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  • Black Country Translator

Life in Lockdown

When the lockdown was announced, I feared the worst. My business had come on leaps and bounds over the two or three months before this ordeal began, then, all of a sudden, I thought I'd have to start all over again from scratch. Where was translation work going to come from with most of my clients specialising in tourism, industry and sport, that is, industries largely put on hold due to the pandemic? Also, would new clients who'd been in the pipeline for quite a while still consider recruiting me given the circumstances? As it turns out, these questions were soon answered; although I haven't done much translation proper, as it were, over the past month or so, I have been busier than ever, trying my hand at other tasks associated with the language services industry.


Around a month ago, I was approached about an exciting new opportunity to be involved in a long-term localisation project. The title "Data Utterance Creator" meant nothing to me at first, but when I eventually realised that I'd be writing the training data for the British English version of a new virtual assistant, I suddenly became very interested. After rejecting an offer to work in-house as a Spanish-to-English translator for a company in Barcelona a month earlier - I love the West Midlands far too much to leave here just yet - I knew I couldn't let this next opportunity slip away. Albeit slightly repetitive at times, this project has been extremely rewarding and beneficial to my development as a translator so far. This is because, firstly, I have never thought so critically about how to express myself in my native language, especially given how direct we tend to be when talking to the likes of Alexa and Siri compared to humans, and, secondly, because of the amount of subject-specific terminology I have acquired in domains for which I translate regularly, such as travel, and food and hospitality. Thinking about how other people formulate questions in English has helped me distance myself considerably from what some would describe as a quite idiosyncratic writing style. Likewise, I have already noticed a marked improvement in my translation work since taking on this project, which I believe is starting to sound increasingly idiomatic, and thus, more in line with target-text conventions and the style expected by the target audience. In addition, as the US and Australian English projects are running simultaneously to the British one, I have started to pick up on instances of interference between these different variants of English of which I was previously unaware. I shouldn't use another Americanism in my writing ever again after working on this project.


I have also proofread more translations than ever before over the previous month, with the corrections I made to the English subtitles for a video about an agricultural training institute in Congo representing one of my best pieces of work to date in terms of client feedback. The same client then contacted me again later that week to see if I'd be interested in carrying out an evaluation on the quality of machine translation output from French to English for various domains, ranging from mechanical engineering to finance. For this project, I had to award a score of 1 to 5 for both adequacy and fluency, with 1 being the lowest and 5 being the highest, to a selection of around 200 segments. This task required great attention to detail, since I had to identify instances of unnatural language, assess how accurately the meaning was conveyed in each - this isn't easy when neural machine translation is involved because of how fluent it tends to sound - and follow strict marking criteria before being able to make an informed judgement. As a result, I can also attribute the marked improvement in my translation work to my contribution to this project; the rigorous procedure I used to evaluate this MT output is what I now use when I self-revise my work and work on PEMT projects.


The extra time I've gained from not having to teach so regularly because of COVID-19 has also been put to good effect. I've spent hours catching up on ITI and SDL webinars, which I have found extremely useful, none more so than the SWATI webinar series. Teaching myself German, editing my website and reaching out to more potential clients are other things that I've done to keep myself busy.


Having just the one job to focus on for the time being has also given me more me-time. Not being able to watch my beloved West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns is a killer to say the least - I've only been able to watch our famous 2-0 FA Cup Quarter Final victory over Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest on BBC iPlayer - but one positive to come from that has been my much-improved double and treble hitting at the oche, even though I wouldn't even lick the likes of Peter Wright's boots. I've also been able to fall in love with Francophone, Hispanophone and Lusophone literature again, immerse myself in the plethora of foreign-language series and films on Netflix and dance - if that's what you want to call it - to a bit of Colombian and Cuban salsa.


All in all, the lockdown I dreaded has so far been much easier to deal with than I anticipated; work has been busier than ever, and I haven't felt bored once. I mean, how can you be bored when there have been days like yesterday when we got to relive the moment that England won the Cricket World Cup for the very first following arguably the greatest final sport has ever seen?

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