From Ink to Electrons: The NCTA Workshop

By Sonia Wichmann

Electronic tools—used correctly—can greatly improve efficiency, saving us time, money, and headaches. The NCTA-sponsored workshop “From Ink to Electrons,” held on October 13th, offered an excellent opportunity for translators to quickly learn a wealth of practical and time-saving techniques.

For some of us, tinkering with programs and gadgets and keeping up with the latest online resources comes naturally. But if you’re like me, you keep thinking that you should learn more (maybe even read the manual?), but rarely find the time or motivation until confronted with some mysterious technological problem—and usually just before a deadline.

Instructor Aaron Ruby, a full-time English>Spanish legal and technical translator and court interpreter, has previously presented on a wide range of legal and technical topics in forums such as ATA, NAJIT (National Association of Judicial Interpreters and Translators), OMT (Organization of Mexican Translators) and HITA (Houston Interpreters and Translators Association). In this well-organized and lively presentation, attended by about 20 participants, he provided an overview of electronic reference materials, Google searching, and common formatting challenges. The first half focused on electronic and online reference tools, while the second half dealt with techniques for Microsoft Word and strategies for effective searching.

Aaron began by introducing a number of useful resources for translators such as electronic, pocket, and online dictionaries. While online dictionaries are becoming more common, they are still mainly limited to general or monolingual dictionaries. Electronic dictionaries, available in many languages and language combinations, allow the user to search in multiple dictionaries and find results in a matter of seconds, rather than flipping through bulky paper dictionaries. Pocket dictionaries, while limited in scope, are extremely portable and instantly ready to use, which can be helpful for interpreting or travel situations. Aaron also reviewed several useful sites such as Dictionary.com, Eurodicautom (the official dictionary of the European Union), and how to use sites like Wikipedia to gain a quick introduction to an unfamiliar topic. Especially impressive was the demonstration of Webster’s Online Dictionary, The Rosetta Edition, which currently covers 90 modern languages. He also shared his evaluation of various English dictionaries available on CD-ROM.

After the break, we turned to formatting issues in Microsoft Word. Increasingly, translators are being asked to provide documents with more complicated formatting, and while it’s reasonable to decline jobs requiring complex desktop publishing tasks (or at least demand more money), it is also important to be able to do common types of formatting with a minimum of stress. We learned about efficient ways to work with tabs and margins, tables, spacing, the Track Changes function, and—an audience favorite—the mysteries of text boxes and how to edit them.

Finally, Aaron gave a quick overview of using Google, “a translators’ best resource.” As he pointed out, researching a topic on Google can help translators create equivalent expressions that are idiomatic for the target language, rather than simply translating from dictionaries. There are different ways to search, whether using the Google Language Tools or country-specific home pages, and it pays to use a variety of approaches. In addition, using Google or other desktop search applications enables you to quickly access vast amounts of information on your hard drive, whether in old files you’ve created or in downloaded webpages.

I came away from the workshop better equipped, and even inspired to invest a bit more time in poking around Word, Google, and my electronic dictionaries. Clearly, this workshop addressed very relevant topics and there was a general consensus by the participants that a Part II would be welcome!

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