead to serious misunderstandings. So if you still use this crap, be very serious!

What’s the point of translators while there are so many people who talk different languages. I know some Russian, I can do well on my own…

Translator is a profession. It is not there for nothing. There is a great difference between a professional and amateur regarding translation and anything. If you can do something for yourself it does not mean you can handle anything in this field.

For example, most men can drive a nail or change a flat tire. But a professional will do it quicker and better since this is what they do for a living. Even if it is not difficult and you can handle it, are you sure you want to do all the many things on your own, even if you have time?

You drive to your office every day, but do you think you can easily drive a bus with passengers or deliver a cargo to a state on the other coast?

But translation is more complicated than driving trucks or nails. Most students of a technical college do math but not many are able to take an integral offhand except for a basic (table) one, even though their teachers do it without paper. A good student knows what the integral is and what are basic ways to take it, and can take simple ones.

If we come back to English, a translator must know much more than an amateur. When you talk to people in the streets of Moscow asking the way to the Kremlin, you use a few hundred basic words. A good translator knows ten times as much and not for nothing. How many people who did a ten day survival course in Russian know as much, even if the ten day course took them six months?

How long does it take to translate something?

Let us base upon the idea that if it takes some time to write something, it will not take far less to translate it properly. As was explained above, human translator differs from translation software by thinking, and thinking takes time. On the average, a translator processes about 10,000 to 20,000 characters a day. The more complicated the text is, the oftener I need to consult colleagues and refer to dictionaries, the speed respectively falls. As for simple translations such as romantic correspondence, the rate may reach 5,000 characters an hour.

What is the most important thing for successful translation?

Understanding the source. As a matter of fact, you must be a specialist in the field if you need to properly translate a specific text. Of course no translator can also be an engineer, physician, lawyer, etc. However, if he is not familiar with the subject at all, there is no hope of a good translation unless you know all the ropes and terms and can explain the matter. You will have to give an introduction to the subject, provide some web links, furnish references. If a translator knows the basics of the subject and a glossary is available, chances are he can deliver a correct translation. He does not have (although ought to) be a professional in this subject but he must be an amateur, that is possess minimal knowledge of the subject of the translation.

How do you ensure high quality of translation?

First of all, before a job is finalized, the text is spellchecked using word processors which helps to eliminate most typos. It is followed by proofreading which helps to locate mistakes invisible to a spellchecker such as to instead of two or too, Moris don’t instead of Moris doesn’t, etc; and also unify terms used. Then the text is sent to an editor (usually one of my translator partners acts as the editor). At this stage it is possible to figure out mistakes which I overlooked due to a psychological effect. Unfortunately, when you work on a large project you do not see some mistakes even if you stare at them because of certain features of human mind. Sometimes I put the translation aside for a week and then I am able to notice many mistakes with a fresh look. Also, four eyes see more than two. While talking in the course of editing, my partner and I can reach the best translation options for difficult passages.

We can also consult colleagues, for example using special message boards and use search engines to clarify terms.

What can I do to help you translate this text quickly and properly?

Make it easy to process. Ideally, it should be a plain text file (that is with the .TXT extension). Before you e-mail it, you should compress it using an archiver (such as Zip). Check spelling and edit the text so that it is easily readable, make your sentences as short as possible. Try and avoid abstruse expressions like ‘in case of the absence of the stuff availability’. Make sure your text is coherent and makes sense (ask somebody to read it and tell you if they understand it well). Understanding the source is the key to successful translation. Provide a glossary of terms used, additional materials on the subject and corresponding web links. Be ready to consult me over the telephone or ICQ on all issues related to your text.

What is meant by ‘source text’ and ‘target text’?

The ‘source’ language is the language your original document is written in. The ‘target’ language is the language into which you require it to be translated.

How can I estimate your fees?

Use your text editor word count. If you are a Microsoft ® Word user, open the Tools menu and select Statistics. Multiply the number of characters including spaces in thousands by the rate. The text length may change after it is translated but not considerably. Usually texts shrink when translated from Russian into English and vice versa. You will be invoiced after the job is done, but until then it is impossible to name the price to the last cent.

If your text is not digital, you can estimate its length if you count the length of a line, the number of lines per page and the number of pages. Multiply these values and you can get a rough figure. If your text is typed, usually there are about 1,800 character in a page.

Why do you count characters rather than pages?

The units used to calculate text amount differ from country to country. In the UK, the standard used by most agencies and freelance translators is pricing ‘per 1,000 words’ of the source text. In the USA they also count words. In Germany you are likely to be quoted a rate per line (or 55 characters). In Russia it is a typed page which has exactly 1,800 characters.

I believe that counting characters inlcuding spaces is the best way to estimate time and effort required for translation because lines and pages are confusing and not convenient. Words have different length in different languages whereas the number of characters does not change much after translation. As for pages, time and effort required to translate a text depend only on the text length (word count) rather than the space of paper the text may be printed on. A text may be formatted with the 14 font size and take 10 pages; apply the 8 size and you get 7 pages; but the length will not change.

Why also count spaces? Well when you are typing text, you spend as much time pressing any key as hitting Space. If you still believe it is wrong to count spaces, try to remove all spaces from your text and see if you can read it.

I have a translated text which I want to have proofread and edited. Can you do it?

Yes, but. First, you must provide the source. I will appreciate it if you can insert the original into the translation so that each source paragraph is followed by its translation, but it is not important. Second, and most important is the translation must be done by a professional translator. There is a rule of thumb which reads that it is generally easier to do something from scratch than correct somebody’s bad work. If you tried to translate something on your own or used translation software, it is hopeless — I will not even try to correct it (and hardly anyone will).

What is the difference between translation and interpreting?

A translator deals with the written word, taking a text in a foreign language and translating it into their mother tongue. An interpreter deals with the spoken word, translating what a speaker is saying into another language for the benefit of those people present (at a meeting or conference etc.) who do not speak the same language as the speaker. Please check out my my other web site to find out about interpreting: Interpreter.IgorKalinin.Com.

What else can you do for me?

I can provide a range of services for people who visit Ukraine or talk to Ukrainians. Basically, I can do anything you may want here. Just ask. I am flexible and while I call myself translator, translations take probably half of my work time. For travel related questions and interpreting, please refer to my other web site: UkraineGuide.IgorKalinin.Com.

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