Icebreaker 24, February 2017

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Welcome to the twenty-fourth issue of Icebreaker, the STP newsletter.

In this edition, we have an update on the Translators without Borders appeal from our previous issue, and news of Jesper Sandberg’s appointment as chair of GALA. Amy Henderson, the subject of our staff Q&A, gives you a sweet incentive to get in her good books. We examine the localisation challenges posed by new technologies. And, on Finnish Culture Day, we look at Finland’s national epic, the Kalevala, and its enduring cultural legacy.

Company News

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STP receives Translators without Borders’ Donor Award

You may recall our December 2016 edition of Icebreaker, in which we put out a special appeal for volunteers for an urgent project involving Translators without Borders (TWB) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

We’re pleased to say that, thanks to the fantastic response of our freelance and in-house volunteers, we were able to deliver 28,000 words of Danish, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish content to TWB before Christmas. A huge thank you if you were involved in the project.

In recognition of both our contribution to the UNHCR project and our ongoing support as a sponsor, TWB has chosen us to receive the Donor Award in its annual Access to Knowledge Awards for 2017. We are truly honoured by this and look forward to working even more closely with TWB in the year ahead.

TWB continues to expand its network of Nordic translators – so if you can spare any time in 2017, please click here to register as a volunteer.

Jesper Sandberg named chair of GALA board

In January, the Globalization and Localization Association (GALA) appointed Jesper Sandberg – our very own founder and executive chairman – as its new chair.

Jesper had previously served as both secretary and vice-chair of GALA, the largest trade association in the language services industry, having joined its board of directors in 2014.

“My company would not be where it is today without the personal, professional and commercial growth opportunities that industry associations offer,” Jesper said. He added that he is excited by the challenge ahead – not least delivering GALA’s “best ever annual conference in Amsterdam in March”.

As ever, we’ll be attending GALA’s annual flagship event, and we’d love to see you there. Drop us a line today if you’d like to meet one of our attendees.

Staff Spotlight

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Q&A with Amy Henderson, Production Manager

Amy, which languages can you speak?

My native language is English but I also speak French and Spanish. I studied French at school from the age of 11 and took up Spanish when I was 17, before continuing with both at university and spending a semester each at universities in Nice and Barcelona. French is definitely my stronger language, as I spent two years in Reims after my degree.

How did you first get into the translation business?

My background in foreign languages is the obvious answer, but there’s a little more to it. When I was living in Reims and working as an English teacher, I realised how much I love my language. I’d also always enjoyed reading and writing, and I may or may not have been described as ‘the grammar police’ once or twice. All of this made me realise that translation could be a good fit.

Once I’d finished my MA, I started applying for jobs in the industry. I didn’t feel confident enough to go freelance right away, though, and in-house translation jobs for French and Spanish are few and far between. So I decided to look for project management roles, to get a foot on the ladder and an insight into the industry, before branching out on my own.

What drew you to the management side of things?

After working as a PM for 18 months at another agency, I joined STP as an account linguist, doing a mix of both translation and project management. The plan was to eventually become a fully fledged translator. However, six months later, I decided to drop the translation side and return to full-time project management.

I felt, and still feel, that PMing offers more variety in terms of daily tasks and responsibilities. And I enjoyed how it gave me contact with a broader range of people: clients, linguists and my fellow PMs. It doesn’t suit everyone, of course, but personally I respond well to having a constant influx of requests and tasks, as opposed to long translation or revision deadlines.

The same is true now that I’m a production manager, managing client accounts and a team of PMs rather than projects. Though I work less with linguists these days, there’s still so much variety in my job – and so many different personalities – that I could never be bored.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

Working with so many smart, talented people from all over Europe.

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

Since spending a few summers working in a vintage-themed tea shop in my home town, and in a sandwich shop at uni, I’ve dreamed of owning my own café or deli. I’ve always loved providing a service and making people feel looked after.

Your colleagues know you as a brilliant baker. Where does your culinary flair and love of good food come from?

I’ve always had a sweet tooth, but my travels around Europe opened my eyes to so many wonderful food cultures and traditions.

When I was studying abroad, I started experimenting with different ingredients, getting inspiration from what was local to each place. Cooking with local, seasonal produce is something I’m passionate about. There’s so much great food produced in the UK and Europe that we don’t need to air-freight stringy mangetout from Kenya or woody asparagus from Peru.

What would you bake for your favourite client or freelancer?

Right now my fruit bowl is full of Italian blood oranges, so I’d make an almond and polenta upside-down cake with caramelised blood oranges.

If you could have another job for just one day, what would it be?

I’d love to work in a fancy restaurant kitchen for a day. I’d probably be terrible, but it’d be so interesting to see all the different processes and hi-tech equipment, and get involved in creating some new dishes.

How do you unwind after a busy day?

In the evenings I tend to just chill out – cook some nice food and watch a film. I swim a lot to destress, but I go early in the morning, before work, and it sets me up for the day.

Where is your favourite place to be?

By the sea. There’s something restorative and calming about watching the waves and breathing in the sea air. I grew up on the coast and I try to go back at least a couple of times a year to reconnect and take it all in.

Do you have any language-related pet peeves?

Misuse of apostrophes. Did I mention that I’m a fully subscribed member of the grammar police?

What do you wish you’d known at the start of your career?

How useful it would’ve been to study German.

Describe STP in one word

Smart.

Industry Issues

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Translating the invisible

By Janne Ojamo, Finnish Account Linguist

For translators, the march of technology and the rise of the internet have created a host of new textual elements to consider. These can throw up unexpected challenges during localisation projects, as their function is often different from that of traditional translatables.

A case in point is context. With a traditional, continuous text, the context would give us clues about the meaning of certain words. But when these words are part of a program and not a conventional text, the translatable can often be a text string with little or no framing.

One such category of programmatic text is image-related keywords. Emoji input tools for messaging apps, for example, often have search functions that need textual descriptions of emojis, typically keywords.

However, as well as a lack of available context, cultural factors also affect our interpretation of images. How, for instance, do you separate four different kinds of funicular and cable car when your mostly flat country only ever really uses one?

Is a ‘carp streamer/kite’ sufficiently known in your target locale that it should be localised? Or would the original Japanese ‘koinobori’ be the best option for those few who are aware of its meaning?

And why is there a ‘telepathic person’ emoji? (Answer: there isn’t. It’s actually ‘Person Bowing Deeply,’ but my Finnish cultural background did not prime me to expect this alternative.)

Like emoji descriptions, SEO keywords are elements that help categorise online content and make it easier to find. As such, one of their functions is to be read by search engine crawlers, meaning that new phenomena, such as compounding, need to be taken into account.

Long compounds, frequent in languages like my native Finnish, are not search engine friendly. So the translator faces the dilemma of separating them and being less grammatical, or keeping them and being less searchable.

Sometimes the function of localisable text is to make it accessible to new audiences. These days, for example, screen readers can read text aloud to visually impaired users. To support this functionality, buttons need labels and images need alternative text – both for reading aloud, and for being read by search bots.

In this way, localisation can possibly help democratise access to digital services. The question is: what should language be like when it’s the user’s only means of operating a device and accessing the outside world? Personally, I would say clear, concise and matter-of-fact – qualities of any good translation to start with.

You may wonder why a client would want to have these kinds of programmatic text localised. Isn’t the function of a translation to relay information to the user, or, in the case of localised advertising copy, elicit some kind of emotional response?

I would argue that localised elements that facilitate categorisation, organisation and searchability help bring the client’s brand closer to the user. Relatability, after all, is in high demand in the current global market.

And with an ever-growing number of services and applications vying for the customer’s attention online, a site or service that truly speaks the user’s language can present itself as useful and approachable – and thus more competitive.

Nordic Focus

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The day the world hatched from a duck’s egg

By Netta Taylor, Finnish Account Linguist

On 28 February, Finland remembers its national epic, the Kalevala, and the man who brought it to our collective consciousness: Elias Lönnrot. Also known as Finnish Culture Day, the occasion is particularly well suited to reflecting on the myths contained in Lönnrot’s compilation – and their influence on contemporary Finnish life and culture.

In his mammoth undertaking, Lönnrot travelled the country, collecting Finnish folk tales and poems. Since these stories originated well before written language came to be a part of the Finnish culture, generation after generation discovered their legendary events and characters by listening to the sung poems and learning them by heart, before passing them on to their own children and grandchildren.

Like any national epic worth its name, the Kalevala begins with an explanation of how the world came to be. In this instance, the story involves a goddess, several hundred years into her pregnancy, swimming in a sea, and a duck, laying her eggs on the goddess’s knee. When the eggs break, the shell fragments become the earth and the sky, and the egg white and yolk form the moon, the stars and the sun.

The stories of the Kalevala also feature several other magical elements, such as the legendary Sampo – an object that provides its owner with unlimited amounts of flour, salt and gold – and the fantastic battles over it. A central character in the tales of the Kalevala is the shamanic and musically gifted Väinämöinen, born of the bathing goddess. His is a character both supernatural, almost godly, and touchingly human.

Some of the stories are rather prosaic, such as the hunt for a wife that Väinämöinen and his fellow bachelors embark upon time and again, with varying degrees of success. Poor Väinämöinen is not exactly a hit with the ladies, as demonstrated by the young maiden Aino, who drowns herself rather than marry him.

But what relevance does this all have to the life of today’s average Finn, who is unlikely to believe that their world hatched from a duck’s egg?

To answer that, you need look no further than a local Finnish school or shopping centre. Names associated with the Kalevala continue to be popular with parents naming their children, and with companies wishing to position themselves as traditionally, reliably Finnish. Indeed, with the Sampo promising immeasurable wealth to its owner, it’s hardly surprising that several banks, for example, have adopted names that originate from the epic.

The kantele, the instrument which Väinämöinen plays so skilfully throughout the pages of the Kalevala, has also lived on, with generations of schoolchildren continuing to learn it as part of their early education. The ears of their teachers and parents can probably attest to the success (or lack thereof) of this cultural immersion, but nevertheless, it remains a part of Finnish life.

It is not only Finnish culture, either, that has been touched by the legends of the Kalevala. The author J.R.R. Tolkien, no less, confessed to having been influenced both by the Finnish language, when fashioning Elvish, and the stories from the epic themselves, when writing about the peoples of Middle Earth.

And so the epic lives on, whether in the mind of a fantasy book enthusiast, the freezer of a Finn after buying a tub of Aino ice cream, or the address of an American living in Kaleva, Michigan. Lönnrot’s legacy is all around us – whether we know it or not.

Feedback

If you have any feedback about this issue of Icebreaker, or if you’d like to suggest a topic for a future edition, we’d love to hear from you. Please send us your thoughts and ideas by email.

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