Icebreaker 16, February 2015

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Welcome to the sixteenth issue of Icebreaker, the STP newsletter.

What are Januaries all about? The sobriety of a dryathlon and the pain of re-joining the gym? January 2015 has seen us pass our eighth external EN BS 15038 audit with zero non-conformities, our IT and language technology department reorganise their ranks and our client-facing teams take stock of the client satisfaction survey we carried out at the end of 2014. Besides all that, we have indulged in budgeting like never before.

Company news

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House in Order

Anyone working in the translation industry will encounter language technology sooner or later. There may still be individuals who think their trusted hard-copy dictionaries cannot be beaten, but most language professionals look to their array of modern tools to increase the quality and productivity of their work. At STP, computer-aided translation has always been a passion rather than an obligation, and we certainly maximise technical solutions to enhance our service and product. As the company grows, so does our focus on keeping abreast with developments in this area.

STP works with 20 different CAT tools; some by choice, others by client demand. As the market sees new entrants, the number of tools we are required to support increases, and with it the challenge of keeping our sizeable staff trained. STP has never had a separate language engineering department, so the various aspects of language technology support, development, documentation, training and adapting workflows to infrastructure have been shared between the IT department and the client-facing project management team. However, we have gradually reached the point where devising a structured approach to language technology has become a key part of our business strategy.

Consequently, we have divided our IT department into two teams: IT and LT. The IT team focuses on the maintenance and continuous development of the company’s infrastructure, whereas the LT team provides helpdesk support, documentation and training for our project managers as well as our in-house and freelance translators. The two teams cooperate closely, with IT developing solutions for LT to enable them to better support the staff, and LT providing the training and instructions for the infrastructure solutions developed by IT.

Our colleagues in the LT team previously concentrated on staff support and the management of linguistic data. These tasks remain their main responsibilities, and a lot of their time will still be spent on troubleshooting. STP’s project managers and translators encounter many unforeseeable issues in their day-to-day work with CAT-hopping, and the LT team is there to help them. The new strategy also enables them to plan how STP will work with language technology in the years to come. They assess our favourite tools (and those that we might not like quite as much) and figure out how to make the most of them. They evaluate current workflows and suggest improvements to them in order to increase efficiency; and they devise our long-term data management strategy.

To pool the company’s language technology expertise in a single team is a great feat in itself, but we believe there will be additional benefits in setting LT apart from IT and production. It gives us an edge and enables us to continue as the technology-driven LSP known to its clients and suppliers as a skilful, innovative partner.

Staff News

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Fabulous Finns

Martta Mäkinen grew up in the tiny city of Pori on the west coast of Finland. Fuelled by an interest in physical well-being, she first studied physiotherapy at Pirkanmaa Polytechnic in Tampere, graduating in 2007. After working as a physiotherapist for a while, she rediscovered her love of languages (born of the wanderlust inherent in those who grow up in small towns) and enrolled at the University of Helsinki to study for a Master’s degree in German translation.

Martta joined STP in September 2014 as a Finnish translator. She was soon asked to take on the role of Account Linguist, and never one to turn down a challenge or opportunity to learn new things, she happily accepted. Having been primarily self-employed up until then, Martta found being part of STP to be a welcome change, and she enjoys having colleagues with whom she can interact and discuss her work.

Despite the switch from health sciences to linguistics, Martta retains an interest in physical well-being. In her free time, she enjoys running and group exercise such as pilates and yoga. She also loves travelling and would like to live in as many places as possible. She tries to visit Berlin, where she studied for a year as part of her degree, at least once a year to see friends and keep in touch with the culture. She often travels with her Welsh boyfriend, who she also met while travelling, and spends a lot of time in London, where he lives.

  

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Sanna Tirkkonen is from Kuopio, a town situated in the hilly, forest-covered lake district of North Savonia in Finland. Sanna majored in German and translation at the University of Eastern Finland, also spending a year in Bielefeld in Germany as part of her studies. She graduated in 2008, after which she spent some time freelancing and taking on short-term assignments before moving to Riga in Latvia to work as an in-house translator for a company that specialises in EU texts. This period added knowledge of Latvian to her already impressive portfolio of languages, which in addition to Finnish, German and English also includes Swedish and Spanish. Sanna then moved to Luxembourg to undertake a translation traineeship with the European Commission.

Sanna joined STP in August 2014 after applying for a position as a Finnish translator, and thus far is very much enjoying the variety of texts, challenges and learning opportunities that this role involves. She currently lives not far from the office in Whiteley, and in her leisure time she enjoys going to the gym and taking long walks in the countryside in addition to activities involving film, music and art. She also loves visiting different cities, her favourites being Riga and Berlin.

Industry issues

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Alles Klar?

Horsemeat changed our views on the importance of transparency in the supply chain. Overnight, everyone in Europe was interested in where their goods came from, what they consisted of and how they had been produced. Food and fashion industries are under particular scrutiny in this respect, but the trend can be detected in the translation community too. Cloud technology facilitates the sharing of linguistic and human resources in an unprecedented way. Clients are asking to see the CVs of the translators working on their projects. Suspicions about clandestine use of MT raise concerns around confidentiality.

The call for increased transparency introduces a number of complex questions to a business that is as dependent on outsourcing as ours is. Take SLAs and NDAs, for example. How often are the identical terms and conditions actually passed all the way down the supply chain, and adhered to? How effectively can such contracts be enforced when a serious complaint or a claim for compensation arises? How should we prescribe the ownership of and rights to resources, not only to TM and MT content but also to the people in our databases and the processes we invent? Yes, our convoluted subcontracting chains cause us to lose time and information, and they certainly foster middlemen who add no value to the process, but a completely free market system has its challenges too. To be successful, open collaboration requires partnerships that are more than words, and there are elements in our community, like students, who deserve to be protected from exploitation.

As corporate clients seem keen to polish their image by conducting ethical audits of their global food supply network, perhaps we could interest them in doing the same with their global communication solution providers. Lack of visibility and direct influence in the supply chain is detrimental in both directions – up the chain as well as down it. Linguists work best when they have access to the creators of the source content. Workflow optimisation is at its best when it brings benefits to all parties in the process. Let’s do it – create business models characterised by commitment, openness and win-win. Chances are that if we don’t make the information about our supply chain available to all parties involved, then in an industry this size someone else will do it for us.

Nordic focus

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Minority Report

When any reference is made to the Nordic regions, our minds tend to leap to the likes of Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Iceland. But there are other jewels in the Nordic crown. Autonomous territories that seem more or less content to keep to themselves and the peripheral vision of the rest of the world. But not for much longer. Here’s the lowdown:

The Åland Islands

Åland is the autonomous territory with the closest links to its more often talked about neighbours – not least due to its proximity. The Åland Islands consist of an archipelago of 6,500 small islands at the entrance to the Gulf of Bothnia in the Baltic Sea. Despite being part of Finland, Åland is exclusively Swedish-speaking by law (with over 90% of Ålanders speaking Swedish as their first language in 2009) and its residents are exempt from conscription to the Finnish Defence Forces. Most Ålanders live in Åland’s only town, Mariehamn, situated on the largest island, Fasta Åland. Perhaps as is to be expected of an island region, shipping is of particular importance to Åland’s cultural history, and local shipwrights still build wooden vessels using traditional methods and models. As far back as 900 AD, trade was common with countries as far away as Arabia. At different times in the region’s history, it has been ruled by Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Russia, all of whom squabbled over it for centuries due to its strategic location. The region was demilitarised in in the early 19th century during the Crimean War and has remained politically neutral since, becoming autonomous in 1921. Culturally, Åland is Scandinavian with a few twists.

The Faroe Islands

The Faroe Islands consist of an archipelago of 18 islands situated roughly halfway between Norway and Iceland and only 320 kilometres from the coast of mainland Scotland. It is currently part of the Kingdom of Denmark, although at different points in its history it has been part of Norway, the Kalmar Union and Denmark-Norway. It became autonomous in 1948. Faroese is spoken throughout the islands as a first language. Despite the population of the Faroe Islands only being around 48,000 (around 20,000 in the capital, Tórshavn) there are around 44 nationalities living on the islands. The Faroese have retained a lot of their traditional culture, as they were largely unaffected by cultural movements in large parts of the rest of Europe, and as such, many traditional Faroese cultural activities are unique to the islands. Such activities include a particular chain dance most often performed during the summer festival of Ólavsøka – accompanied by Faroese ballads (kvæði) – that was banned by the Church elsewhere in Europe due to its pagan origins. Faroese food is also a talking point. Mutton forms the basis of many meals, perhaps unsurprisingly when we consider that Danish Færøerne translates as the islands of the sheep. The Faroese also eat a lot of whale meat as well as fish and sea birds such as puffins. Handicrafts such as the knitting of Faroese jumpers have enjoyed increased popularity recently as more young Faroese people move away from home and look for a way to maintain cultural links.

Greenland

Greenland, the world’s largest non-continental island, is situated just east of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago and is also part of the Kingdom of Denmark. Whereas ethnically the inhabitants of Åland and the Faroe Islands are of primarily Scandinavian (or, in the case of Faroese women, Scottish) decent and culturally Nordic, the vast majority of Greenlanders are of Inuit decent and speak Greenlandic, an Eskimo-Aleut language. Greenland became autonomous in 1979 with limited self-government. It is said that Norwegian-born Icelander Erik the Red travelled there after being exiled from Iceland and decided to name it Greenland in an attempt to attract settlers and draw attention away from the fact that a huge ice sheet covers most of the island. However, in Greenlandic the island is called Kalaallit Nunaat, land of the Kalaallit (the indigenous Greenlandic Inuit people). Greenland has a population of less than 57,000, and around 15,000 people live in the capital, Nuuk. Traditional Greenlandic cultural activities such as sealing, whaling, fishing and hunting are the main sources of income for Greenland. Ice fishing and dog sledding are also popular activities that are often promoted in an attempt to attract tourists. Greenland also has a vibrant tradition of decorative art and handicrafts, the inspiration for which often originates from the natural world and traditional beliefs regarding the spirit world. The Greenlandic word for art is Eqqumiitsuliorneq, which means ‘to create things that look strange’ – a sentiment perhaps best embodied by carvings of the figure Tupilak, who is said to be endowed with powerful magic, as these constitute an expression of the history of art and culture in Greenland.

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