I Speak Spanish!

We speak Spanish, too. Photo taken in Mexico City.
Happy Friday! For today's post, we figured we'd send you off into the weekend with some humor. Fellow Spanish court interpreters can surely relate to today's (humorous) post. This is a situation that Judy, in her role as a certified court interpreter, encounters relatively frequently.

This is the situation: You walk into a deposition or into a courtroom, and next thing you know, the plaintiff and/or defense counsel walk(s) up to you to let you know that they also speak Spanish. Now, one might think that they are only making friendly conversation, but as those of us who deal with attorneys know, in litigation, attorneys don't say much without trying to make a specific point. When saying, "I speak Spanish!" what is really being said is this: "I will be checking up on you. You better watch out, interpreter." Now what? 

The problem which such a statement from an attorney is that there are really no possible reaction, except for maybe one, that do not make you sound at least somewhat defensive. That's a problem, because even though the attorney is clearly a bit aggressive here, as service providers, we usually want to keep our composure and maintain a friendly tone. That said, it's marginally possible that the attorney just wants to make conversation about his/her Spanish skills, in which case it's a great idea to start a high-register Spanish conversation about the expropriation of Mexican petroleum to show them the limit of their Spanish (kidding). Seriously, now: How do you react? Here are things Judy has wanted to say, but has never, ever actually said:

"Thank you for sharing. I am really worried about my performance now."
"Well, I really have been put on notice. Duly noted, counsel."
"Maybe you should just do the interpreting then and I can go have an espresso."

Of course, please do take this with a grain of salt (we told you this would be a humorous post). We'd never seriously think about saying anything like that, but it's fun to at least let these thoughts appear in your head. 

Usually, it's just best to say: "That's fantastic! It's a great language, isn't it?" and leave it at that (or something similar). We are very aware that many professionals, especially here in the American Southwest, do speak Spanish (some better than others). While humility and the desire to keep on learning are important for interpreters, so is confidence in one's skills and certifications. One doesn't become a certified court interpreter by osmosis or chance, just as no one becomes an attorney by taking a few criminal justice classes and watching a lot of Judge Judy. 

So, dear fellow court interpreters: Be proud of your skills, and let's welcome all the Spanish speakers into our proceedings. Now, we've heard from other court interpreters that sometimes there are entirely incorrect objections to certified court interpreters' renditions, and that's another topic--one that has actually not happened to us. What are your thoughts, dear colleagues? How would you react or how have you reacted when confronted with "I speak Spanish"? 

Can Translators Learn to Love MT?


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First things first: we are not experts on machine translation (MT) by any stretch of the imagination, but we certainly know that it's an incredibly polarizing topic in our industry. It is, perhaps, the most polarizing issue we've encountered in the last 10 years--in addition to how much we should charge for our services, of course. Now, our lovely colleague Jost Zetzsche is, without a doubt, the expert in the subject, and he told us about Lilt. Jost wrote about Lilt very eloquently here. Since the recommendation came from someone we trust, we went and checked it out. For the record: MT is integrated into many of the translation tools we use (Smartling, Wordfast, etc.), and while most of the MT-generated suggestions for translations are still quite giggle-inducing, MT has been getting better. As we've mentioned: we don't know that much about MT, but we have, chosen to view it as a tool to help translators become more efficient rather than a tool that will replace us. Others view this very differently. Allow us to elaborate on Lilt. And you probably know this, but let us emphasize that we have no financial or business connection to Lilt. We just think it’s a cool tool.
Courtesy of Lilt. Great summary indeed.

We took Lilt for a spin, and here are our findings: the program is very promising. Basically, it's a super-easy browser-based interface, there's nothing to download (just sign-in with a Google account or e-mail address). It's technically a statistical machine translation tool (SMT).  It was developed by the smart folks at Stanford Natural Language Processing Group, and it learns as you translate. We tried it for English->Spanish, and while it created some hilarious results, some were also very good. Lilt is currently available for EN<->ES, EN->FR and EN->DE). It's very nice to know that this system was created by a bunch of brilliant programmers at top-notch universities who are a lot smarter than we are. The whole idea is to make translators' work better and smarter through the use of technology. We know this is a big shift, but think about it: we work smarter and better because of computers in general, right? (Trite, but true.) They've allowed the industry to flourish, in part because we can research better and don't have to type up our work on a typewriter anymore (not that we are old enough to remember this). Perhaps this is the second revolution for translators--courtesy of computers, software, and computational linguists. Speaking of computational linguists, we had the chance to interview Spence Green, one of the founders of Lilt. He holds a PhD in computer science from Stanford (yes, smart guy; and nice, too). So here's a lot of information, straight from him, because he can say it so much better than we can. We sure do think we are ready for the next era of translators learning to embrace MT. What do you think?
Courtesy of Spence Green

Translation Times: What would you say to translators who are afraid of MT? And where does Lilt come in?

Spence Green: Machine translation is a tool. Specifically, it is generalized translation memory. Whereas a TM can only produce an output for an input that matches X% of some previous input, a sufficiently large MT system---where all of the major commercial systems today are sufficiently large---can produce an output for any input. The intellectual heritage of TM traces to Martin Kay's 1980 position paper on man/machine approaches to translation. Of course, Martin was and is an MT researcher. So translators should see MT as an evolution of a tool that they already use and ostensibly derive value from.

Lilt is an interactive MT system (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interactive_machine_translation). Interactive MT is an old idea that dates to at least the 1960s, but it has never been widely available for translators. Lilt is based on a research system we built at Stanford called Predictive Translation Memory (PTM). PTM began as a human-computer interaction project to understand translator behavior in the presence of machine suggestions, be they from TM or MT. It evolved into an interactive MT system. About 100 professional translators from Proz and elsewhere participated in the three research studies during 2012-2014.

In my view, the issues that seem to upset translators---the MT post-editing experience, rate discounts, often unrealized promises of productivity improvements by vendors---have more to do with the peculiarities of the industry than with the technology itself. 

TT: Why did you create Lilt?

SG: After undergrad I moved to Abu Dhabi. This was in 2005, and I was 24 and restless. I wanted to learn a non-European language, and it seemed to me that the Arab world would be very important during my lifetime.

Two significant things happened during that time. First, after about a year, I found that most of my friends were Arabs who didn't speak English well. Through their eyes I saw a different world. You often get paid less. There aren't as many books available. Wikipedia and Google search stink. Information access began to matter to me.

Second, Google Translate was released. I thought that this technology could solve the information access problem at a scale that human services never could. I wanted to learn how it worked. But I soon realized that my undergraduate training was insufficient. So I applied to Stanford and started graduate school in 2008.

In 2010 Ed Bice of meedan.org gave a talk at Johns Hopkins, where I was spending the summer doing research. He runs a small translation non-profit in San Francisco that uses MT from IBM. I started to visit his office regularly. I began to understand the differences between the assimilation and dissemination use cases of MT. Google Translate solves the former, but the latter---which is translation with a quality threshold---seemed like an underexplored area consistent with my desire to improve information access.

Courtesy of Lilt
I spent the summer of 2011 at Google working on Translate. I learned how to build huge translation systems. And I learned how many people send translation feedback to Google, and what can be done with that feedback. There was real work to do that was both intellectually compelling and high-impact.

At Google I worked with John DeNero, who worked for Franz Och. John and Franz both left Google in 2014. I graduated at the end of 2014. John is a co-founder of Lilt, and Franz is chief advisor.

TT: Wow, that’s quite a pedigree. Now, what’s your current revenue model?

SG: Lilt is in a free trial period. We will add a professional version in 2016. We charge for our translation API, for which we currently have one launch customer.

TT: Sorry for this question, but: what’s the catch? If Lilt is free now, how will you make money? 

SG: Yes, the professional version will be released later this year. But there will always be a free version or a free trial.

TT: Can you tell us when exactly other languages will be added?

SG: Fr-En and De-En will be added next week. En-Pt will follow in February. The Danes and the Dutch seem to be pretty enthusiastic, so we'll probably add those language pairs in February.

TT: Can you tell us about yourself, your background, and your core team? Who are you? What’s your favorite author? Your favorite musician? 

SG: I'm a Southerner, but I've moved around a lot since high school, so my accent doesn't betray my nationality anymore. I grew up in Atlanta, went to U.Va, and then to grad school at Stanford. I speak Arabic; I run; and, I am a scuba diver. My favorite book is The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. If I were stuck on an island forever, I suppose that I wouldn't tire of listening to The Joshua Tree by U2.

John DeNero, my co-founder, completed graduate school at Berkeley, then spent four years at Google on Translate. Now he is a CS professor at Berkeley. He teaches the largest class at the university. He's a busy guy.

Joern Wuebker and Sasa Hasan, the other two founding members of our company, completed graduate school at RWTH Aachen under Hermann Ney. They're great. Hermann produced Franz Och, who then worked with Philipp Koehn, then a grad student at USC. Franz and Philipp went on to produce Google Translate and Moses, respectively.   My brother Richmond is in charge of marketing. It's great fun to work with a sibling, as you must know! Chris Manning and Jeff Heer, my two academic advisors, are also on our advisory board.

TT: Did you raise any venture capital or how is your company financed?

SG:Yes, we raised a VC round. We are backed by XSeed Capital.

TT: We know you don’t have a crystal ball, but do you think translators will ever be replaced by MT? Is Ray Kurzweil right? What’s your hunch?

SG: This is a philosophical question that Nietzsche, Quinn, Jakobsen, and others have considered. I tend to think that their treatments were more sophisticated than those that you read in the media. I wrote about this in the introduction to my dissertation (sect.1.2; http://www.spencegreen.com/pubs/dissertation.pdf).

Short summary: yes, for text that can be memorized or otherwise easily routinized (imagine a large TM of all of the translations ever produced in the world...). Not anytime soon for any sort of translation that requires world knowledge. That problem is AI-complete and would signal the advent of artificial intelligence. 
  
TT: What’s the most underrated website on the internet, in your opinion? 

SG: Wikipedia. It is one of our greatest intellectual achievements as a species. 

Many thanks to Spence for answering all of our questions. We've barely scratched the surface with Lilt, but will continue playing around with it. It seems like a great tool that can potentially really make every translator's life easier, and as scary as MT can be, we encourage colleagues to keep an open mind and view the tool as a benefit. And no, we are not about to work as post-MT editors anytime soon (we actually don't know anyone who does). What do you think, dear colleagues? Do you have any questions for Spence? We bet we can twist his arm to answer them here. 

Two Free Webinars: February 23 and March 24

Image created on www.canva.com.
Happy 2016, dear friends and colleagues! Time flies, doesn't it? We are both here in Vegas, trying to work only half-day (and occasionally failing at that), and wanted to make sure we share good news about two free upcoming webinars with you.

Just like she has now done for a few years, Judy is delighted to present two webinars for translation tool giant SDL--and they are free for everyone. Have a look at the links below to sign up and to view webinar abstracts. Both webinars will last one hour and there will be time for questions at the end. 

1)  Ten Habits of Highly Successful Translators: February 23, 2016, 8 a.m. U.S. Pacific/4 p.m. GMT
2) Pricing Strategies for Translators and Interpreters: March 24, 2016, 8 a.m. U.S. Pacific/4 p.m. GMT

And did we mention that these are free? These webinars usually get quite full, so make sure you get your spot today! Isn't free great?

Here's to a happy, healthy, and successful 2016!

New Year's Resolutions: Buy a Colleague a Drink

It doesn't have to be top-notch. Image: Judy Jenner
As this wonderful 2015 comes to an end, we've been thinking about New Year's resolutions for both ourselves and for the profession at large. We think this is a lovely profession, but of course we can always make it even better. So we came up with one simple thing: pick out a colleague you do not know very well (yet), either in your city, at a conference, or when you are in their city for work or pleasure, and invite him/her out for a drink (or coffee, or whatever you would like). We think it's so lovely when colleagues come to our town and reach out to us, and of course we love taking them out for a beverage (adult beverage or not). It really takes relationships that may have only been virtual to the next level. It's wonderful to build relationships that ultimately strengthen our profession and extend our networks. Judy was in New Mexico for an assignment recently and made sure to look up a colleague she'd met at the ATA conference in Miami who lives in Albuquerque. They shared a nice meal in that city, and got to know each other much better than they have been able to do a large conference. 

And how about perhaps taking a colleague for a drink who is either new in town, new to the profession, or maybe even both? Let's start paying it forward, build relationships and friendships, and watch the positive impact for all of us! What do you think, dear colleagues? Will you join us?

With that, if you don't hear from us again this year: happy 2016! Time flies, doesn't it?

The Client Perspective: The Ideal Interpreter

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Today's quick post is from the client perspective, because in addition to being services providers ourselves, we are quite oftentimes clients ourselves, meaning that we buy interpreting services. More specifically, we outsource interpreting work to colleagues, mainly for conference interpreting projects. We'd like to give you a quick list of things that we look for, in no specific order. These attributes and characteristics go beyond actual interpreting skills.

  • The interpreter has a professional presence and presentation (website, business e-mail, etc).
  • The interpreter asks our questions the first time (our pet peeve: we send three questions and get answers to two).
  • The interpreter responds promptly. By that we usually mean the same business day. We certainly don't expect an immediate response, but the same business day is usually good. 
  • The interpreter sends a professional price quote when we ask. And by that we don't mean an e-mail with a rate--we actually mean  a document with terms and conditions, etc.
  • The interpreter knows which questions to ask, for instance about the equipment, when it comes to requesting background materials, etc.
  • The interpreter makes us look good. Ultimately, we send interpreters to events to do a great job and to make us look good. This includes being professional at all times.
  • The interpreter solves problems quickly. In conference interpreting, problems can arise quite easily. We look for interpreters who take quick action and solve them as independently as they can--although we are, of course always available to help.
  • The interpreter is positive and outgoing. We look for interpreters who focus on the positive rather than things they can't control. Constant complaining at events is not attractive and serves no purpose. Some situations might be less than ideal, but you have to roll with the punches.
  • The interpreter has good rapport with the client. As opposed to many other LSPs, our small boutique agency is not afraid that our interpreters will "steal" the client. We trust our interpreters and feel very comfortable in our relationships with our clients. At the event, we think it's very appropriate for the interpreter(s) to talk to the client if the situation arises--with our without our presence.
  • The interpreter is on time, or early. We have a tendency to work with the same linguists, and we always choose people who have a history of being early. Being late means you will probably not work with us again. 
These are the main things we look for when hiring interpreters. Is there anything else you would add?

Interpreting Politics in Vienna

Presidents Bachelet and Fischer
and their interpreter. Photo credit:
Peter Lechner/HBF
Have you ever wondered what it's like to interpret at a high diplomatic level? Read on for Dagy's report on yesterday's assignment in Vienna, Austria.

As I stood in the courtyard of the Vienna Imperial Palace on a cold and windy morning, somebody grabbed my hand and asked if I too had cold hands. I did, and the person asking was the President of Austria, Heinz Fischer. Stupidly, all I managed to say was “yes.” That was one of my rare moments of speechlessness this year.

Heinz Fischer, his entourage and I were waiting for President Michelle Bachelet and her delegation to arrive to kick off an official working visit and I was to be one of their interpreters. While I had been hired by the Chilean embassy, the Austrian delegation had hired two other interpreters, one of whom I knew well. It was to be a first for me, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

The day had gotten underway with a meeting that included the three interpreters and the head of protocol for the Austrian presidency. The preparation phase had been slightly unorganized and confusing and things turned out very different than expected. I had prepared for consecutive and a bit of simultaneous for German-Spanish and vice versa, but ended up doing mostly whispering from English into Spanish. Flexibility is key, in high-profile settings and just about everywhere else.

We received detailed instructions on what to do, where to stand, etc. One of us was to volunteer to go downstairs with the Austrian President to welcome the Chilean President, and that was me. Good thing I had bought a nice and warm coat in Chicago last year during the ATA conference. I was told to spring into action just in case President Bachelet greeted President Fischer in Spanish. They spoke English, so I quickly got out of the way as I’d been instructed, but before that, one of the press photographers took the picture above. It even made it to the Austrian President’s website!

After that, things moved fast: quick photo session between the two presidents, a 10-minute one-on-one conversation without interpretation, followed by a working meeting. Initially, there was to be no interpreting because it would be held in English, but I learned at the last minute that one of the Chilean ministers would need interpreting into Spanish. Which is how I ended up whispering to her for 45 minutes, interpreting everything Michelle Bachelet and Heinz Fischer said from English into Spanish. “My” minister was lovely, she gave me her water and tried to feed me some of the delicious-looking Christmas cookies.

Before and after that meeting, I interpreted short conversations between her and her Austrian counterpart, the Minister of Education and Women’s Affairs (German<->Spanish). What struck me was that while the setting was very formal, all people involved very lovely, very relaxed and approachable. 

After that, there was a very short press conference, where my two colleagues provided simultaneous interpreting. Michelle Bachelet summarized their meeting in Spanish, while Heinz Fischer did the same in German. Strangely enough, the two booths weren’t even in the same room, but upstairs. There were no technical glitches, but I was standing by for consecutive interpreting just in case.

At the lunch that followed, I did chuchotage for “my” minister during the toasts. Since she sat next to a member of the Austrian delegation who spoke excellent Spanish, I did nothing for the rest of the meal, sitting behind her, waiting to spring to action if she needed me. As usual, the interpreter got no food and watched the others eat, but that’s just the way it is. Which didn’t keep the Chilean minister from feeling sorry for me. Coffee and tea were served in another beautiful room, I did some more interpreting for her during short conversations she had, including with the vice-president of the Austrian Chamber of Commerce. Time flew, and before I knew it, I received hugs and kisses from the Chilean delegation before they hurried off to their afternoon meetings.

Bottom line: my first high-profile political interpreting assignments was great, I loved the anticipation, the formal ambience, the nice people, everything. As I walked back to the subway, my hands cold again, I felt the pressure slipping away and slight exhaustion taking its place. After an invigorating nap,  I was ready to do this again!

Gift Ideas for Clients (Video)

Image created on www.canva.com
Can you believe it's almost December? We can't--where has this year gone? We are busy putting together gifts for our lovely clients, and we wanted to share our thoughts with you, dear readers/viewers. We've recorded a brief video for you all; enjoy! We are still trying to investigate the strange issue with the first few seconds of audio not playing if the video is viewed in Google Chrome. (There are a lot of suggested fixes out there, but we have yet to find the one that works.)

Interpreting Bond, James Bond

Image from http://www.007.com/spectre/
It's not often that interpreters play a role in big blockbuster movies, but maybe our moment has arrived courtesy of Bond, James Bond. We went to see the latest Bond movie, Spectre, last weekend, and while it might not be the best Bond movie ever, we really enjoyed the fact that interpreting was crucial in the movie. Well, maybe not crucial, but allow us to elaborate. We also thought it was marvelous that the movie was partially set in both of our dear countries, Mexico and Austria. Specifically, the very intense (and entirely unnecessary) opening scene takes place in Mexico City, where we grew up. So the movie won us over in the first 10 minutes (we are easy to please).

In typical Bond fashion, in this movie there's a very, very bad guy (and very petty, too, and he holds grudges--but no spoilers here) who wants to basically dominate the world (sound familiar?) and yes, of course he wants to kill the very suave James Bond (a fascinating, if not classically beautiful Daniel Craig). This evil dude runs a big international group of fellow evil-doers, and as one might expect, they hail from different countries. They have their big bad meeting in a snazzy Roman palace and everyone just speaks their language while the truly invisible interpreters (at least we never see them in the movie) work their magic in this large, cavernous hall. We can't imagine the acoustics would be very good, but we digress. We didn't really see any of the speakers turn on a microphone, either, but perhaps they were wearing lapel microphones. Or not. Or something. This is, after all, the movies. And everyone took turns speaking; what a concept for those of us who work as court interpreters! Those who needed interpreting services used what looked like Sennheiser receivers, and for those in the movie theater, the nice people at MGM provided fantastic subtitles.

Now, of course, the things discussed at this meeting of evil people were, well, pretty evil. Good thing it's a movie, so we don't have to worry about a real code of interpreter ethics here, but it does beg the question about how one would behave if you were put in a situation like this one where you had to interpret truly horrific things that have only one goal: to pretty much destroy most of humanity and enrich a few. Would you do it? 

In the meantime, despite some minor flaws, we are delighted to see that simultaneous interpreters (even if they are never seen, as is oftentimes the case in conference interpreting) have made an appearance in a major Bond movie. Here's the trailer if you are interested:

Video Post: Quick Interpreting Tip

Happy Friday, dear friends and colleagues! Today's brief post is another video featuring Judy and a brief interpreting tip that should help you increase your performance regardless of your interpreting field. Note: the first few seconds of audio don't work again (we are still troubleshooting this issue), but you don't miss much, as it's just an introduction. The audio works fine after that. Apologies for the inconvenience.


Video Post: Thoughts on Passing the FCICE

Happy Friday, dear friends and colleagues! We want to continue our tradition of video blog posts, and today we would like to share some brief thoughts that Judy has on the FCICE (Federal Court Interpreting Certification Examination). Enjoy! Note: There is an issue with the audio during the first few seconds of the video, but it works just fine after the fifth second (sorry about that).


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The entrepreneurial linguists and translating twins blog about the business of translation from Las Vegas and Vienna.

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