Just a Plain Hamburger on a Bun

Did you know that years ago, a hamburger was just a cooked ground beef patty on a plain bun? When it arrived at your table, you could put mustard and ketchup on it if you wanted to. Some people even ordered it with cheese—particularly in the dairy belt. And then the California burger swept the nation. They put lettuce and tomato on top of the patty! Scandalous! But delicious!

Today, hamburger toppings are an ever-evolving topic: lettuce, tomato, and pickles, of course, but also onions (fried or not), various cheeses, coleslaw, eggs, peppers, hoisin sauce, chutney, bacon, olives, cucumbers, salsa, corn chips, and many other things. Our tastes have changed, and our expectations have grown. Today, a plain burger on a plain bun would puzzle an American consumer—who might ask the wait staff, “Did you forget to finish my burger?” The same growth of expectations has happened in many industries, including linguistic services. Capabilities expand, often driven by technology, and clients want more.

When I began translating decades ago, a project might arrive as an electronic file, but often it came as a hard copy, folded into an envelope. The requested deliverable would be a simple MS Word document, text only. Some clients also wanted a hard copy returned. The files I received rarely contained images—the client took care of those—and I did no layout work.

Today, we rarely have a request for the hard copy. (The exception would be documents that are certified, signed, sealed, and notarized, which require the paper version for legal reasons.) In general, our clients want an electronic file returned by email, FTP, or a browser-based file transfer service.

So that the electronic file that left our office displays correctly wherever it’s viewed, our clients always receive a PDF with fonts embedded. This matters because some languages use fonts that may not be installed on all computers. Some letters might be missing glyphs, a part of a letter. This can change the meaning of the word or it might not display at all.

Expectations have grown for every step of the translation process. Qualified linguists should be able to handle accessible images in any of the MS Office programs. Savvy clients lay out their files with sufficient white space to accommodate potential language expansion. Project managers should be able to review a file and determine if the linguists will handle images and tables—that’s the lettuce, tomato, and onions. If desktop publishing is required, that’s the bacon, salsa, and peppers. And if transcription and voice-over are needed for an embedded video, that’s the hoisin sauce, chutney, corn chips, and olives. We are no longer a plain hamburger industry!

In general, the service required is obvious from the files our client sends. We may receive normal-looking Word documents or database dumps laid out in Excel. A project may be a PDF from which we extract the text and translate. Or it may be a PDF that the client wants the translations to reproduce perfectly. Then we ask for the DTP files, fonts, and images and gladly handle them.

Some requests, however, give us pause. Yesterday, one of our clients in marketing asked us to prepare a quote. Their client had sent an English document laid out in Word, complete with beautiful graphics and tables. They also provided translations into seven languages and then asked our client to somehow insert their translations into the Word document.

We were puzzled at first. If the translations were already done and the document was in Word, what was their request? Then we looked at the files our client had sent.

Whoever did the translation work for our client’s client had delivered a document that looked like 1990: the translations were complete, but each graphic was listed as “[graphic].” The company received a useless document. Their beautiful graphics, tables, and diagrams were simply not there. What they had was a plain hamburger, when they’d expected the double cheeseburger with bacon and coleslaw.

Tembua will spend the time necessary to make the plain Word documents we received yesterday look like the original. We’ll review the translations because, if the document was returned like this, what else is wrong? Clear communication would have told the client what kind of deliverable to expect.

How do you like your hamburgers? Sometimes a plain burger is great, but there are times I want bacon and fried onions and olives, along with lettuce and tomatoes and lots of cheese.

Would you like a checklist of questions to ask when ordering translation? See below!

Patricia May
Tembua: The Precision Language Solution

“Why isn’t there Japanese in Room 5?”

“This thing is dead. Give me new batteries!”

“I only hear German. I asked for an Arabic unit!”

I lean against the foyer wall and watch Tembua’s staff handle the flood of conference attendees picking up interpreting equipment.

Our company owns state-of-the-art digital interpreting equipment. That means interpreter control panels, transceivers, receivers, and many, many headsets. We rent out the equipment to other companies, but in this case Tembua is providing all the equipment and all the interpreters.

“Can I pick up all the equipment for my group and keep it for the entire week?”

Along with the electronics, Tembua also owns tabletop interpreting booths. These are three-sided roofed enclosures, each accommodating two interpreters. The booths help shield the interpreters from ambient noise and also isolate their constant stream of speech from people in the back of the room.

For this conference, we’ve set up for six languages. An earlier walk-through with the conference audio manager identified the best placement for the booths, one booth per language. The staff has brought pipe-and-drape to set up next to and between the booths to further muffle the sound.

“How come Finnish isn’t on the language list? My grandmother spoke Finnish and I’ll bet I could do Finnish for you!”

I walk into the hall. The simultaneous interpreters have been there for nearly an hour, arranging reference volumes, adjusting the fans and lights we provide in the booths, looking through the presentations that some of the speakers have provided. They are prepared, two to a booth, with glossaries and with relevant sites bookmarked on their laptops, just in case. We don’t have all the conference presentations yet, and they need to be prepared for the unknown.

Many interpreters speak three or even four languages, and as I walk by to the sound booth, they greet me and continue bouncing laughing comments off each other, rapidly switching languages. I have limited professional experience as an interpreter and greatly admire these people who are at the top of their profession.

“This afternoon’s presentation is going to be given in Chinese rather than English. Will that cause a problem?”

The sound crew has tamed yesterday’s tangle of cables with yards of wide tape, and sound checks were completed when the interpreters first arrived. Each interpreting booth is cabled to the sound booth. The wireless signal is sent from the booths to the attendees’ receivers. The sound technicians don’t need me, but I check on them anyway. One technician will monitor the entire conference using equipment just like the attendees’.

As the program starts, the interpreters drink water, roll their shoulders to relax, and go to work. One interpreter in each language will speak for 15-20 minutes while his/her partner provides research assistance. Then, using the control panel in the booths, they’ll switch roles seamlessly. This continues for the entire day. Simultaneous conference interpreting is exhausting. A non-interpreter can simulate the experience somewhat by repeating every word of a broadcast speech, first exactly as spoken and then, as a paraphrase.

I return to the foyer in time to see the latecomers picking up equipment. Tembua’s staff has answered all the questions:

“The on-off switch is sometimes a bit sticky. Let me see if the unit is working properly.”

“We prefer to collect the equipment at the end of each day’s session. That way, we can put in fresh batteries and clean the headsets.”

“Using this dial, you can select the language you need. The language numbers are listed here on the interpreting poster.”

“Finnish isn’t on the list because there was insufficient demand for it this time. Maybe next year. And we’re always looking for talent. Please talk to the conference organizers and send us your resume!”

“Working Chinese to English instead of English to Chinese is no problem for the interpreters. The issue will be that all the attendees would now hear English through their headsets. However, we have it covered. In cases like this, we set up relay interpreting: Chinese in, English out through the sound system to the English-speaking listeners, and English to the other interpreters, who send out the appropriate languages to the remainder of the listeners. The speaker will also be given a headset and receiver for questions.”

“There is Japanese in the main hall, but the conference organizers only ordered one pair of interpreters per language.”
Would you like an informational piece about conference interpreting? See below.


Patricia May
Tembua: The Precision Language Solution

Eyes or ears: Interpreting vs. translation

“What do you mean the manual and warranties are all in Portuguese?”  Now your supplier wants to set up a phone call. You’re not quite sure what they need, and you’re afraid you’ll sound hopelessly ignorant on the phone. What do you do? Or perhaps you want to develop a relationship with an Eastern European firm. What languages should you provide your materials in? In today’s global economy, linguistic issues are part of doing business—but how do you know what services you need? When a first-time client sent us an MS Word document to be returned in 26 languages, they said, at various times, they wanted it interpreted or converted or changed into. In fact, the service they needed was translation.

Of course, we don’t expect someone outside our industry to use the terminology we use, any more than we would know the correct names of state-of-the-art surgical tools. (Although our translators who specialize in medical content would!) A service provider must be able to identify the client’s needs as a step toward fulfilling them.

If a Tembua client asks for translators for a conference along with booths and electronic equipment, we realize they are requesting interpreters.

Translation refers to the written word; interpreting, to the spoken or signed word. Thus, a document is translated, but the person standing next to the Prime Minister is most likely an interpreter. In general, context signals the meaning of these two terms, even when the speaker confuses them.

But sometimes, the context needs to be clarified even for people who handle these issues every day.

If the client requests a translator onsite for a meeting, we ask more questions. Interpreting services can be provided for the spoken components of a meeting, but translation services can be ordered as well if a linguist is needed to quickly translate documents, usually financial, that are being discussed and revised immediately. Sometimes the translator is conferenced in and versions fly back and forth, a process that can be both exciting and stressful!

The confusion between these two terms is most likely born out of the perceived awkwardness of the phrase interpreting a speech. We do, after all, use interpret in everyday conversation to mean understanding the meaning a certain way. Thus, many people say translating a speech to indicate that a formal linguistic service is occurring, even though that phrase technically means something different. Luckily, the meaning is usually clear from context.  Usually.

Sometimes, however, precise usage is a must. We recently responded to a large RFP for linguistic services. The documentation was massive. The required response was going to be a major undertaking, and the languages needed were numerous and widespread. No problem.

We came to a stop, however, when we read that the client required onsite translation and return of documents as PDF. The next sentence said that oral translation may be needed along with the standard. The RFP then went on to discuss Braille.

Later in the documentation, we found this sentence: Telephonic translation as well as multi-language desktop publishing is needed for all languages being interpreted.

That was puzzling. What did they need in written form, and what, if anything, spoken? And what was Braille’s role in all this? Rather than guess, we sent a request for clarification. When the answer came back, we found we were right in all but one instance. We were glad we’d asked!

Language is a living, growing thing, and the use of translation and interpreting is changing, merging. Within the next two decades, we may lose the word interpret in the sense of moving between languages. Who knows, English may create or borrow another word entirely to pick up the meaning. Context will be more important than ever!

There are several different categories of interpreting. Send us the form below to receive more information!

Patricia May

5 Head of Cattle versus 5 Heads of Cattle: A Brief Introduction to Vietnamese

The title of this post brings up two images that are similar in language and very different in meaning: five head of cattle, grazing peacefully on the ranch, versus five heads of cattle, severed and bloody. The word head in the phrase “head of cattle” is what’s known as a classifier, a word that remains singular even when followed by a number other than one. Classifiers are rarely used in English. Rather than designating a unit of measure, they refer to something that can be counted.

Along with the obvious, the use of classifiers in Vietnamese grammar is just one way the language differs from English. Up until the seventeenth century, this language was written in Chữ-nôm, a script that looks very much like Chinese. Indeed, the language has a great many Chinese loan words, probably due to centuries-long domination by the Chinese.

During the mid-1500s, Roman Catholic missionaries began to create an orthography for Vietnamese using Latin script. Of course, it is important for a cultural group to have its own language, but the introduction of the Latin alphabet also helped distance the Vietnamese from their close connection to China, making potential conversion to Christianity more palatable. The priests used the Latin alphabet but, to capture the sounds of the language exactly, also introduced two levels of diacritics.

A diacritic is a small mark used to distinguish a letter from one with a similar sound. In a language with diacritics, such as Vietnamese, lines of text must not be placed too close together. An experienced typesetter knows not to set the leading too tightly in these languages, lest they lose the top diacritics. (The term leading comes from the time when type was set by hand and small strips of lead were used to create the distance from one line to the next.)

One function of the diacritics in Vietnamese is to indicate tones. Like Chinese, Vietnamese is a tonal language. It uses six tones: level, high rising, low/falling, dipping-rising, high rising glottalized, and low glottalized. (Glottalization, also known as a glottal stop, is created by quickly bringing the vocal cords together and then releasing them with air—think of the way we separate the syllables of uh-oh.)

In addition to tones, the diacritics in Vietnamese indicate various pronunciations of the vowels they are attached to, just as in French. For example, ô, o and ơ are very different sounds.

The two types of diacritics are combined to create the sound of Vietnamese. This is an example of Vietnamese characters produced by ScriptSource:

One level of diacritic indicates the tone; the other, the shape of the articulators which form the sound.

Why should we pay attention to this language? For one thing, it is spoken by 82 million people. For another, the Vietnamese economy is growing well. This is in spite of a terrible drought in 2016, endemic poverty, and ever-present corruption. The country is rapidly overtaking China as a less expensive manufacturing zone.

The Vietnamese middle class is rising, and their spending helps spur the economy. Internationally-branded hotels are opening and the tourist sector is growing. High-tech manufacturing is creating jobs that pay well, and people are moving into such industries as electronics, biomedical devices, and craft beer.

The economy did slow in 2016 due to the shrinkage in the mining sector. As coal prices drop worldwide and Vietnam’s mines age, there is little hope that the industry will recover. However, some economists think that other areas of the economy may make up the difference.

Two hopeful signs for the Vietnamese people are the falling infant mortality rate and the growing number of students graduating from at least primary school. Vietnam’s Socio-Economic Development Plan is focused on three areas: increasing skills in the general population, improving market conditions, and expanding infrastructure development.

An improved economy means market opportunities for US firms. Vietnam is a country to watch!

As always, when doing business in or traveling to another country, some prior knowledge of the language and culture is helpful.

Values that traditionally characterize Vietnamese culture include:

  • Ancestor veneration
  • Devotion to study
  • Handicrafts and manual labor
  • Respect for community and family values.

Some traditional Vietnamese practice a mixture of Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism called Tam Giao—triple religion.

The Vietnamese currency is called the đồng, written VND and shown by the symbol “₫”. If you see hào, xu, subdivisions of the đồng,  they are old and no longer used. In 2003 the government began issuing coins in the denominations of 200, 500, 1,000, 2,000, and 5,000 đồng.    As of July 1, 2018, there are 22733 đồng to the USD.

Would you enjoy a beautiful graphic depicting Vietnamese culture?

Tembua has twenty years of experience with Vietnamese document translations. We are ready to answer your questions!

Patricia May
Tembua: The Precision Language Solution