Are you paying attention?

distracted

The world today is full of constant distractions, constantly tempting us to flit from one activity to another without a second’s thought. How does this affect our learning, its effectiveness and our productivity?

Claire broached the subject in her blog ‘The Distraction Trap’ last year with some handy tips to reduce distractions in our work. In this blog I want to focus more specifically on learning, sharing my experiences from the ‘Learning how to learn’ course I took in January.

I started the course as I felt that I had become increasingly scatty and forgetful as 2015 drew to a close, so this year I decided to make a conscious effort to reduce distractions and improve my learning.

The concept of ‘Deep Work’

As part of the background reading for the course, I read ‘Deep Work’ by Cal Newport, which looks at the value of uninterrupted, focused concentration on our work and study.

A state of constant distraction in which multiple things are going on in your mind at once puts a huge strain on your working memory. This means that you will be unable to effectively retain information, or concentrate on one task properly to innovate or solve problems. As regards memory, this implies that you may use the information once but will not retain it for later use. You may say that this doesn’t matter, you have Google, but I believe that this negatively affects your productivity and also means that you are likely to advance slower than colleagues who are capable of working deeply (applying focused concentration to single tasks or problems). Being able to concentrate and to fully explore ideas, to learn and apply new knowledge acquired (relatively!) quickly through effective working is desirable in all areas of life.

How does this relate to translators and interpreters?

I believe this concept is key to both our work and learning. Translation and interpreting are professions in which you need to be able to grasp new concepts quickly, while honing your language skills. Learning how to learn and to acquire periods of undistracted focus in your day will help you to improve your translation speed (both through lack of distraction and heightened expertise), will improve the accuracy and fluidity of your translations and/or interpretations and help you to gain specialist knowledge more efficiently.

Are you really learning?

I had been increasingly finding myself in the situation at work that I knew I had come across a term or concept before but I was unable to recall its translation or meaning. I recognise that at times this is inevitable, but it should not be the norm. Here are some tips that may help you to recall past information better.

Just reading and rereading doesn’t work

As Claire mentioned in her article – are you actually reading or are you scanning? Focused reading is the first step to remembering information.

Recall is in fact one of the simplest ways to properly remember some information – just think about if you tell someone about what you have learned in comparison with if you don’t. The former stays with you much longer. This works as it strengthens the links used to retrieve the memory, reinforcing the neural pathway to this memory.

Spaced repetition (reviewing new information at spaced intervals over time) is another example which works on the same principle.

Anything which requires that you manipulate the information will help you to remember it, such as answering questions on the subject or manipulating the information to adapt it to something practical (a blog post, for instance). These sorts of activities will help your brain to analyse the information, which promotes chunking, or the collation of various elements of information into one, easy to handle piece.

Why is chunking important?

  • Means you have understood
  • Takes less effort for the brain to use
  • Can help to link different aspects of information from different areas

NOTE: the more ‘real’ learning you do, the quicker you will understand texts and be able to link previous work to what you are doing now. This highlights the importance of specialising.

Do you suffer from einstellung?

The brain applies two modes when thinking: focused and diffuse, which it switches between throughout the day. Focused thinking is when you are concentrating on a specific problem and tackling it directly. Diffuse thinking is when your mind wanders, such as when you go for a walk, or look out of a train window. Both of these modes are important for advancing your learning and innovation.

Einstellung describes when our brain gets stuck on a loop, which does not retrieve the correct answer, but our focused mind does not allow us to conjure up a different solution. The course taught us about the importance of intertwining the two modes of thinking.

Focused mode is important for a specific task with specific goals, but diffuse mode allows you to open your mind up to other possibilities. Also, in diffuse mode your brain continues to process ideas in the background while your mind wanders onto other topics. This is why if you skip an exam question you can often tackle it better when you come back to it later, or that word you were searching for so desperately comes to you in the middle of the night.

Beat procrastination!

I will only mention this briefly, as Claire wrote an interesting article about time management last year for those interested in procrastination-beating techniques. I will mention however that the course emphasised the importance of not only breaking down daunting tasks into smaller chunks but also focusing on the process, rather than the product, of the task. This means focus on doing a little bit frequently (‘I will do half an hour on …’) rather than ‘I will finish the blog post today’. This way you will reduce the amount of willpower required to embark on the task, without the added stress of feeling that you have to complete it right away for it to be worthwhile.

So, are you concentrating?

To conclude, we live in an attention-deprived era, which often promotes multi-tasking as a bonus. However, it severely affects productivity and your ability to learn. Since completing the course I have applied many of the techniques mentioned by Claire, and I already feel much more focused and productive. Just being aware of your triggers can be a great start to a new, focused you.

What do you think? Do you think multi-tasking is detrimental to your work-life? I would love to hear your thoughts on how you learn best, any tips you may have.

 

 

 

 

 

Using corpora in translation

by Sandra Young

With the beginning of a new year come new ideas, challenges and resolutions. For the first blog of 2016 I wanted to invite you to explore what I consider to be an invaluable tool for our work as translators, particularly when working in technical fields with very specific terminology. One of my professional resolutions for the year is to succeed in fully harnessing the benefits of corpora for my work.

Corpus: “A collection of written or spoken material in machine-readable form, assembled for the purpose of linguistic research.” (Oxford English Dictionary)

I first came across corpora in a professional sense when working on a dictionary project with the Oxford University Press (OUP). The examples for each sense (the different meanings of a single word in specific contexts) in the dictionary entries (the collection of these senses under one headword) had been extracted from a European and Brazilian Portuguese corpus, purpose-created by the OUP. To search this corpus the translation team had access to an online corpus building and mining tool called Sketch Engine.  We used this tool to find entry words and phrases in context, search for additional or more appropriate examples for senses of words and suggest further meanings, which was essential to producing appropriate translations. Words without context have no meaning at all, any choices of translation without this would be arbitrary.

On the target language side, we could also use the British National Corpus (BNC) to search for examples of our suggested translations in context and to cross-check against contexts and usage in the original language, in this case Portuguese. This made us confident that our choice of translation was fit for purpose.

Throughout the two-year dictionary project I found working with corpora not only useful, but fascinating. With very little effort you can produce lists of in-context words or collocations that appear in your conglomeration of text (which is about 100 million words in the case of the BNC), facilitating the quick analysis of information. For the dictionary project I used corpora to check the usage of specific words in context to be able to make informed decisions on the correct translation of said words, their most common grammatical forms and common collocations; however corpora can be used for many other purposes too.

When the dictionary project drew to a close, I continued to dabble with corpora in my work, but for some time I failed to follow a clear path. I started a MOOC course on Corpus Linguistics but, as with many free courses, I found it difficult to juggle both work and study and work won out. This course, run by Lancaster University, is of particular use to researchers, so there are elements that may not be directly applicable to our day-to-day work as translators.

However, last year at the MedTranslate Conference in Freiburg, I attended Anne Murray’s talk on corpus building and mining. In the talk, Anne took us through the steps to building our own corpora within Sketch Engine. It is a subscription-based tool costing £78/year, with a discount for MET members. The tool allows you to search existing official corpora, from Arabic to Yoruba, as well as building your own corpora up to a total capacity of one million words.

There are two main ways to build your own corpora within Sketch Engine. The first is WebBootCat, in which you input specific search terms that the program uses to dredge the internet for matching websites and files. The other option is to upload specific documents you have found (and vetted for reliability) and compile a corpus from them. The table below outlines the main tendencies of each.

WebBootCat File-based corpus
Quick to build Slow to build
Less reliable content More reliable content
Reliant on usage of appropriate and thorough search criteria Based on the assumption that with hand-picked documents you will have had more time to refine the search criteria and collate a sound base of information

As WebBootCat automatically dredges the internet, you gain quick access to a lot of information but you have less control over the content, so it can be assumed to be less reliable on the whole, as it is more difficult to check the quality of the information. You can vet the websites included in the final corpus to exclude any outliers, but this will not ensure same the quality as hand-picked material.

If you work from a file-based corpus, it will be considerably more time-consuming as you will have to search for and check each and every document for reliability and appropriateness before compiling (e.g. native author, correct spelling variation if required, correct subject matter and register). However, once you have built the corpus, you can be confident that the information within it is reliable.

Despite this, with Sketch Engine you should always be able to go back to the original text of each entry, which can help you to make a judgement on the reliability of the results produced whether using WebBootCat or your own file-based corpus. Also, as you can see, both styles offer viable options for different situations. Often we do not have the time to produce a specific, well-researched corpus for every single job we have.

How do I use corpora now?

I usually use corpora to analyse the usage of terms in the target language text, for correct translations of unfamiliar terms. Corpora are also very useful for familiarising yourself with a specific style of writing, or with common collocations in a specific subject area. In case you miss these on our twitter feed, here are some other blogs on corpora that you may find useful:

https://karenrueckert.wordpress.com/2013/11/12/part-5-corpora-and-parallel-texts/

http://jaltranslation.com/2014/04/21/using-corpora-in-your-translation-work/

I often use WebBootCat for efficiency, but recently I had 35 thousand words of pharmaceutical regulatory reports to translate. It was a sizeable job, so I decided to compile my own file-based corpus on this subject. Given the subject matter, it was relatively easy to find official, reliable documents as the FDA publishes a great deal of food and drug product guidance, compliance and regulatory information. I selected documents and compiled a corpus in Sketch Engine.

As a result of the corpus, I was confident in my choice of vocabulary as I could see clear evidence of how terminology and collocations were used in verifiable English texts, and I could see how sentences were structured around these terms to mimic the style of the official texts. Also, if the client were ever to query my use of certain terms, I would be able use results from the corpus to provide evidence to support my choices.

There are many other corpus building and analysis tools out there. I use Sketch Engine for its ease of use (you can upload documents in a variety of formats, the interface is very user-friendly, I already knew how to use the tool, etc.), but you do have to pay for it. In a later post I will go into detail about AntConc, Laurence Anthony’s free corpus tool. This is an incredibly powerful and useful tool which I aim to master this year and further develop my corpus techniques. I attended his workshop at the MET Conference in Coimbra at the end of last year and in addition to the corpus analysis tool there are a number of other interesting tools he has developed that may be of use to translators. For those of you who are interested, the corpus linguistics course by FutureLearn uses AntConc, so you could learn to use the tool that way.

Do you use corpora? If so, what do you use them for? What are the advantages and disadvantages of corpora?

Thanks for reading and happy 2016! I wish you all a great year.

 

 

How can style sheets help you to improve your business?

I attended a webinar by Karen Tkaczyk entitled Take charge: develop your technical style set, hosted by Alexandria Library in May.

I wanted to write about what I learned in the webinar and I also feel it fits in quite well with Claire’s blog post last week on time management.

The webinar focused on developing personal style sheets for your clients in a technical setting, and considering the importance of this in moving forward in your career. This was particularly relevant for me as I work predominantly in the technical sector, but I also think that this tool can be applied to any area of translation.

Why are personal style sheets important?

I’m sure that all of you reading refer to standard style guides in your work at times – the Chicago Manual of Style, the Economist Style Guide, etc. As language professionals, we can use these to guide us when we have doubts, to provide us with solid arguments if our choices are questioned or if we question the choices of others. If you want to read more about the effective use of style guides in our work, take a look at Nikki Graham’s blog post on the subject.

Personal style sheets take it one step further. By developing these we can then have the choices and preferences of our repeat clients at our fingertips. This not only helps to ensure consistency, but also speeds up our work and makes us more productive. This is of the utmost importance in areas such as technical translation, where there is an abundance of abbreviations, acronyms, terminology or spelling preferences. The inconsistencies I often find in the technical texts I translate make this all the more relevant.

The first time I used a personal style sheet/checklist was when I was working on a Portuguese-English dictionary project for Oxford University Press. A full style guide was available, but it was very long, making it difficult to look up specific queries quickly when finishing a batch of entries to deliver. I therefore pulled out the aspects that were most relevant to me and collated them in a very simple checklist.

Dictionary translation is different from other types of translation as you are working with very short lengths of text, with a particular focus on many different linguistic aspects of words, such as phonetics, register, dialect, etc. However, the reasons behind using a checklist or style sheet are the same – to remind you of anomalies to look for, to ensure consistency, and to speed up the whole process of translation and editing.

Since working on the dictionary project, I have worked with a number of other style guides (both client ones and professional ones) to aid me in my work. In the past I have generally made checklists to highlight specific aspects for different clients. However, the template provided by Karen after the workshop was in table form, which  I think will be more effective due to the visual way it spreads out the information.

Karen said something that really struck a chord with me during the webinar: technical writing is often considered to be badly written. However, our job as professional linguists is to create a report, article or information leaflet that is concise, accurate and well written. Style guides, and moreover personal style sheets that we have developed for our clients, can help us to achieve this more efficiently.

What can you include in a style set?

Anything that changes from client to client, a specific requirement for a client, or specific aspects of the language for which consistency is paramount to ensure a coherent text. Here are some examples:

  • Use of decimal points
  • Units of measurement
  • Formatting – bold, underlined, font size, etc.
  • Client-specific terminology preferences
  • Inconsistent use of vocabulary
  • Inconsistent use of spelling (between US and UK English)
  • Numbers (numerals or letters – a mix is often used without following normal style rules).

Are these similar in your area of translation? Would style sheets be useful in keeping track of these and correcting them when necessary?

How does having a style guide help you to eliminate inconsistencies from your translations?

I worked on the Oxford Dictionary project consistently for two years, yet I would still forget aspects of the style guide as it was so extensive. Having a checklist to highlight particular aspects that often slipped through the net was essential for giving my brain a nudge in the right direction, and for focusing on the specific issues to look out for when checking batches for delivery.

The same applies to style sheets. Currently I work with a mix of clients: I have a couple of main clients with whom I work most weeks, others with whom I work most months, and others with whom I work on the odd project. A style sheet ensures that you don’t forget the issues specific to each client, and that you continue to provide a consistent service. Rather than wasting time wading through paperwork and trying to find the specific requirements for each client, you will have all the details on your style sheet. You’ll also have your extra notes on the terminology choices you have made (when not otherwise specified) or that you have decide on using a suitable general style guide of your choice.

 What does this mean for the client?

By developing a style sheet, you can provide your clients with an improved, sleeker service. Furthermore, taking the time to attend to details in order to ensure consistency throughout the text will show your client that you care about the quality of the text. It is worth highlighting your efforts to new clients, firstly to make them aware of the consistency measures you are taking with their texts, and secondly so you can collate a list of their preferences.

Do you think this technique works in your area of translation? What are the similarities/differences in the issues that come up in comparison with the technical sector? Please comment below!

 

 

TIME MANAGEMENT FOR TRANSLATORS

by Claire Harmer

For translators, time management can be a difficult task, particularly when we have large projects on the go. A few weeks ago I delivered a large (20,000 word) translation which left me feeling overwhelmed and overworked, so I decided to do some research on time management for translators. I’m hoping that I can use this research to implement some rules for myself and learn to manage my time better in the future.

One particularly helpful resource I came across was one of Tess Whitty’s Marketing Tips for Translators podcasts: ‘Simple time management tips for translators’, in which she interviews David Rumsey of North Country Translations. You can listen to the podcast at bit.ly/1duIlef.

Some things I learned about time management while I was researching:

Smart phone tips

For most of us, our smart phones mean we can respond to queries or project enquiries when we’re out of the office, which is great, but it also means that clients can contact you at any time of the day or night! If you work with clients across several time zones, this can be particularly difficult as some may assume that you have read their message even if there is a nine or ten hour time difference.

  • I normally leave my phone on silent when I’m working so I don’t get distracted by instant messages, texts and phone calls… basically anything that’s not translation-related.
  • I tend to leave my email open while I work so that I can see when a new message comes in. However, I’m thinking about changing this and only checking it on the hour or every 2 hours instead. This means I won’t be as responsive, but I believe it will be more conducive to work. Does anyone else manage their email in a similar way?

Business hours

In Tess’s podcast, David Rumsey explains that many translators don’t feel like they can stick to pre-fixed business hours because they’re worried that if they don’t respond to every single email, LinkedIn request, Skype message, etc., that people will go elsewhere and they will therefore lose clients. He maintains that it’s important to set out what it is you want to achieve and how you want to work, and stick to this.

I completely agree with this and often wonder ‘how are my clients going to respect my working hours if I don’t respect them myself?!’

Further to David’s suggestion, I’m thinking about telling my clients that I’m trying to stick as closely as possible to my scheduled work hours, as well as setting an out of office auto-responder for non-work hours (i.e. any time that’s not 9am-6pm).

Does anyone do this already? Has this change been well-received by your clients?

Inundated with emails?

If you open your email after the weekend and have tens (or even hundreds!) of emails waiting for you, it can take hours to sort through them, which can prevent you from getting your actual paid work done!

Here are some key things you can do to reduce so-called ‘email stress’:

  • Create subfolders in your inbox and sort your emails into these folders so there’s not a long list of them staring at you! You can programme most email applications to do this for you automatically, which I only found out recently. If you use Gmail, this link shows you how to use messages to create filters: bit.ly/1rMougX
  • Send short, concise messages. If your email message is longer than 2 paragraphs long, perhaps it would be easier and less time-consuming to call the person instead? A phone call might even be more effective, as many people don’t read lengthy emails anyway (and if they do, they often skim read them)!
  • ‘If you want to receive less email, send less email’. David mentions that we should think about who the message really needs to go to before we send it. Don’t copy people in to emails unless they really need to be copied in, because you’ll probably get responses from everyone, which means more messages for you to read!
  • Create email templates for responses you end up writing a lot, for example you could have a ‘thank you for your enquiry, I am currently booked up until [insert date]’ template, or a template for responding to questions about rates, Trados discounts, etc.
  • Unsubscribe from emails you never read. I have subscribed to a huge number of websites over the years, so this week I’m planning to get to grips with the email management tool Unroll.me and assess which ones I still want to hear from. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Planning your work for the week

This tip is from David via Tess’s podcast and I’m going to do my best to implement it in my own work schedule!

Take time out, whether it’s 15 minutes or an hour at the start of the week, to create a to-do list, and organise it into the following categories:

  • things you have to accomplish this week,
  • things you want to accomplish this week,
  • and things you would like to accomplish this week.

Focus on the have to list first, and don’t move on to the want to list or would like to list until the first list has been completed. If you stick to this system, you can free yourself of the biggest tasks first, leaving less urgent and therefore less stressful tasks for later. Try to keep the have to list to a minimum: it needs to be achievable and not overwhelming!

Procrastinating

  • If you take on work that you actually enjoy doing, you’ll procrastinate less. So if you like working in a particular area or for a particular client, seek that kind of work out, rather than taking on everything that lands in your inbox.
  • Identify what time of the day you’re most productive and schedule your work accordingly. Some people are early birds and some are night owls. I’m still trying to figure out which one I am… it seems to vary depending on the weather!
  • The following idea was mentioned during Marta Stelmaszak’s Business School for Translators, and is particularly good for when random things pop into my head when I’m working and I think ‘oh yes, I need to do that!’ but the actual task isn’t work-related. Whenever something like this tries to invade my translation space, I jot it down on a post it and put it in a box in the far corner of my desk. That way it’s out of sight so it doesn’t distract me from my work, and the worry of forgetting about it altogether goes away. I check the box at the end of the week if I have time and go through everything. Before using this method I honestly used to spend about an hour a day procrastinating on these tiny things. Thanks for the tip, Marta!

Some apps that might help

Pomodoro – Sandra, a fellow blogger at The Deep End, introduced me to this tool and it has been a huge help, particularly when I’m working on large translation projects. It breaks your work time into manageable 25-minute chunks and ensures that you take regular 5-minute breaks after each one, followed by a longer 20-minute break after you’ve completed four 25-minute chunks. You can buy the timer or invest in a Pomodoro course at the official website, but so far I’ve just used one of the free online versions.

Wunderlist – Personally, I prefer a good old-fashioned paper list, but Wunderlist is great for people who love apps and have various different to-do lists.

Toggl – A useful tool for recording how much time you spend on different tasks.

Trello – Helps you to manage projects easily. For each project you can create tasks and sort these into categories: ‘ideas’, ‘to do’, ‘doing’ and ‘done’!

What about you? Can you recommend any time management techniques that have helped you to become more productive? If you have any, please share them in the comments section below to help us all avoid ending up like this…