Short Article Competition Winner
London Translations have some very talented writers amongst their freelance staff. We recently ran a competition for the best short article on a subject of their choice. The winner was PAUL LARKIN for his humorous recollections of dealing with a Translation agency in Hades near the Black Sea.
We’ll be publishing the runners up over the next few weeks so please check back regularly. In the meantime, we hope you enjoy the winning article.
The Project Manager from Hades
By Paul Larkin
It was the hushed tones that did it. Well, that and the warm glow she exuded down the phone as she begged me to take this rush translation job. The way she said “rrasssh”.
As a professional translator, I was always a sucker for sibilants. I imagined that she was some kind of sexy Slav and this was confirmed when she subsequently told me that she came from some place called Hades. A hot spot on the Black Sea. This rrassh job of more than 3K words needed to be done by COB that day.
That was the where the fun ended. Hades - let’s call her Hades - had told me that the job was in Swedish but when I opened the file the barely readable text was obviously in Norwegian. I lifted the phone because of the urgency involved. Three thousand words in a normal working day is top drawer stuff but it can be done as long as everything is in place at the start of the translation.
Hi Hades. This translation. It’s not …
Oh hi Paul – sorry can I get back to you in five angel?
Five came and went, so did ten and twenty on my Geiger counter. I rang again and insisted that she speak to me.
It’s not Swedish. It’s Norwegian.
Oh well Paul, chill! I mean, they are fairly similar aren’t they?
I prepared my CAT for Swedish.
Your what? Paul ssweetheart – what has your cat do with anything? Hello?
I took a deep breath and counted five beats before I spoke again.
CAT stands for Computer Assisted Translation and I have wasted a precious twenty minutes setting it up for Swedish. There’s another problem. The file you sent is uneditable.
My CAT cannot read it.
Oh, that’s bad.
Yes it is bad. Can you send me a clean file in Word so that I can run it through Trados or Wordfast.
Paul dear, can you not just look at it. You know, in the top. And type in the translation on a clean page in the bottom? It says here you have an honours degree in Scandinavian Studies?
Hades, please listen to me. Can you, or someone in your office, tell me whether you have a Microsoft Word version of the PDF file you have sent me? If I have to convert the PDF to Word myself using an OCR to make it ready for CAT then the translation will take longer and I usually charge for the extra work involved.
Tell you what Paul, why don’t you do all that stuff and we can sort the price out once we have the translation. Itsss verry urgent and there’s no need to be all sstresssed Paul. You must be quite new to translating.
Hades, I am NOT stressed. I am simply trying to do my job.
Some six hours later, I sent the offending translation back to Hades just in time for Close of Business. She rang me back as soon as the file landed in her email in-tray. I was expecting a big pat on the back, perhaps even a bonus payment. After all, my fingers were on fire, I was in the early stages of carpal tunnel syndrome, I was starved of all nourishment and looked and felt a mess.
Paul. The client. He is not verry hoppy.
Why? (I knew what was coming)
Your translation. It is not the same as the original.In terms of page layout you mean?
No, I think he means in the way the shape of the page is. You know. The parragrrafss, where they are. Its not exactly like the original.
At this point that I should have sat back and lit a Hamlet and allowed Hades to drone on but this is rather hard for a non smoker to do. Either way, I just didn’t care anymore.
Well if you want it to be exactly like the original PDF, you need to give me lot more time in the setting..(at this point my own sibilants were rudely interrupted)
Why didn’t you just type it all Paul! Onto a new page, like I told you!
You want me to translate 3K plus words from Norwegian into English onto a blank page and in an identical format to the PDF and do all this in 6 hours! Do you know anything at all about translation? Now you listen, and listen good. The reason I need to use translation software, or CAT, is precisely so that I don’t have to waste time and frazzle my precious brain, not to mention my fingers and skeletal structure, using words and sometimes whole sentences that I have translated a thousand times before. All these are stored in my bloody (ok it was ruder than “bloody”) CAT software but I need an editable file so that CAT can process it. Do you not understand that?
I slammed down the phone, crossed Hades off my Christmas card list and waited for my cheque. Four months later (good companies pay within a month), I received a bank transfer and an accompanying note explaining that “due to the poor standard of presentation” in the aforesaid translation, my fee had been halved. All I could do was laugh and send a return mail instructing the company never to approach my personage for translation work ever again. That felt good. I had taken command of the situation.
A year later and completely out of the blue, my mobile phone rang and a soft sexy voice full of sibilants breathed the magic words trransslation prrojekt into my ear.
Eets a rrassh job Paul. Can you take it angel?
About the author
Paul Larkin was born in Salford, England but is an Irish citizen. On leaving school, Larkin spent five years in the Danish merchant navy before taking an honours degree in Scandinavian Studies at University College London. He graduated in 1985 with an upper second pass. In 1984 he was awarded the Townsend Prize for academic excellence in his research.
Paul Larkin now works as a full time writer and translator. He has one book already published and he has just finished his first novel.