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I’m seriously in arrears about this blog, I have to admit. However, for a meaningful blog entry, one has to have not only something relevant to say, but also time, and I’ve been short of either or both during the last couple of months.

The title of this article, as a lot of items of language in general, is very ambiguous, as befits my tendency to criticize translation methods in learning/teaching foreign languages. So I am going to speak first shortly about job problems and associated problems of translation methods, then about finding work as a translator and finally about a few examples of the impossibility to translate clearly.

Now things seem to have changed a bit after my previous post. The place where I used to teach from October made a lot of trouble first, then people there seemed to be ignorant of how language learning works, and then stopped asking me to teach without giving any reason. It seems that it is not only Chinese people who are guilty of failing to dare to come out with explanations, or simply saying no, it more and more seems to be the practice in the Netherlands too.

As an earlier example, about two years ago I went for summer holidays from a job agency canvassing for Hungarian workers with the explicit understanding that I would go back to work after the month expires. Afterwards, they told me there was not enough demand from factories for Hungarian workers at the end of the summer so I was not needed at the moment, but promised to contact me as soon as the situation changed. I called them a couple of months later and they told me they’d keep in contact. They did so so well that I haven’t heard from them since then although they keep advertising for a Hungarian contact person as I used to be even now. I almost jokingly sent them a second application, but they kindly ignored it. They may have been a bit unhappy about my level of Dutch then, but besides perhaps telling me so, they could also have considered that I could have developed considerably afterwards. Which I did, but to no avail. I find lack of communication not only impolite, but also counterproductive, as in this case: they are still looking for someone, while I could do the job a lot better now than years ago. Are Dutch people so inconsiderate?

Since then, I’ve been to a job interview where we hazily saw eye to eye in that I may not be exactly the right person for them (as I’ve never taught in primary schools), but I was told to send along all of my remaining relevant documents to the interviewer. His boss wrote to me the following afternoon that my experience was not relevant for them and they’re rejecting my application. I understand, but I don’t understand why the interviewer could not tell me that when I was there?

This last school where I eventually worked is just another example. My contract actually hasn’t been finished, but one knows when one is not needed. My only problem is that I didn’t have the opportunity to explain to them about their shortcomings in supporting me as a teacher, which may explain some of their criticism possibly levelled against me. In actual fact, they had given me classes where I had to teach irrelevant material to people who mostly do not need any more formal teaching, they only needed an examination. On the other hand, the groups included a few guys whose level of English was far below the level of the material and who had a snowball’s chance in hell to follow the lessons, let alone take the exam. Of course, these persons asked me to explain everything in Dutch, while the majority would be sitting there doing … I don’t know what. Which is not impossible, but how did they expect to learn to speak English (within two months) on the basis of my Dutch explanations (which was totally outside my job)? Whereas those who were good, had only learned English through their work in English!

Following these experiences, I’ve decided to resort to an earlier job: translation. Sounds fine, I already worked part-time as a translator in Hungary when there wasn’t even proper internet and PC’s ran at 25KHz. Problem seems to be, I never received formal training so I do not have a certificate. If you think of doing translating work, you may want to get that first.

I slowly discovered where translators can get translation work internationally. Well, there are good and bad sites for it, but because my language is a rarely needed one, I’m not going to give away the site names, I created enough competition for myself when I had been training teachers back then. Enough to say, if someone is thinking of doing this, I have a number of good advice to them to consider, and then let us see who can prosper or survive.

Actually, you have to experience the discovery of what suits you and what doesn’t for yourself. You may live in a country where price levels are so low that you can afford to do translation for $1 for 500 words. Or you have no ideas of what translation involves and so think that you can do so much for so little that it will do.

The problem is that many people are crowded to certain sites who think that if one speaks two languages, one can translate between them no problem. On such sites, there is lots of competition from cheap countries and from all kinds of students who have no more than a few years of experience using the language involved. And almost everybody says they have good English. Well, for one thing, you can take language tests on most sites, and everybody can see the results, so we can also see how bad results some such youngsters have produced. But they may get the job from you because they bid so low.

Another factor is the dictionaries on the internet and the translation softwares, which did not exist back then. Now one does enough copying the source into a few such devices and copy the result out into the target translation file. Simple, right? Well, try it with inflecting languages, or among those with seriously differring word orders.

Further problem comes with some sites which collect all kinds of freelance jobs mingled with translation as well. They are places where it is very difficult to differentiate among your relevant task. But at least you can get regular mail about the latest jobs.

Most sites require some membership fees and charge you some percentage of your earnings if you get paid. You have to be aware, however, that you are also required to pay tax in your country of residence. Perhaps those offering their services at cheap prices avoid doing so. Besides, you have to fill out a profile of yourself, complete with lots of personal details and probably a photo. It is best if you have some documented degrees or certificates and a couple of examples of your work as samples. On a few sites, you also have to take a basic test of your understanding of how the site works.

As to language, some sites offer the possibility to take language (mostly English) and translation tests, but this latter kind is usually very limited to a few languages. Hungarian is not among them, Dutch sometimes is. On some sites the tests are free, elsewhere you have to pay a small amount for the tests too, but some people say the clients do not care about that, they rather go for the cheapest offer.

One almost basic rule is that you can mostly only get a job translating into your own mother tongue. Most clients looking for translators explicitly make it impossible for non-natives to apply. Which is often justifiable, but sometimes utter nonsense. As an example, I did one piece of archaic Hungarian lyrics that I’m sure even serious learners of ESL cannot really understand at places. If someone knows the original text of “Lengyel László”, with all the original lettering and words, like in “Hun vönnétök sáraranyat, kódus magyar népe?”, then he knows the difficulties. Fortunately, I was not required to give a poetic translation and the client was very satisfied with my English. One example of a case when a speaker of the original with a similarly high level of the target language is preferred.

Another such example came my way in the form of a set of certificates about somebody’s work, tax and pension scheme situation. Pension scheme, or pension contribution is actually called insurance in Hungarian, which is preposterous, especially because it is mainly handled as a kind of tax and insures nothing for later years. Even worse is the situation with acronyms and abbreviations, though most of them can be found on the net if one knows where to look, but then again, even I lack the faintest idea of what such monsters like “TEÁOR” means, in Hungarian, let alone possibly in English. Here the problem is that most of the related terminology and system is non-existent in the other language, and probably the native speakers using the terminology also do not know what is abbreviated, they can use the terms without analysis. I may not see the day when somebody coming from abroad understands this terminology from learning or dictionaries. One needs to live and work in the country for many years to come close. Of course, it is also true that I may find heaps of such English terminology without ever standing a chance of understanding if I don’t work in GB or the USA, preferably both, and also in Canada and Australia, not to mention South-Africa and India and the like.

For general understanding, I am pleased to declare that Dutch is also full of acronyms and abbreviations. A nightmare, actually, for survival, but at least the inland revenue is called ‘belastingdienst’, not something like NAV, or APEH, until a couple of years ago, in Hungary.

Finally, I’m happy to let you know that there are a few, very few web-sites where only professional translators can be found and jobs at appropriate prices can be won after proper bidding. An indication from one such site came my way when one job offer came in at €0.07 per word. Besides this indication, there appeared a message by the system warning the prospective applicants that 80% of translators on the site work for higher remuneration.

At this site, however, there is also a system whereby translators can, among others, ask each other about terminology they are not sure of. Oh yes, there is such a thing as something one does not know. What is more interesting is that it is not only difficult, rare vocabulary which is asked for. Quite a lot of the terms requested for help are simple words, like the Hungarian “javítás”, which has turned out to be not only reparation in English, but also improvement, or invention.

To provide more example, I’d like to put here another simple, but tricky word, ‘privacy’. I’m going to quote what the asker put in as explanation.

At its core, privacy is very simple.1. The right to be left alone
2. The right to associate with whom you choose
3. The right to have your own information kept confidential
4. The right to choose how your information is usedIn some countries, such as members of the European Union, it is a human rights.

According to the first two definitions, it means a “magánélet (védelme)” (defence of private life), the other two, “titoktartást” (keeping secrets). As an illustration of how difficult it is to translate, most people giving answers were only aware of the sense of something which means keeping or defending secrects or privacy in Hungarian, but not the fact that, contrary to English, there is no word that means all of these. Of course, with a little bit of investigation, one could find that very many common words in all languages are like this: they can’t be unambiguously translated with one word.

To finish, I’d like to warn would-be translators and their clients as well about relying heavily on translation software, although many clients require the translator to use one or the other kind. These are almost always expensive from the average user’s point of view, for example, they often cost one or two months’ salary of an East-European teacher and young professional, not to speak about people in even poorer countries. Although they are very widely used, however, their value is heavily dependent on the language pair one would like to use them for.

I recently bought the newest version of the perhaps most widely used program and have managed to find out quite a lot of the ins and outs. I have been practicing and translating on it for quite a lot. I have built up some own TM (translation memory) and been using the internet source freely available with it (some other sources require hefty membership fees, even GoogleTranslate, though I suspect it would be better than the free public version, which is crap for work). Sometimes I find this program helpful, but sometimes I get really useless translations. For Hungarian speakers, let me quote an example. The original is as follows:

“On behalf of the EWC Mr. Born requested XXX management to provide full openness, to correct the current situation urgently and to keep the EWC informed.”

To this, the program provided me with the following, hilarious solution for my investment in it:

“Az Úr nevében született EWC kért az XXX a teljes körű nyilvánosság, az aktuális helyzet és sürgősen tájékoztatni az EWC.”

Thank you! So much about machine translation and programs …

As soon as I have finished this project, I’m going to find out how the program translates the original into some other languages, like Dutch, or French, or some other. If my kind reader is interested in a specific language, please let me know in a remark below. Chinese, Arabic or Pashto is also possible, but only one language at a time with a project.

by P.S.