The February GM: Taxes, Awards, and Elections

By Raffaella Buschiazzo

A particularly eclectic lineup of events greeted attendees at the February General Meeting. From discussions of amendments to praise (and requests!) for volunteers to the appearance of a special guest—and these were not even our main subjects—the meeting provided information and inspiration to all.

The NCTA General Meeting that took place on February 10 at The Center was particularly rich in events and information. We also had a special guest attending, ATA President Marian Greenfield. NCTA President Tuomas Kostiainen opened the meeting at 1:45 pm with an announcement of the association’s upcoming events and workshops. He then called for volunteers, stressing the importance of their role in an association that currently counts over 600 corporate and individual members.

Because NCTA is the most active ATA chapter, with more workshops and events than any other, it needs more volunteers to help the board organize these activities. This year, NCTA will have an even busier slate of activities than usual because the ATA annual conference will be held in San Francisco from October 31 to November 3. As the local chapter we will provide ATA with our support in organizing what we are sure will be another great conference. This requires, though, even more volunteers to gather information in advance and to help with shifts at the NCTA table during the conference.

Tuomas and NCTA Vice President Yves Avérous continued the presentation by thanking a long list of volunteers whose contribution to the Association and Translorial was extremely important in 2006. Marian Greenfield underlined the importance of serving as a volunteer. She said that doing work for the association allows volunteers to receive a bit of well-deserved recognition. She is a good example herself, having been on the ATA board for 10 years and a freelancer since 2001. She said that the extent of her marketing is the Association.

Recognized members
NCTA gave awards to three members who distinguished themselves by their zeal and good work for the association: Barbara Guggemos received a lifetime honorary membership for her four years as Treasurer and several years as a very active volunteer; Brigitte Reich received a one-year honorary membership for her great contributions as Webmaster and her willingness to help out over the years; and Afaf Steiert was awarded Volunteer of the Year for her personal initiative in organizing a monthly NCTA lunch for all of 2006, and also received a one-year honorary membership.

The Board proposed an amendment to the NCTA bylaws which was approved by a majority of the audience (37 votes for and two votes against). The amendment will modify the length of the grace period, if a member’s dues are not paid, from three months to one. This will make it easier to administer our new membership system, which switches from a calender year to rolling renewals.

After the amendment discussion, the final vote count for the annual board election was ready, and Tuomas introduced newly elected board members Alison Dent (85 votes), Michael Schubert (109 votes), Raffaella Buschiazzo (118 votes), Yves Avérous (123 votes), and himself (131 votes). Afaf Steiert, the sixth candidate, got 53 votes. The five elected members will serve on the Board for two years.

Tax Presentation
The highlight of the meeting was a presentation on an excruciating topic: taxes. Elizabeth Shwiff, a CPA in the firm of Shwiff, Levy & Polo, LLP, has been in the public accounting business for over sixteen years. Now, as Senior Partner in the firm, she focuses mainly on the company’s business development aspects. Among her many talents, Elizabeth speaks fluent Russian and German. She has years of experience in due diligence and fraud investigation.

Elizabeth started her presentation by gathering some information from the audience. Along with information that our members provided in a pre-meeting survey, she was able to offer many practical examples of what translators can deduct on their tax returns (from gasoline to an office space in their home), how they can keep their books efficiently, and how they can be prepared in case they get audited.

She explaned how to do taxes in today’s environment, and how to deal with very complicated terminology. Elizabeth provided important tips such as keeping tax-related papers for three years and having a calendar on which to write down all expenses. After the meeting she stayed around to individually answer questions from members. Thanks to her enthusiasm, the presentation on this painful subject was extremely lively and full of humor. Thank you, Elizabeth!

Winners all around
Before concluding another successful general meeting, there was a drawing for a $150 gift certificate for services at Shwiff, Levy & Polo, LLP, won by Stacey Ramirez. We ended with a delicious buffet of refreshments, organized for the first time with the help of new member and new volunteer Paula Dieli, who is supporting me in this task.3

Skating Away …

By Paula Dieli

Great food, a wonderful view, and genuine camaraderie were enjoyed by a sizeable crowd of NCTA members and their families January 28th at the New Years’ Brunch at Skates on the Bay on the Berkeley pier.

As we arrived at the restaurant, attendees were warmly greeted by the board and fellow members so we all had a chance to say hello before sitting down to an enjoyable get-together.

We started our meal with delicious pastries that NCTA offered to us along with coffee. When it came time to place our orders, we were already into rousing discussions of world politics and lighter conversations in which we shared our thoughts on favorite films.

The weather cooperated with us and the rain held off so we were able to enjoy a beautiful view of the bay and wildlife as we watched boats sailing by. It was so scenic and restful that it hardly seemed we were just a few minutes from bustling city life!

Over coffee, again generously provided by the association, we then played musical tables and caught up with friends new and old. As a new member (having joined just this past October), I’m continually pleasantly surprised by the support and encouragement that the longer-term members provide to us “newbies.” For example, Ines Swaney kindly introduced me to a member who happened to be looking for someone who works in my language pair and then provided me with an index card and pen so I could pass on my contact information (note to self: next time bring more business cards!). It sure is great to be part of such a supportive group! One of the people at my table is considering becoming a translator and came to the brunch to get a feel for the group and to see what kind of environment it is and I know she felt welcome. So thanks to all of you for supporting the newer members—I pledge to do the same when it’s my turn!

As the get-together was winding down, folks seemed reluctant to leave as there were still many people to say hello to and catch up with. There was still a sizeable crowd as the brunch wrapped up with a walk on the Berkeley pier afterwards, extending the camaraderie that I now know is typical of this group. Here’s to another wonderful year of NCTA membership!3

An Innocent Abroad:Elevating our Profession Down Under

By Danièle Heinen

A new opportunity, half a continent away; an exciting job, an exotic locale, a chance to make a difference for a company relatively new to the intricacies of translation. What could be better? Well, read the story of our intrepid reporter, NCTA member Danièle Heinen, to find out exactly what could have been better.

I guess I could mimic Lauren Bacall who recalled “How I went to Africa to shoot the African Queen and nearly lost my mind” and say, “How I went to Brisbane, Australia to create and run a translation department and nearly lost my mind!”

In February of 2005, a long-standing client of mine referred me to the position of translation manager for a Canadian-based mining company located in Brisbane, Australia. Inco, at the time the world’s second-largest producer of nickel, was constructing a nickel mine and processing plant on the island of New Caledonia, a French overseas territory that holds about 30% of the world’s nickel reserves.

With the Project Engineering Office in English-speaking Brisbane and the mine facilities in French-speaking New Caledonia, the need for translation services—even more, for a structure for translation services—was obvious. Business practices in New Caledonia follow a variety of customs and regulations, most of which are European or French in origin, and which therefore require documents in French, including work permits and visas. On the other side, the requests for translations into English came from managing engineers in Brisbane responsible for the various portions of the project; these engineers were mostly monolingual English speakers, and it was often only at the last minute that they realized a translation was needed—on topics that ranged from mechanical to electric to fire protection and more—which then compounded the urgency. Most of these engineers, obviously, had no idea of what translation entailed.

 Translation? What’s that?
Prior to my arrival, the translation requests were handled by a competent, yet already overworked administrative assistant who acted as translation coordinator within the Contract and Procurement Department. Although she had no experience with translation and did not know French, she nonetheless developed a useful translation request form and tracking worksheet. Still, hers was purely a processing role. The local translation vendors were two French women who lacked translation training, and yet who were asked to handle virtually any subject and work in both directions.

The quality of the locally delivered translations was variable and unreliable; there were also spelling and grammar mistakes, and accents missing: a case of “I didn’t know I could reconfigure my keyboard under Windows,” and blaming the Microsoft Word spellchecker. Termium was unknown, while the GDT and the use of an electronic bilingual dictionary was known by one translator only.

Reviews, both technical and linguistic, were done by the requesting department, provided there was a bilingual (French or Canadian) engineer in the department. The translations came back with a number of terminology queries, but reviewers lacked time, and so coped as best as they could, amending the translations themselves.

A low level of support
Process problems were compounded as the technical documents went through a review cycle within the Engineering Department, where the translation requests would often be made at different steps of the process without anyone noticing that there might be only the equivalent of five to six pages of changes from one revision to the next; the entire set of documents was retranslated, sometimes by a different vendor.

In addition, the source and the target documents would sometimes be amended separately; to deal with this, a bilingual document format, with English on the left and French on the right, was designed to ensure matched text. The lack of secretarial staff that could read French, however, worked against the best intentions of this system. Problems with converting text from PDF documents further complicated things.

As if the existing process at the mining company were not difficult enough, the translation scene in Australia posed further obstacles. Translation and interpretation in Australia is mostly linked to immigration and medical concerns, not mining and engineering. AUSIT, the Australian translators association, includes members whose primary profession is not necessarily translation. NAATI, the national translation certification body, has three levels of certification, and very few translators working from English to French had reached the advanced level listed on the NAATI website; understandable, perhaps, as this was a paid listing. Finally, French is not the lead foreign language in Australia.

Digging in
Where to start? During my first trip to the country, I made a number of recommendations on procedures, looked at resumes, and interviewed people. I found one excellent professional translator with a translation degree from an institution in Belgium (but who could only work part-time), and set out to find freelance translators in the various technical fields that the project covered. In terms of tools, I decided that a translation memory tool would be in order, and also made lists of dictionaries in both paper and electronic format to order for in-house use.

Back in Canada before returning to Australia the second time for the duration of my commitment, I put a call out to ATA’s French Language Division and to NCTA to look for certified translators with technical knowledge. I also contacted professional colleagues from Canada and Europe (the time difference would be much easier to deal with from Brisbane). I also found a lone French Canadian translator who had been working in Brisbane—and who had connections with New Caledonia and mining for some years—and was very knowledgeable about various translation tools. My final team incorporated members from California, Canada, Australia, and France: a truly international effort!

Seeds of change
Once in Australia for good, I implemented SDLX with the use of both Elite and Professional licenses and encouraged the freelancers to use SDLX Lite to start with; some already used WordFast or Trados so we swapped TMs in TMX format. As I was far from knowledgeable about all the intricacies of SDLX (which resulted in a few nightmares!) I enlisted the help of the local translator I had found who already knew SDLX, and trained the newly hired inhouse translator/reviewer and the translator working on our HR documents. In turn, we offered training for the local freelancers.

My colleague put herself to the task of developing a TermBase, starting with an excellent glossary put together independently by some of the Canadian and French engineers. We also installed various electronic dictionaries and a French spell and grammar checker as standard tools for inhouse use. We also researched and purchased various software programs to deal with the PDF issues, all the while arguing for the need for native source files.

Administratively, we redesigned the translation request form and tracking spreadsheet, allocated a sequential number for each request, insisted on the need to nominate a native speaker for each translation request to review the translation from a technical point of view, and initiated searches for possible existing translations before assigning any work. Those searches—and the building of libraries from what we found—turned out to be extremely time-consuming, as there was no reliable archiving system of the matching source and target files. Eventually we started building translation memories, which were still quite rough because there was no manpower to do much review of the texts we decided to process. We deemed a number of them unusable and had to discard them.

The final tally
There were other issues: procedures that someone else had to establish and implement as I had my plate full; the impossibility of planning the workload as there never was an estimate of the number of documents that would require translation; the inability to find another professionally trained inhouse full-time translator (our normal working week was 45 hours); the need to deal with new types of documents for translation, as often is the case when a new translation department is established; and more into-English translation than had been expected, which created the need to find more translators in other fields and in a different language direction.

Above all, the main challenge and frustration came from having to constantly educate our internal clients as to the translation process, explaining that we were, like the engineers, university trained, and that a mistranslated document could pose huge risks.

Like Lauren Bacall, I almost lost my mind. But I survived, and the new system we put in place is now humming along—thanks mostly to my first colleague and the good people who have followed.

Still, having learned a bit, I’m ready for another assignment.

The December General Meeting: Candidates, PDFs, and Door Prizes!

By Raffaella Bushiazzo

Almost sixty people attended our General Meeting on December 2nd, “… the last event of a great year,” in the words of Vice President Yves Avérous. We closed 2006 with 56 corporate members and 507 individuals, for whom we provided a variety of workshops, presentations on practical topics, Happy Hours all over the Bay Area, and other social events.

NCTA President Tuomas Kostiainenopened the General Meeting at 1:30 with a few announcements on upcoming events and introduced the candidates for NCTA board elections: himself for President, Yves Avérous for Vice President, and Raffaella Buschiazzo, Afaf Steiert, Alison Dent, and Michael Schubert for Directors. Those elected will serve on the board of directors for two years.

PDF and Conversion Software
Representatives from three different companies participated in this presentation. Dealing with PDF files is problematic for translators. When we receive source files in this format, we need to convert them to a format in which the text can be edited. There are some conversion programs on the market that work pretty well, while others don’t. In this session we tried to present the best solutions available today.

Joel Geraci, who has been working for Adobe Systems (, maker of Adobe Acrobat, in a variety of roles for as long as the company has been around, opened by explaining that Adobe Acrobat was designed as a publishing tool. It was not meant to be used for extraction of text and it is not a data interchange application. Even though the new Adobe 8 handles files far better than previous versions because of its improved optical character recognition (OCR), the product was still not originally conceived for this purpose.

ABBYY (, maker of PDF Transformer and FineReader, is an OCR company that specializes in converting images into text. Ilya Evdokimov, Business Development Manager at ABBYY USA, showed us how its main product, PDF Transformer, works. In three simple steps, by pushing three buttons on a screen, the program converts PDF files into editable files and reproduces the original PDF page layout. The accuracy is up to 99%, which can become 100% with good quality documents. PDF Transformer is currently available in 177 languages.

The third speaker was Robert Weideman from Nuance Communications (, maker of OmniPage and PDF Converter. He presented PDF Converter Professional, which is a full PDF client application. This product simplifies the process even further because it opens a PDF file directly without having to export it. Once opened, the PDF file is ready to be edited. Another advantage of this product is that captions and graphs can also be edited. It is also able to read a PDF file aloud thanks to its text-to-speech technology function. Mr. Weideman presented another useful piece of software called FormTyper, especially designed to fill the fields of forms in PDF files. He specified that it is a good companion program to Adobe Acrobat.

The discussion continued with a long and prolific Q&A session during which the audience raised very specific issues from their everyday professional experience in dealing with PDF files as translators. In one of the questions, Robert Killingsworth summarized in a couple of lines the translator’s dilemma: “As a translator all I need is a text!” However, if a PDF file is locked with a password, it is practically impossible to unlock it. Both ABBYY and Nuance Communications are careful to follow Adobe’s security policy to the letter. So, as translators, we may need to investigate other means to get at the source material necessary to do our job.

Other goodies
NCTA also provided the audience with copies of tips and suggestions from Jost Zetzsche’s Tool Kit. They were very helpful, as we have come to expect from Jost’s presentations.

The meeting ended by raffling off seven excellent products from our corporate presenters as prizes. The lucky NCTA members were Donald Couch, Ed Tsumura, Alison Dent, Sylvia Korwek, Raquel Brewer, Steve Goldstein, and Christian Rozotto. After the presentation we had a delicious buffet, and then worked as a team to stuff and stamp the December mailings to members as we networked and made plans for future projects and events.

Auf Wiedersehen, Mr. President

By Tony Roder

George Kirby, a president of our association from 1985 to 1989, died unexpectedly on December 29, in San Francisco.

A German-to-English translator, George worked for the U.S. government in Europe, and went on to establish and operate his own translation company, Golden Gate Translations, in San Francisco for 25 years. He was also a writer, editor, and author of the book Looking at Germany, among other works.

After a term as NCTA’s vice president, he reluctantly agreed to serve as its president, and he went on to be one of the association’s most active and forceful advocates of translators’ rights in the marketplace, as well as a strong promoter of their professional status. During his presidency, George guided the NCTA through a particularly difficult period when it and its parent organization, ATA, were under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission. The concerns he expressed at the time, for example, are still echoed in the May 2005 Translorial, in an article on the open discussion of prices. George concurrently served on the ATA board of directors and co-founded the first translators’ and interpreters’ labor union in the country, the Translators and Interpreters Guild.

It was during his term of office that the NCTA joined Bay Area Lawyers for the Arts to provide legal services for its members; contracted a group health service plan with Kaiser Permanente; engaged its first staff administrator; organized meetings between translation agencies and translators, a precursor to the present job fair; strengthened the association’s telephone referral service; and in 1988 hosted our tenth anniversary dinner, attended by both the president and the past president of ATA.

George Kirby guided NCTA through its fledgling years, for which we owe him a debt of gratitude. He was a gentleman of the old guard, a lover of opera and the arts, with a reverence for language and literature. Another photo of George appears on page 12 of the May 2005 Translorial.

Three Events in One Weekend!

By Raffaella Bushiazzo

This year our fall general meeting was a very special event, as translators and want-to-be translators were able to dedicate an entire weekend to increasing their professional knowledge and exchanging business cards and tips with fellow translators and agencies in an elegant environment.

To coordinate with ATA’s Medical Translation Seminar and our own NCTA MultiTerm Workshop for Trados users, we moved our quarterly meeting to Sunday, September 17th at the Embassy Suites Hotel in South San Francisco. The NCTA general meeting started with the traditional New Member Orientation, to help those who have recently joined NCTA learn more about the association.

Trials and questionnaires
Since the ATA seminar was on medical translation we chose to present on a connected topic. We invited David Himmelberger from Health Outcomes Group in San Francisco ( to explain how clinical trials and health care questionnaires are designed and translated for multinational use; the translators role in this process; and what is expected from translators. Dr. Himmelberger’s presentation was rich in practical examples, detailed guidelines, and, not least, hilarious anecdotes.

Since the mid-1970s, Mr. Himmelberger has been involved in analyzing the results of medical treatments in terms of cost and quality of life. After many years as a biostatistician at Stanford University and experience in the pharmaceutical industry in strategic planning, international marketing research, and outcomes evaluation, Mr. Himmelberger founded Health Outcomes Group in 1987.

Today, there are no medical tests to prove that a treatment for a disease is working. For this reason, questionnaires are needed, to calibrate medical procedures to a common standard. But often these questionnaires need to be translated before they can completed by patients in different environments.

The translated documents must be absolutely true to the source, but at the same time in readable, natural-sounding language. Typical projects involve twenty countries at a time, where English is almost always the source language translated into other target languages, and adapted to each culture. The translation process is usually lengthy, involves a number of people, and presents difficult challenges to be solved.

The person who writes the original questionnaire, the source author, has an interest in staying involved at each step of the translation process—both to ensure accuracy and to make sure he or she shares in any additional fees. Two translators will then translate the text, working independently of each other. The resulting translations are sent to a linguist living in Italy who combines the two versions into one. This version is then back-translated back into English. At this point the translation is reviewed by the author, as well as by doctors and experts for a linguistic validation.

They take a small sample of users and conduct a dialogue with the patients to see if they fully understand the questionnaire and all of its nuances.

To be effective, a translation of this kind needs to meet two nearly paradoxical requirements, which is what makes the task so challenging. First, the source text is fixed and unalterable; since the developer doesn’t want to change the questionnaire in the original language, the linguist has to work around that to come up with solutions. Second, the translation also needs to sound natural in all the target communities and cultures!

How do we know what patients understand when they answer a questionnaire? Several techniques are used, often involving putting the patient at ease, listening to the vocabulary he or she uses, watching for visual cues, having questions prepared that address issues identified in the translation process, and the use of different interview techniques. Lastly, the translation is sent back to the target language linguist for a final approval.

Networking and goodies
Dr. Himmelberger’s fascinating talk was followed by a treat—a buffet of delicious cheeses and exotic fruit, elegantly served on the hotels fine china. It was a landmark weekend for NCTA, because we were able to offer our members so many professional enrichment events in such a short time. I was pleased to see the enthusiasm shown, as well as the number of first-time NCTA attendees and attendees from outside Northern California who joined us for this first-class event and presentation.