Icebreaker 4, December 2010

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Welcome to the fourth issue of ‘Icebreaker’, the STP newsletter.

In the past few weeks it has become apparent that not only does Britain not have many icebreakers, but it doesn’t have many snow ploughs either! Nordic efficiency is once again being praised in the UK media – something we at STP are keen to promote all year long.

Company news

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Weekends That Make Us or Break Us

Easily mistaken for a group of miners anxiously waiting for rescue, the photo on the left (see a larger version here) actually captures part of the excited STP team facing their first team-building challenge at our annual weekend away in October. Yet, rescue may not have been that far from their minds, since the magnitude of the task ahead had only just started to dawn on some, including yours truly!

STP has always endeavoured to provide its employees with a social network as well as a decent place to work. Most of our staff join the company as foreigners from abroad, leaving their friends and families behind, and it takes months if not years to form similar bonds in the new country. Colleagues hence get to play a very important role for most new staff members during their first few months at STP, and friendships are often formed spanning the years they stay in the UK, and beyond.

It has become an STP tradition to hire a whole youth hostel once a year for the staff to escape to the country and spend a weekend together at some remote spot. This October we drove to a lovely stone bunkhouse in a magical location on the mountainside above Llangattock village in South Wales and had a fabulous time shedding our work roles and detecting hitherto undiscovered qualities in each other.

The hostel had an open-plan kitchen and dining area where we cooked all our own meals – read sumptuous feasts – in small, pre-allocated teams. In the evenings we played games in the lounge and even warbled out a few songs accompanied by a couple of guitars. On the Saturday, we hiked for hours in the Brecon Beacons National Park and some took the option of climbing Pen y Fan, the highest peak in Britain south of Snowdonia.

On the Sunday, we visited Llangorse Multi Activity Centre where we had booked two hours of challenging team-building activities: abseiling down a vertical drop of over 50 feet, attempting various artificial climbing walls, edging over a deep gulf on rickety rope bridges, crawling through a twisting tunnel in a natural rock caving system and flying down an indoor zip line. Some of the more sensible people chose to go pony-trekking outside in the glorious sunshine. The friendly staff at the activity centre had a lot of fun at our expense, and the teasing banter helped the challenges seem slightly less life-threatening.

There was food galore left over to be eaten up at the office afterwards and hundreds of photos to spur us on to exceed expectations next year!

Two Great Danes

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Born in Bosnia, Amila Jašarević arrived in Denmark with her mother in 1993 and started to rebuild her life from scratch. At school, she took several classes in European studies that involved visits to other EU countries. During one of these trips, Amila decided to make languages her career. She went on to study for a BA in French and German at the University of Southern Denmark, spending a term at the IPAG Business School in Nice and another at the Friedrich-Alexander Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, and then completed her MA in International Business Communication in Danish and German at the Aarhus School of Business.

Before joining STP in September, Amila worked for a public broadcaster translating news on current events, politics and financial topics. She is very interested in human rights issues and her involvement has provided her with further opportunities for travelling and working with people in different countries. She is also a proficient photographer.

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A Danish native speaker, Sine Nielsen likes living in English-speaking countries and professes to thrive in international environments. She has already spent three years of her life abroad: in Canada, the US, Australia, New Zealand, Iceland, Spain and, most recently, the UK.

In Denmark, she gained a BA in English from Aalborg University before coming to do an MSc in Translation Studies in Scotland and graduating from the University of Edinburgh with a Distinction this autumn.

During her travels, Sine worked on horse breeding farms and lived with host families, brushing up on her English whilst tackling all those different accents. She says it greatly strengthened her ability to adapt and increased her interest in cultural diversity. In other words, an ideal preparation for coming to STP!

Industry issues

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Linked

STP is already a member of several industry associations in Europe and has established a strong presence in the European LSP community over the past 10 years or so. We have also been working for a handful of small and large LSPs in the USA for several years, but never done anything to actively develop that market. However, last year we decided to try and gain a greater market share of the US LSP market, and as part of this effort STP has joined the ATA (American Translators Association – http://www.atanet.org/), its Translation Company Division (http://www.ata-tcd.com/), the ALC (Association of Language Companies – http://www.alcus.org/) and AMTA (Association for Machine Translation in the Americas – http://www.amtaweb.org/), and we have attended conferences held by these organisations in 2010. Most recently Jesper attended the 51st Annual Conference of the ATA and the 9th biannual conference of AMTA in the Mile High City of Denver, Colorado, overlooking the snow-clad Rocky Mountains. Both conferences were very enjoyable, as they were held at very attractive and suitable venues, were well-attended and extremely well-organised.

The ATA conference was positively huge, with around 1,500 attendees, making it easily the world’s largest event in our industry. This, of course, is not surprising, given that the ATA with its approx. 11,000 members (mainly freelance translators) is by far the largest of its kind in the world. There was a plethora of content to choose from, catering to every imaginable area of interest and current focus within our industry. Jesper mainly attended the plenum/key note speaker sessions, presentations on machine translation and the Nordic Division sessions which comprised “Working as an In-House Scandinavian Translator”, “Scandinavian>English Translation Workshop”, “English<>Danish Financial Translation” and “Back to School: Translating Scandinavian Educational Documentation”. Anyone interested in taking a closer look at the conference programme, perhaps with a view to considering attending next year’s event, can find it here: http://www.atanet.org/conf/2010/.

A major focus of this year’s ATA conference was to disseminate knowledge about machine translation and foster a better understanding and open attitude among individual translators to this new technology that is bound to have a big impact on our profession. There were several sessions devoted to various aspects of this issue, with attendance and contributions by well-known and respected industry experts. At the closing plenum session there was a strong consensus that the conference had been very successful in achieving this major goal. However, almost everyone also accepted that while the technology is maturing rapidly, and more widespread usage of MT is inevitable, everyone in the industry, from the individual translator to the largest LSPs, will face considerable challenges in learning how to use and work optimally with this new technology over the next 2 to 10 years.

The dates and location of the AMTA conference were deliberately chosen to tie in perfectly with the ATA conference, so the AMTA conference started the day after the ATA conference ended and was just a few blocks away. Attendees from each event were invited to join the other event on their respective closing and opening days. This was also a very successful plan, as a lot of people from the ATA conference attended the first day of the AMTA conference.

A conference for people working with or interested in machine translation obviously caters to a fairly small and specialised audience, so the attendees at the full 3-4 days of the AMTA conference were mainly researchers, developers and users of machine translation (the latter being either government or commercial users, and in any case certainly organisations and people that could be called “early adopters”). We are not generally talking MT in the form of Google Translate and Microsoft Translator here, although they are obviously the best known examples of this technology, at least to the lay person or “translation consumer”. The type of machine translation needed to produce higher-quality results than what you get with Google or Microsoft requires software that has been highly customised and trained for very specific purposes, and there are actually numerous organisations and companies (LSPs and enterprises) already using customised MT engines in production workflows and achieving high quality and in some cases full human publication quality output after a round of human post-editing. At STP, Jesper, Simon and Raisa have already spent considerable time this year investigating our options for including MT as yet another tool in the already booming technology tool box that many modern LSPs consider a necessity.

Not surprisingly, both conferences offered excellent opportunities for professional development and networking, and Jesper made the most of it and learnt a lot about developments in our industry. It is also very enjoyable to meet up with existing and potential clients and suppliers and put a face to a well-known name in many cases.

In addition to all our existing professional memberships, STP has also recently joined ELIA – the European Language Industry Association (http://www.elia-association.org/), and we look forward to attending their “Networking Days” in 2011.

Nordic focus

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Season of Goodwill

The Nordic words for Christmas: jul (DA, SV and NO), joulu (FI) and jól (IS) are thought to be derived from the same Germanic origin as the English word yule. Many of our traditions must go back to the same roots as well, but at some point the customs have diversified and created the delightful peculiarities in evidence today. Here are some Christmas facts that may seem more like fables to you.

The highlight of the Nordic Christmas celebration is Christmas Eve, December 24th, and not Christmas Day itself. Children spend most of the day in anticipation of the evening. Finally, the family sits down to enjoy Christmas dinner and only after that comes the knock on the door announcing the arrival of Santa. He seems to have time to meet a lot of the Nordic children face-to-face that evening and he often expects a performance from them (a song, dance or poem) before untying his huge sack and handing out the presents. After they have been opened, the excitement is over and Christmas Day and Boxing Day, by comparison, are often a quieter affair (unless the celebrations carry on with a Christmas lunch in the company of a different set of friends or relatives).

Besides Santa and his little helpers in red hats (who are little men rather than elves and NEVER have pointy ears), in Denmark and Norway there is also a mischievous character called Nisse. He lives in old farmhouses and attics, wears grey woollen clothes and generally helps people on the farms. But since he can play pranks during the holiday season, many families leave a bowl of porridge out on Christmas Eve to appease him. A market study carried out in December 2009 for Norwegian dairy producers showed that 350,000 Norwegians (a pretty impressive number for a small population) still set out Christmas porridge for Nisse on their stoop, under a hedge, by their barn door or behind the shed.

In Finland, the infamous Nisse and his unruly behaviour are not as well-known, but the people themselves are certainly warned against any misbehaviour during the Christmas season. Finns have a solemn tradition of a Christmas Peace proclaimed to them; a custom known to date back to the 13th century. The ceremony is broadcast live at noon on Christmas Eve, on both radio and television, from the Great Square of Turku, where the ancient declaration is read out from a parchment roll. The gist of the message is that everyone is to observe the holiday with due reverence and to conduct themselves quietly and peacefully, for whosoever breaks the peace by unlawful conduct shall be liable to whatever penalty is prescribed by law under aggravating circumstances. The bit about the aggravating circumstances may not be judicially applied these days, but the declaration still urges Finns to guard and protect the prospect of pleasant Christmas festivities.

A Christmas Eve programme that Nordic people have watched on TV since 1959 is a Disney special “From All of Us to All of You” (named slightly differently in each country). It is a compilation of vintage clips from animated Disney feature films presented by Jiminy Cricket. The fact that the clips remain mostly the same every year does not matter. Christmas somehow does not feel like Christmas until you have seen Lady and the Tramp share their spaghetti and meatball meal to the sweet music of Bella Notte. In Sweden, the show attracts more viewers than major international sporting events, and official ratings indicate that up to 50% of the population sits down to watch it. STP’s inside information sources know that this is only half the truth – it is Helena’s firm opinion that everyone in Sweden watches it. Everyone!

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