What We've Lost in Translation Project Collaboration

What We've Lost in Translation Project Collaboration

Sometimes the toughest part about human translation is developing the right strategy for Translation Project Collaboration with the translation team. Depending on the scope of the project, there are a lot of moving pieces and it can be tricky to keep things organized. But, how do you balance the use of technology to get the most from working with humans? I’m happy to tell you, there is a way.

The first time I tried translation project collaboration was in 1997 as a fresh college graduate. I worked for a government contractor in San Diego. My boss decided to respond to a Request for Proposal (RFP) that was for the El Salvadoran government. They required one copy of the 100+ page proposal in English and one in Spanish. And we had a week to do it before the deadline.

At the time, tools like computer-aided translation, dropbox, google translate hadn’t been invented yet. I did know my way around Windows 95 and considered myself pretty advanced at the current version of Microsoft Word.

Since I had studied French and Italian in College, I was appointed to coordinate the team of about twelve native Spanish speakers that my boss arranged to do the actual translation.

I still remembered the day the team showed up and looked at me like “ok we’re here”. I felt very ill-equipped. In 1997, you couldn’t just google problems like you can now (maybe I could have searched AOL, but it didn’t even occur to me to do that).

I have to admit, it wasn’t an easy start. We had a couple of duplicate pages translated, hiccups on the formatting of tables and graphs, and a LOT of questions that I couldn’t answer. But sometimes when the stress piles on, you get a “eureka” moment! This happened to me. I suddenly had this flash of how to get organized!

I collected all the documents that the team was using and I printed ONE copy of the proposal.  Each linguist took a page out of the “outbox” I had created. They translated the page and saved the translated document on the central server (we did have at least a network back then, come on!). I would then integrate the translations into a master document and apply the same formatting as in English. At the end, I would be able to print the completed Spanish version and have a couple of proofreaders go through it to help with consistency.

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Once we got organized, it became a lively process. We asked each other questions and debated language and meaning. As the resident native English speaker, I had to explain sometimes the intention of the source document. Sometimes I even made translation suggestions! Sadly, we didn’t win the bid. But it was certainly not due to our beautiful Spanish version of the proposal.

Twenty years later, translation project coordination is MUCH easier. We have powerful tools to aid in organizing, assigning and translating about any type of document. As an efficiency geek, I love how streamlined it is. Reducing stress increases the quality of the translation. In addition, translation can be done from a laptop from wherever and whenever. This opens doors for trained translators to have a flexible and fulfilling career; as well as making translation more available for people who historically may have been linguistically isolated.

But, I can’t help thinking that with all the powerful and innovative tools available, that something may have been lost. For years I have wanted to find a way to recreate that lively and collaborative process of having everyone in a room. This is why I created LinguistLink.

Although it’s no replacement for that face to face interaction, we’re using efficient technologies to enable communication for everyone involved in a project. Linguists can post questions and  discussions in a central discussion board. They can even ask the creators of the source with information. Project Managers and Requesters can track what is going on and keep things moving. Human beings have more value than just operating tools. Linguistlink is a space to bring that value to every project.

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