November 2022 – DTP for Translators

Read my review of ‘DTP for Translators’, hosted by the North West Translator’s Network in October 2022.

Hi everyone! Last month, I attended a webinar of desktop publishing (DTP) for translators, hosted by the North West Translator’s Network (NWTN). After a call for volunteers, I was then asked to write a short review of the session for the NWTN website. Click the link below to read my review!

August 2022 – Perfect Match Peril

Read my latest WMTS blog post on the perils of the 101 match, CAT tool errors, and the importance of human proofreading.

Today, computer-aided translation (CAT) tools are an integral part of a translator’s arsenal: increasing output, improving terminology accuracy, and streamlining the project management process.

This said, a CAT tool is only ever as good as the person using it. All the fancy bells and whistles that many tools offer are ultimately superfluous if thorough and careful proofreading falls by the wayside.

I was recently asked to proofread a translation of a clinical trial application form for a study taking place in France. A well-known CAT tool had been used to complete the task, but the translator’s apparent faith in the technology resulted in a fundamental mistranslation of the source text.

When authorising clinical trials to be conducted in France, the French health authorities make use two methods of authorisation when responding to applicants: expressed or implicit.

Expressed authorisation means written confirmation is sent to the applicant confirming the status of a clinical trial application, whereas written confirmation is not sent under the implicit regime. Indeed, implicit authorisation equates to the expression: “If you don’t hear from us, assume everything’s fine.”

In the translation I was asked to review, a ‘101’ or ‘perfect’ match appeared in a segment referring to the aforementioned authorisation methods. A perfect match is a segment of previously translated text stored in a translation memory (TM). When the corresponding, identical source text for this translation is recognised by the CAT tool as appearing in a subsequent task, the software auto-generates the previous ‘perfect’ translation of the source text into your translation. Unfortunately, the source text in the segment explaining implicit authorisation had been fundamentally mistranslated, stating that a lack of response indicated rejection of the application, rather than authorisation thereof.

This highlights a key CAT tool issue: The peril for the perfect match, and the intellectual malaise it induces. As a translator, it’s nice to see a green 101 symbol next to a given segment or segments of text; however, as any responsible translator knows, you can’t simply regard such segments as ‘translated’ and move on. All segments, including 101 matches, must be carefully reviewed for contextual accuracy regardless of match accuracy scores. Additionally, as a method of best practice, each client should have their own dedicated TM, as opposed to simply maintaining a generic ‘catch-all’ TM, which reduces the risk of contextual mistranslations.

This is where careful, human proofreading is essential. As discussed in my previous post, human proofreading should be a deliberate and careful process and is essential to catching such CAT tool errors and providing sufficient quality assurance for our clients.

Find out more about my editing and proofreading services, and SUBSCRIBE to the WMTS blog by completing the form at the bottom of this page.

March 2022 – Translation Editing: How Much is Too Much?

Read the latest WMTS blog post on editing back translations for clinical trials and best practice in proofreading.

Revising a fellow linguists work can be fraught with complexity. I was recently asked to review four proofread, back-translated informed consent forms (ICFs) as the end-client raised concerns about the sheer number of changes made to the back translation (BT). This particular job was a laborious and difficult one, but, ultimately, it was also a rewarding experience, as I now use it as a case study for considering: When editing/proofreading, how much change is too much?

BT is, in general, a complex undertaking, and differences between the BT and the original translation (OT) often cause headaches for end-clients and language professionals alike: highlighting issues with the OT and inadvertently revealing the translators’ differing biases and linguistic preferences. This being the case, a conservative approach to proofreading BTs stands us in good stead, as we’ll examine below.

I took this job with certain expectations, as it’s not very often I get asked to review a proofreader’s work. In accordance with ISO 17100, industry best practice states the translation should be undertaken by one linguist, and another linguist proofreads it before being sent for client approval. For there now to be a further step in the process, I knew the issues had to be fundamental, but the full extent of the problems only became clear once I started looking at the files.

Regardless of whether you’re translating or proofreading, with ICFs, it’s best to start with the main patient ICF, as large swathes of other related ICFs, such as pregnant subject and pregnant partner ICFs, are often drafted—or copied and pasted by the authoring physicians, as the case often is—using text from the longer, more comprehensive main subject ICF. Doing so will help build in consistency across the entire project.

From the first two pages alone, the issues were clearly wide-ranging and significantly impacted all four ICFs. As you can imagine, the task of reviewing the reviewer took much longer than originally anticipated and, after all four files had been assessed, reviewer X had made several basic errors:

To aid the translation and review process, the end-client had supplied their own terminology glossary and style guide. However, throughout the four ICFs, reviewer X deliberately chose to swap out terminology employed by the translator and specified in said glossary for preferential, interchangeable nouns. As a linguist, you should always yield to the expressed will of the client where it exists, and where there’s doubt, discuss any concerns with them ‘cum exsurgunt’. X also made various syntactic and stylistic changes that were non-essential when compared to the original BT. Unless such changes are necessary to correct mistranslations or more accurately reflect the meaning of the source text, further edits are not generally required. In the present case, X’s syntactic choices took the meaning of the BT further away from that of the OT, causing confusion for the end-client when they compared the BT with the original source text.

Perhaps most damning of all, X even introduced their own typos and errors into the BT while editing and, rather inexplicably, deleted sections of text which clearly appeared in the OT. As a linguist, such sloppiness is unforgivable, especially given that the sections of translated text were error-free to begin with. It laid to bear X’s poor quality assurance practices and their lack of attention to detail. As the old adage says: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

As stated earlier, all four ICFs were riddled with similar errors and, as a seasoned linguist, the slap-dash execution gave me the very distinct impression of someone under pressure to get this job done. Little care and attention were paid in this piece of proofreading and, ultimately, the project—and the client—suffered because of it.

So, to sum up:

  • Proofreading/editing should be a deliberate and careful process with sufficient time designated to doing it properly. If not, the end product and client will ultimately suffer, whilst increasing your potential liability in the event of a later dispute.
  • It’s important to listen to the needs and wants of your client, employing any reference material and style guides they provide. Such terms are usually stipulated upfront and, wherever possible, shouldn’t be left open to interpretation. Consequently, where doubt does exist, talk to your client, and resolve any issues beforehand, rather than leaving surprises to be discovered after the fact. They’ll appreciate your inquiry, which reflects an attention to detail and thoroughness associated with a professional service.
  • And finally, ensure you have sufficient quality assurance measures in place to prevent introducing errors into a text. Such errors are inexcusable as a language professional and could be detrimental to your continued business relationships.

Find out more about my editing and proofreading services, and SUBSCRIBE to the WMTS blog by completing the form at the bottom of this page.

December 2021 – The Fundraiser

Learn more about my Liverpool Half Marathon fundraiser for Translators Without Borders!


At WM Translation Services, we undertstand the importance of charity. We continually take on pro bono projects, but with continued growth in our client base, we had to think outside of the linguistic box.

As detailed in my July post, the 2021 lockdown saw me undertake the WMTS Push-Up Challenge and during the summer I also decided to enter the Liverpool Half Marathon and raise money for Translators Without Borders (TWB). TWB is a fantastic organisation that’s close to my heart. When starting my career in translation, I secured my first pro bono work with them, which in turn helped me secure paid translation work and ultimately establish WMTS in 2017. Put simply, we wouldn’t be here today without organisations such as TWB.


The race was scheduled for 12 September (the day after my birthday), which left only two months to prepare. I’d been a keen runner for many years, but never completed 21 kilometres before. As with the Push-Up Challenge, I cleared a space in my calendar and started start getting the miles under my belt. I already had a fair idea of what my finish time might be, so I aimed to finish in less than two hours and set about promoting the fundraiser on my dedicated JustGiving page and the WMTS Twitter account.

Over the next 6 weeks, I settled on a longer local running route and hit the tarmac. Some days were harder than others, but by the end of August, I’d managed to complete the required 21 kilometres in under two hours.


Before I knew it, race-day had arrived and the early morning air was a shock to the system. The race was due to start at 9am and after posting the obligatory pre-race tweet, I made my to the starting line.

The race started dead on time with the euphoria inducing chorus of Neil Diamond’s ‘Sweet Caroline’ blurring over the loudspeaker. Then, as the runners began to surge forward, I was off. Now, at this point, my inexperience got the better of me and I started off much faster pace than I usual pace. This would be to my detriment as the race went on.

The incline up Upper Parliament Street was tough and my legs were burning by the time I reached Princes Park. From there, I managed to settle into a good pace and made my way towards Sefton Park. My nerves had faded by the time I reached Otterspool Park and I began to feel that I might actually make it back to the Liver Building in under two hours.

However, as I made the big right turn back along the Otterspool promenade, my energy levels took a nosedive and I began to pay dearly for having started off too quickly. Over the last two miles my pace slowed dramatically, but I kept going and managed to pick up the pace again, acquiring a running buddy in the process. As the M&S Bank Arena came into view I knew I’d finish the race, but the clock faces of the Liver Buildings were still obscured by the red brick of the Royal Albert Dock. Then, finally, as I passed the famous Billy Fury statue, I could see the time had just passed 11am. As I rounded the Museum of Liverpool, towards the finish, I somehow found the energy to sprint the last 100 yards to the line and finish the half marathon in two hours and four minutes.


Initially, I was a bit disappointed with my finish time, but, as the day wore on, I began to reflect on what I’d acheived and how the money raised would help TWB break down language barriers and provide support in humanitarian crises, conflicts, disasters, and health epidemics. In total, I raised £625 for TWB, which will help fund workshops for field workers on effectively communicating COVID-19 prevention and response information.

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July 2021 – The Push-Up Post Mortem

Looking back, it was obvious even by mid-November that Christmas 2020 would be like no other in modern history. The season’s habitual cheer unmistakably vacant as the third wave of coronavirus infections surpassed anything we’d experienced during the first half of 2020. Even before the official announcement on 4 January 2021, the media had primed us all for a potential (if not inevitable) third nationwide lockdown. After the initial disappointment of the government’s announcement, I, like so many others, started thinking of constructive ways to combat the monotony of being stuck indoors and having nowhere to go as our civil liberties were once again curtailed.

For some, it was jigsaws; for others, painting and crafts. For me, it was personal fitness. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no slouch, but I’ve never been one for going to the gym or weight training. So, what better way to tackle the winter lockdown than by doing as much of something I hate everyday until the restrictions eased, namely… push-ups. I hate doing push-ups; always have, always will. Nonetheless, if something fills you with dread, you should probably be doing more of it. So, after discussing it with Mrs M., I agreed to try and do at least 100 push-ups every day alongside work and personal commitments for the entirety of the lockdown starting on 6 January and continuing all the way through to 11 April (or beyond depending on how the pandemic unfolded). To keep track of my progress (and act as a nagging reminder to actual do the wretched things), I decided to post my daily totals on my Twitter account, @wmts_translates.

The first step of any journey is always the hardest and Day 1 of the WMTS Push-Up Challenge was certainly a tough one with only 86 completed.

Now, I’m only human, and as such, I have many endearing and not so endearing qualities. My worst (according to Mrs M.) is my perfectionism and the fact that I hate being bested. This came in handy between Days 2 and 10 where I managed to complete more than 100 push-ups every day.

Feeling confident, I decided to up the ante on Day 11, aiming, from then on, to complete at least 200 a day. Increased discipline was required to fit them into my busy work day and I eventually hit on doing reps of 20-25 push-ups spaced about 30 minutes apart. Obviously, this all hinged on work and most days I only reached the 200-mark once my son was tucked up in bed. Over the following three weeks, I only failed to reach the new target on three occasions.

By day 20, progress had definitely been made. The pain of lactic acid had all but disappeared and my numbers steadily increased over the following days.

Day 36 represented the high-water mark of the challenge with a massive 310 push-ups completed. I remember it being a very, very long day and from then on I decided 200 a day was the right target for me.

Fatigue, both mental and physical, began to set in around mid-February and from Day 42, my daily total started to fluctuated. If Day 36 was the peak, Day 46 was the trough. My arms and back ached so much that I thought it best to take a break from the push-ups with a big, fat 0 completed.

I had been bested, but it didn’t deter me from carrying on. From that point on, I occasionally hit the 200 mark, but mainly I hovered around 100 or so a day.

On Day 96 (the last day of the challenge), I may have limped over the line with just 60 push-ups, but I’d made it to 11 April having done (more or less) what I’d set out to do at the beginning of January. Over the entire period, I managed a very respectable 15,246 push-ups. That’s an average of 159 a day.

So, it’s now nearly three months since my push-up challenge ended and some of you may suspect that I’ve simply slipped back in to my old routine, right? Well, the last thing I wanted was for this challenge to be reduced to a simple series of updates on my twitter feed; I wanted it to be a positive and constructive experience.

If the challenge has taught me anything, it’s that it’s always possible to do more and since mid-April I’ve continued to fit in as many push-ups as I can every day. Some days it hasn’t been possible, but overall I’ve definitely noticed an improvement in my overall fitness and posture (especially when sat at my desk, which is a massive bonus). Continually pushing myself, both personally or professionally, is certainly something I’m taking into the second half of 2021, and beyond. Finally, WMTS is also embarking on a new fundraising challenge for a very, very good cause. More on that to come soon…

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February 2021 – The Importance of Staying in Fashion

This month, I discuss the the important role of style guides in the translation and localization process.

When it comes to providing top-quality services, continuity is key. One method of ensuring translation services exhibit a level of consistency appropriate to a client’s needs is to establish a tailored, client-specific style guide serving as the basis for future projects.

Providing consistency is about staying ahead of any potential issues through the regular review of any style guides employed.

For the uninitiated, a style guide is a document agreed upon between the language service provider (LSP) and the client containing clear instructions about how the client wishes specific linguistic elements to be treated in any works undertaken for them. This can include, but is not limited to, conventions on font types and sizes, date and time formats, how handwritten text, signatures, and stamps are represented, headers and footers, and the use of client-specific terminology. The latter usually takes the form of a glossary, forming either a relevant section or appendix, or a wholly separate document to be used in conjunction with the guide. Glossaries can also be converted in termbase files to be used by translators using any agreed CAT tool software. This complete guide should be then be shared with everyone involved in the translation and localization processes.

Clients may already have developed their own style guides and here at WMTS, we’re more than happy to employ these when available. As a requirement for compliance with ISO 17100, we’ve also established our own in-house style guide which serves a jumping-off point during discussions with potential clients who may never have previously had cause of consider such conventions.

So, a style guide is in place and the client is happy with its content, fantastic! At this point, you’d be forgiven for thinking the only thing left to do is get on with the business of translating and localising, right? Well, not quite. Just like your favourite stonewashed denim jacket or that rather expensive pair of shoes, today’s fashion do’s can quickly become tomorrow’s fashion don’ts. With longer-term and regular output projects, perhaps more important than the establishment of such a style guide is the continual process of reviewing and updating it as the client’s requirements evolve. In most cases, conventions may not change very much (if at all), but having regular confirmation of this provides LSPs with reassurance that their translations continues to meet the needs and requirements of their clients. Complaints and legal disputes could potentially arise if such quality assurance mechanisms are not in place.

As mentioned, one important area is client-specific terminology. While a style guide may comprise a client-specific glossary, it’s by no means a guarantee against potential lexical issues further down the road. There’s always the potential, especially at the outset of a new project, that terms not initially identified by the client as requiring specific treatment may end up requiring review. This can sometimes be the case in projects involving multiple translators. Within a given sector, the differing treatment of more commonplace nouns can lead to variation in the collective translation output, especially with interchangeable synonyms, e.g. doctor/physician/practitioner. The client should be informed and a decision made about their preferred treatment for all future work. The existing glossary should then also be updated to include any newly agreed terms and disseminated accordingly.

It’s said that staying in fashion is often about staying ahead of the trends, and by way of analogy, maintaining the level of consistency expected by clients is also about staying ahead of any potential issues through the regular review of any style guides employed.

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May 2020 – Normality 2.0?

In this month’s blog, I assess the current economic landscape and consider how the language services sector could be affected as the global economy cranks through the lower gears of recovery.

As we slowly emerge from our coronavirus-induced coma, thoughts inevitably turn to the future and how it will look for language service providers (LSPs). Economic speculation is certainly not without its critics, and depending on whom you ask, it has little to no worth whatsoever. In the words of the economist John Galbraith, “There are two kinds of forecasters: those who don’t know, and those who don’t know they don’t know.” Nevertheless, the current crisis is so all-pervasive that postulating a post-COVID economic landscape could help us identify areas to think about as the global economy cranks through the lower gears of recovery.

The first thing to state is that we are still only at the beginning of the start of the pandemic, and the true scale of the fallout will only be evaluated in the months and years to come. What we can, however, infer with a fairly high degree of certainty is that we are standing on the verge of the most significant economic recession since the Wall Street Crash of 1929.

Already, UK taxpayer money to the tune of £63 billion, and counting, has been utilised as part of the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, and others, to help support eligible businesses and furlough their employees during the past few months. However, the proverbial white elephant of how this money will be repaid appears one for the government’s and wider society’s long finger. Such schemes, as with other stimulus packages of years gone by, merely serve as the pain-numbing rush of adrenaline we all experience as part of our fight or flight response. The hurt is coming, just not yet.

As in 1929, so shall it be in 2020. The global economic activity has and will continue to shrink. The financial black hole caused by three, or possibly more, month’s worth of lost revenue will inevitably leave many businesses having to make difficult decisions about how to reduce outgoings and return to prior growth. Inevitably, people’s livelihoods will be increasingly affected. Already in the UK, many people have and will continue to lose their jobs amid the recent Bank of England warning that the UK unemployment rate could reach as high as 9 percent, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s recent forecast of a “significant recession”.

So what will the fallout be for LSPs? Are we up next for the chopping block, or will we emerge relatively unscathed? As the spinning coin of economic uncertainty begins to slow and tumble toward the normality 2.0, two distinct possibilities loom on the horizon: a squeeze, or a boon.

Feeling the squeeze

A recent ATC survey confirmed that, two months into the lockdown, around two-thirds of LSPs have been significantly affected by the crisis. A separate two-thirds also noted a decrease in turnover of 50 percent, or significantly more.

Many reading this may too have seen most, if not all, of their regular business suddenly vanish amid the compelled closure of diverse industries. The long-term survival of many smaller LSPs inherently depends upon whether their clients can weather this economic rogue wave, particularly if they work within a niche industry. Freelancers out there will already be cognisant of the industry-wide, cost-cutting race to the bottom, but the current crisis has, for many, also begot significant delays in payment which has only piled more pressure on a vital, yet volatile, sector of the economy. 

Given our ability to thrive often depends on our clients’ ability to conduct their business freely, both nationally and internationally, is there a case for adjusting our practices, and even our pricing structures, in ways which may help keep afloat those innovative small and medium-sized businesses upon which many depend? This is, of course, an open question, and one which may initially be difficult to entertain. Nevertheless, if we can demonstrate flexibility to regular and prospective clients alike during these times of great economic uncertainty, could this not be translated into increased customer loyalty later down the line once the global economy picks up pace?

Benefiting from a boon

As businesses begin the long road to recovery, LSPs could also find themselves in a distinctly advantageous position. The growth of online retail during the crisis is set to continue into the second half of the year, while recently noted that despite many clinical trials having been postponed or cancelled as result of the COVID outbreak, they perceive life sciences as a “resilient sector”; we expect to it grow further during the second half of the year, and into 2021.

Online streaming platforms has also seen a surge during the lockdown, with content giants Netflix currently scrambling to localise its back catalogue while its original content filming is still on hold. Online content providers will undoubtedly continue to dominate the entertainment market, while cinemas and theatres have been among some of the hardest hit industries

Economic forecasting can never be wholly accurate, but it is nevertheless important to keep an open mind about possible futures and how best to navigate them. According to this week’s announcement by the UK government, retailers and non-essential businesses could reopen by mid-June, under strict new COVID-secure restrictions. This is, of course, a best-case scenario and presumes the abatement of the much dreaded, and oft forecasted, second wave of infections.

However global events unfold, 2020 will undoubtedly be remembered as a year of great uncertainty, tumult, and of course tragic personal loss. We will all have to adjust to new, and perhaps challenging, ways of working in the post-pandemic landscape, but as the proverb says, “Necessity is the mother of invention”, and if there was ever a need to think clearly and creatively about the future of the language services sector, surely the time has now come.

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April 2020 – Cracking Conference, Part 2

As the curtain fell on the first day of CIOL 2020, information overload fatigue set in and pangs of hunger began to override my concentration. We’ve all been there, half-heartedly listening to the last presentation of the day whilst resisting the urge to clock-watch and yearning for some fresh, unconditioned air. Luckily for me, Friday’s closing keynote speech, So you are a translator. What’s going on in your brain?, was anything but dull and sent me away from the conference with lots to ponder over dinner.

Dr Binghan Zheng’s keynote speeach at CIOL 2020.

In his talk, Dr Binghan Zheng, Associate Professor of Translation Studies at Durham University, gave a fascinating overview of his cutting-edge research into the physical processes occurring in the brain as linguists perform translation tasks. Citing James Holme’s map, Dr Zheng began by explaining that, in comparison to the subject areas of both pure and applied translation, which have been fairly well studied, process-oriented studies are relatively few and far between. By using a range of scientific techniques, Dr Zheng and his team hoped to uncover the actual physical processes occurring inside our “little black box”.

By way of introduction, he began by discussing thinking aloud studies which, as the name suggests, rely on the verbal reporting of subjects about their thought processes at the point of translation. Known to yield intensely subjective results, Dr Zheng then pointed out a range of issues with the thinking aloud approach and moved to discuss other technological approaches which have produced increasingly insightful and scientifically reliable data.

Key-stroke logging, which involves the deployment of a computer programme, namely Translog, to track keyboard key selections during a task, was one such approach which offers greater insight into internal translation processes. The software produces a linear representation of how the translation task was carried out and helps identify areas of text where, for example, the translator, having already selected a word or phrase, goes back and deletes it in favour of another. While key-stroke tracking does offer more insight, Dr Zheng also pointed out it’s main limitations, such as how an individuals keyboard competence can potentially sque the data.

The next approach discussed by Dr Zheng was eye-tracking, which is used for measuring the point gaze or motion of the eye relative to the head. This is a well validated tool and has been employed across a number of scientific fields including cognitive linguistics, market research and behaviour studies. Dr Zheng described a range of experiments in which eye tracking revealed how the eyes move across a given text in strikingly different ways depending upon the task being performed. For example, while reading a portion of native language text, hot spot visualisation revealed that metaphors often require more cognitive effort to decipher. When studying the difference between reading for comprehension, versus for translating, gaze spot visualisation showed how, while reading for translation, the eye moves back and forth both horizontally along sentences and vertically between paragraphs in comparison to the steady left-to-right linear motion noted during comprehension reading. Going still further, Dr Zheng then showed gaze spot visualisations for reading during sight translation, versus while typing a translation. While there was marked eye movement in both cases, it was clear that, while typing a translation, the translator’s eye jumps dramatically in all directions across different areas of a given text compared with sight translation; constituting a veritable spiders web of blue dots and lines. While eye-tracking, like key-stroke logging, provides a helpful window into the cognitive processes involved, Dr Zheng was nevertheless keen to point out that tracking gaze does not necessarily give any information about other aspects of the subject’s cognitive processes, i.e. just because we know where a person was looking doesn’t tell us what they were thinking while they were looking there. Dr Zheng then noted that triangulation of all these investigations has, up until recently, been required in order to make sense of the possible cognition intimated by the results.

At this point, Dr Zheng moved to discuss his own research using the tools of cognitive neuroscience as first described by Maria Tymoczko, Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Dr Zheng’s research centred chiefly around two main areas of interest: identifying the different areas of the brain activated during reading and translating, and the different areas activated during L1 (target/native language) to L2 (source language) translation, versus L2 to L1 translation. He and his team deployed fMRI imaging while participants where asked to perform a series of randomised L1-L2, L2-L1 translation and reading tasks.

A slide from Dr Zheng’s presentation, CIOL 2020.

His results have shown increased activity in the left inferior temporal (visual word form) area of the brain, whereas during the translation tasks, there was increased activity in the dorsal prefrontal (attention, working memory), ventral prefrontal (language) and occipital (visual) regions. During translation, the basal ganglia is also activated, which is strongly linked with goal-directed tasks. Drawing his findings to a conclusion, Dr Zheng noted that the task of translation is indeed more effortful and recruits some domain general neural networks beyond domain specific (language) regions than standard reading. He also added that, of the two directions, forward translation (L1-L2) is more demanding and requires further cognitive resources and additional motor mechanisms. Dr Zheng concluded by stating that forward translation has more activation in the middle temporal lobe which functions greatly in conceptual mediation and representation as opposed to a more lexical mediation required during L2-L1 translation.

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All photographs by William Maitland ©2020

March 2020 – Cracking Conference, Part 1

The line-up for first day of the Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIOL) Conference, 6 March 2020, proffered a host of intriguing language-industry-related topics. Set in the splendid surroundings of BMA House, London, the organisers and presenters certainly didn’t disappoint.

The courtyard at BMA House, London

Following registration, and a spot of coffee-infused networking, the day began with the first keynote presentation by Ellie Kemp from the fantastic humanitarian organisation Translators Without Borders (TWB). Her presentation, How do you talk about Ebola?, focused on the interwoven linguistic, cultural and capacity-based issues faced by humanitarians trying to effectively communicate health and disease prevention information to a populous in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) often intensely striated by localised, and often irreconcilable, ethnic and linguistic differences.

Ellie began by noting that there are over 400 different languages currently used within DRC; mainly French and Swahili accompanied by a host of regional minority and marginalised languages, such as Kinandé, which represent a real barrier for communication when coupled with the poor levels of health literacy and inherent confusion about the disease amongst local populations. Information about the disease simply doesn’t exist in local languages, which puts certain sectors of the population at increased risk. To this, Ellie highlighted the three main vulnerabilities of speaking a minority language, a person’s level of wealth and poverty and gender as being particularly pertinent to a their ability to gain access to, and understand, information about Ebola—an older woman living in a small, impoverished village within a region of DRC where only one or a handful of minority languages are spoken is comparatively less likely to access information about the disease which is comprehensible in her own language.

The Great Hall, BMA House, London

To this end, TWB continues to support language communicators in disseminating information in a local context as, for example, many western technical medical terms, such as mental health, are often considered diminutive in marginalised languages and the task of researching and deciding on localised, perhaps not entirely equivalent, phrases represents a cogent task for communicators on the ground.

Ellie was also keen to emphasise that this is not just an issue confined solely to the DRC, it’s a worldwide problem. A lack of data around minority languages can, and has, introduced language bias into humanitarian data. Marginalised languages are, in Ellie’s words, being “airbrushed out of the data”, which, in turn, can have serious consequences for service commissioning. Although, as mentioned earlier, TWB’s glossaries may not perhaps be technically accurate, they’re judged on how effectively they’re understood by locals.

TWB is a wonderful organisation which WMTS has had the great pleasure of collaborating with. They do vitally important work around the world and Ellie’s engaging and revealing presentation gave us only a small glimpse into how effective communication can make all the difference, especially when it could mean the difference between life and death.

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All photographs by William Maitland ©2020

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