Bilingva Translation and Interpreting


I needed to get a letter translated from Spanish to English for a time-sensitive legal issue and Catherine and her team helped me to get it on time. It was fast and convenient.  I highly recommend Bilingva professionalism and their costumer service!!!

Mercedes M.
Mountain View, CA

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And the story about sign language interpreter at the event honoring Nelson Mandela gets even more bizarre. Note that the agency providing the interpreter billed at an incredibly low rate, especially for such a high profile event. This should have been a clue right away, but in an effort to cut costs no one has bothered to check on the agency references or even do a test session with the interpreter. We are not even talking about security clearances here.

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — The man accused of faking sign interpretation while standing alongside world leaders like U.S. President Barack Obama at Nelson Mandela's memorial service said Thursday he hallucinated that angels were entering the stadium, has schizophrenia and has been violent in the past.

Thamsanqa Jantjie said in a 45-minute interview with The Associated Press that his hallucinations began while he was interpreting and that he tried not to panic because there were "armed policemen around me." He added that he was once hospitalized in a mental health facility for more than one year.

A South African deputy Cabinet minister, Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu, later held a news conference to announce that "a mistake happened" in the hiring of Jantjie. However, many questions remain, including who in the government hired the company that contracted Jantjie, how much money the government paid the company and Jantjie's own involvement with the company — and even whether it really exists.

AP journalists who visited the address of the company that Jantjie provided found a different company there, whose managers said they knew nothing about SA Interpreters. A woman who answered the phone at a number that Jantjie provided confirmed that she worked at the company that hired him for the memorial service but declined comment and hung up.

Government officials said they have tried to track down the company that provided Jantjie but the owners "have vanished into thin air," said Bogopane-Zulu, deputy minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities.

She apologized to deaf people around the world who were offended by Jantjie's incomprehensible signing and said an investigation is under way to determine how Jantjie was hired and what vetting process, if any, he underwent for his security clearance.

The deputy minister said the translation company offered sub-standard services and the rate they purportedly paid the translator, $77 a day, is far below the usual rate of up to $164 an hour.

Ordinarily, sign language interpreters in South Africa are switched every 20 minutes to maintain their concentration levels, she said. Jantjie was on the stage for the entire service that lasted more than four hours.

The deputy minister declined to say who in South Africa's government was responsible for contracting the company that provided the bogus translator, or how those rules were flouted.

"It's an interdepartmental responsibility," she said. "We are trying to establish what happened."

Jantjie insisted in the AP interview that he was doing proper sign-language interpretation of the speeches of world leaders. But he also apologized for his performance that has been dismissed by many sign-language experts as gibberish.

"I would like to tell everybody that if I've offended anyone, please, forgive me," Jantjie said in his tidy cement house outfitted with a big-screen TV and with two late-model cars in the carport on the outskirts of Soweto. "But what I was doing, I was doing what I believe is my calling. I was doing what I believe makes a difference."

The statements by Jantjie raise serious security issues for Obama, other heads of state and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon who stood next to Jantjie as they made speeches at FNB Stadium in Soweto, Johannesburg's famed black township. The ceremony honored Mandela, the anti-apartheid icon and former president who died on Dec. 5.

"What happened that day, I see angels come to the stadium ... I start realizing that the problem is here. And the problem, I don't know the attack of this problem, how will it comes. Sometimes I react violent on that place. Sometimes I will see things that chase me," Jantjie said.

"I was in a very difficult position," he added. "And remember those people, the president and everyone, they were armed, there was armed police around me. If I start panicking I'll start being a problem. I have to deal with this in a manner so that I mustn't embarrass my country."

Asked how often he had become violent, he said "a lot" while declining to provide details.

Jantjie said he was due on the day of the ceremony to get a regular six-month mental health checkup to determine whether the medication he takes was working, whether it needed to be changed or whether he needed to be kept at a mental health facility for treatment.

He said he did not tell the company that contracted him for the event that he was due for the checkup, but said an owner of SA Interpreters in Johannesburg was aware of his condition.

Jantjie also said he is officially classified as disabled by the government because of his schizophrenia, and that his longest period in a mental institution was in 2006, when he had a stay of one year and seven months.

Jantjie said he received one year of sign language interpretation training at a school in Cape Town. He said he has previously interpreted at many events without anyone complaining. The Deaf Federation of South Africa said it filed a complaint about his interpreting last year at an appearance that included President Jacob Zuma and other top governing African National Congress members.

The AP showed Jantjie video footage of him interpreting on stage at the Mandela memorial service.

"I don't remember any of this at all," he said.

Oscar-winning deaf U.S. actress Marlee Matlin found a positive aspect to the whole incident, saying that it had made sign language a top news story across the world. "Sign went global today," she wrote on her Twitter account. "Wow thank you South Africa," she wrote in a second tweet.

Full article available here: http://www.sfgate.com/news/world/article/Interpreter-at-Mandela-event-I-was-hallucinating-5057303.php

When you choose interpreters for an event, choose them wisely:

"PRETORIA, South Africa -- The sign language interpreter used at Tuesday's memorial service for Nelson Mandela, and whose image was broadcast around the world as he shared a stage with world leaders including President Obama, was being called a "fake" by the Deaf Federation of South Africa.

Wilma Newhoudt, a deaf member of South Africa's parliament, tweeted this:

@NkenkeKekana @GautengANC the so called interpreter on the stage with Cde Cyril is not signing. He's just making up. Get him out of TV sight 10:41 PM - 10 Dec 2013

The Associated Press also reported the allegation Wednesday, saying that three sign language experts who watched the broadcast said the man was not signing in South African or American sign languages.

"It was horrible, an absolute circus, really really bad," Nicole Du Toit, an official sign language interpreter, told the AP. "Only he can understand those gestures."

USA TODAY was not able to independently confirm the allegations, which if proved true would be an enormous embarrassment to South African officials at a time when the nation is looking to celebrate the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela.

South Africa's government said it is preparing a statement.

Collins Chabane, one of South Africa's two presidency ministers, said the government is continuing to investigate the matter.

Many South Africans were unaware of the sign language controversy Wednesday. Rachel Kika, 47, a teacher from the northern cape was surpirsed.

"I would not think the government would put someone there who did not know what they were doing," she said. "It would be very disappointing. I hope they got the facts wrong. I don't know how that would happen when sign language is an official language."

Bronwen Wilson-Thomson, 50, was shocked such a thing would happen.

"It would be sad if true," she said. "It's not like they can't find people who know sign language."

She said a few years ago, a singer messed up the national anthem by singing it to a different tune during a cricket match. "I guess if we can have someone mess up the national anthem, we can have someone mess up the sign language," she said."

Full article available here: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/12/11/mandela-south-africa-deaf-fake/3985257/

So, you want to import goods into the US?

You sit in the office and hunt for some attractive merchandise you could sell to a wide audience. You see that these particular couches looking like Rolling Stones logo are manufactured on the dime overseas, and would sell like hot cakes in the US for a cool grand each. Let's buy some, bring them over and make a killer business! All right, read on!

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Booths, and nothing but the booths.

Our company decided to start offering interpreting booths for rent and sale - a step in expanding our inventory of interpreting equipment. Now, let's just buy us some booths, and we are in business, right? Well, not quite: there are no manufacturers of interpreting booths in the US, so you have to start looking abroad.

We could import the booths either form Canada or from China. Canadian-made equipment was twice as expensive and of lesser quality. Choosing Chinese manufacturer was a no-brainer decision, and we embarked on an adventure of bringing commercial goods into the US. Somehow, there was no coherent explanation of the process on the web, and most of the steps were successfully completed with the help and advice from manufacturers, shippers, friends with experience in the industry, and some trial and error.

We've put together this guide on importing, so hopefully someone searching the web for help will find it useful. It is by no means definite, so we welcome your comments and additions!

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First things first: who's going to make it?

It seems that everything these days from pins and needles to ships and planes can be manufactured in China. Interpreting booths are no exception. But how can you trust the manufacturer to produce quality goods? There are a number of websites such as http://made-in-china.com or http://www.chinatradeauditreports.com that maintain a list of Chinese suppliers who have passed a certain standard and became certified. Some of these websites offer a company audit report if one is available or can run a report on a company by request. Unfortunately, certification is by no means a seal of approval - there really is no substitute for an in-person visit to the office and factory, and recent references from existing clients to verify manufacturer's credibility. However, a membership on one of these sites and a report is definitely a positive sign you want to consider.

A visit to China for inspection is an expensive proposition, and does not guarantee you anything: unless you are experienced in inspecting factories and end-result production, you may not notice any troubling signs. Besides, you may want someone to check-in periodically to make sure things are going smoothly. Unless you are moving significant volumes of goods that cover expenses of placing an employee in China to oversee production, your best option is to find a representative in China who, for a modest fee, will conduct initial scoping of the manufacturer's facilities, will perform a background check to make sure they are a credible company, will monitor production and facilitate shipping.

Another important aspect of representative's job is that they speak the language. A lot of manufacturer's management speaks little to no English, and language barrier becomes a big obstacle in trade talks between the parties. Since we are an interpreting company, we could easily bring in a Mandarin or Cantonese speaking interpreter on a conference call and make sure everyone understood the terms of the deal, and how our goods would be manufactured and shipped to us.

These representatives are a big part of business in China, and many Western outsources use their services. Due to the nature of our business, we happened to already have an established contact in China who helped us with the whole process, so unfortunately we do not have any information on how to find these consultants. If any of our readers provide this information, we would be happy to update this post.

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How do you pay?

Once the terms of the deal are set, the manufacturer will send you a pro-forma invoice which has all items fully itemized. If goods are manufactured to order, they will typically want an advance equal to half of the whole amount paid, before they begin production.

Now you have a problem of delivering the money to the supplier and retaining some form of control over them until you receive the goods. Most suppliers accept wire transfers (also referred to as Telegraph Transfers or TT) to their bank accounts. Unfortunately, wire transfer leaves you no control over money in case the supplier folds up shop and disappears from the face of the earth.

The other option is called LC - letter of credit. It is a more complicated transaction wherein you open up a line of credit in your bank, and your bank, in turn, certifies to the bank where the manufacturer holds an account, that you have money in good standing, and redy for withdrawal by the manufacturer if the supplier produces necessary documentation. Documentation kind is specified in the letter of credit - for example, supply of goods within a certain time limit. For complete details of commercial letters of credit see the link here.

However, due to the complexity of process with LCs, many Chinese manufacturers do not accept them as payment, and you are back to square one - paying with a wire transfer. This is where your research on the supplier or a hired consultatnt will tell you whether you can trust the other party and wire the money, or look elsewhere.

Deadlines will be missed

It is the nature of the game, and an inevitable reality - the deadlines you set will be missed. Our booths were supposed to be manufactured within three weeks, but then there was Chinese New Year, and the whole country shut down for a week. Then the supplies came in late, and production completion date was moved by another week. Two weeks loss overall, but eventually goods were ready. During the manufacturing stage the supplier provided regular updates with photos, so we could see how the booths were being assembled, painted, packed and prepared for shipment.

Unfortunately, everything was packed up and ready to go in the afternoon, and the shipper for the company already made rounds. This meant that they would come again in a few days, and the ship was going to sail the next morning, so the next opportunity for shipping would be in one week. Another week of delay.

The moral of the story is: plan for delays, and start the whole process very early, if you plan on hitting specific dates with the delivery of goods.

Shipping and receiving

The goods are ready, it is time to pay the final installment and wire the money. If you have a hired consultant, he or she will now travel to the factory and personally inspect that the goods are manufactured to spec and with promised quality. If not - you will most likely receive a photo of the finished product ready to go. Then you take another leap of faith and send the money over.

If the supplier has been in business for quite some time, they already have a shipping broker they work with, and they will include shipping charges in the total quote for goods to be produced and delivered to you. If not - you will have to locate a shipping broker who will arrange the transportation for you.

Shipping broker handles customs and transportation: they arrange for your goods to be placed in a shipping container and pass customs inspection both on the way out of China and on the way into the US. They file the necessary paperwork for you, but it is your responsibility to provide them with information in due time.

Shipping is a two-way process: first, the shipping broker files paperwork on behalf of exporter, so that the goods can leave the country. But you, as an importer, are responsible for filing the ISF - Importer Security Form, also widely known as "10 + 2" - on your end to have the goods come into the United States. Do not delay! This form must be filed 48 hours before the ship sets sail, and at least 24 hours before the goods are laden aboard. Otherwise either your items will not be loaded on the ship, or you will face potential stiff penalties from the customs for filing late.

Practical Example

So how do you file all this and how do you handle this massive load of paperwork that is suddenly bound your way? The supplier will provide you with all the necessary information, and the shipping broker will file it all for you, but you have to contact them in due time.

Once your items are accepted for shipment, the supplier will receive a Bill of Lading, which will list everything you need to know about your shipment: the shipping broker information, the weight and volume of your items, the ship they travel on, etc. Your supplier will provide you with this Bill of Lading and the information for the ISF 10+2 form.

Here's a very good article explaining every item on the ISF 10+2 form. If your supplier has been in the shipping business for some time, they will fill out the 10+2 for you, and send it to you for review. Our mistake here was the we simply took it as notice of goods being shipped and did nothing about it. Supplier, being none the wiser, that we were in this for the first time, did not warn or instruct us either, on what to do with this. Do not make this mistake again.

With this 10+2 form and Bill of Lading presented to you, you now contact the shipping broker indicated on the Bill of Lading. They will have you fill out the form with information about your company (you are now officially importer!) and file all the required paperwork with the US customs.

Our paperwork was late - the ship set sail. The items were indeed aboard in the container, but they were not cleared with the customs before the ship left the docks. Potentially, this could turn into a $10,000 dollar fine, especially if US customs has reason to believe you are not being cooperative, or if this is not your first offense. However the shipping broker assured us, that in this line of trade late ISF filings occur quite commonly, and this being an honest mistake, US customs would look on this favorably. It did, however, cost us additional $150 in clearance charges as a penalty for late filing.

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Charges? What charges?

If you thought that all your expenses were over, and you can now kick back and wait for the items to arrive, you are in for a surprise. We already mentioned that shipping is a two-way process: someone exporting and someone importing. The money you already wired for shipping covered exporting and transportation costs. Now you have to pay importing costs, which cover thing such as US customs fees, unloading of the vessel, transition through port, loading onto truck, shpping broker's fees for handling and filing your paperwork, etc.

Wait a minute, but hasn't the shipping broker already been paid out of the money you wired for transitioning your goods? Well, yes, but on the export side. Now everyone collects on the import side. The shipping broker will provide you with a full breakdown of charges for everything, except for one big variable: US customs fees.

US customs fees are a black art of magic - no one knows exactly what your duty will be, except for the customs themselves. There are volumes of classifications for everything from little bolts and nuts to cranes and turbines with duties set for everything. Two identical sofas, for example, except one made with steel supports and the other one made with wooden frame will vary wildly in the taxes collected. There are online calculators that will help you estimate your duty to give you a rough idea of the costs, for example http://www.dutycalculator.com here.

The ship arrives.

The shipping broker informed you of the expected ship arrival date, and barring any unforeseen cicumstances, your items have arrived in port aboard the vessel. It typically takes about five days for the ship to be unloaded, your items cleared and moved to the warehouse. As soon as your broker has paid the US customs duties on your behalf, they will send you the itemized bill. Your goods will not be released until you pay the invoice in full.

Once the payment is made, you will receive Delivery Order, also called Release Order or Turnover and a copy of cleared customs form from the shipping broker. It is time to pick up your goods. Are you excited?

More charges!

The shipping broker will inform you where your goods will be stored after they are moved off port's territory. Now it's time to call the warehouse and check with them when your items will be available. It usually takes about 24 hours for the warehouse to pick up items in port after they pass through customs, unload them from the container, sort inside the warehouse and prepare for delivery to you. Of course, all this work is not done for free either. You will need to pay the warehouse storage fees before they will release the items to you. Don't forget to bring your Delivery Order form and US Customs release as well, otherwise the warehouse will not release the goods.

Almost home.

One final step - you need to move your imported goods to your location. How are you going to do that? If you do not have a company truck, you can rent one or have a freight company move the items for you. If your items are bulky and heavy (and the interpreting booths are very heavy and very bulky), and your storage place does not have a loading dock, you will need a truck with a liftgate. Make sure the liftgate on the truck is big enough to fit your items on it. Otherwise you may find yourself in quite a predicament: truck bed sits high, and pushing your crates and containers up and down on a makeshift ramp could be very damaging both to your health and the goods.

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Congratulations, you are done!

And that's all there is to it. Technically, none of these steps is very difficult, but the process could be indeed quite tedious and end up costing you more money than you expected. Now that you know about all the potential charges, you will be able to make an informed decision on importing vs. purchasing locally, and whether transportation costs and hassles still make it worthwhile bringing the goods from overseas.

Thank you for reading.

Working as interpreter in court is a very demanding role: there's a huge responsibility of translating everything that your client says accurately, especially when it comes to legal definitions. Just a few days ago during the trial of the infamous Norwegian mass-killer Breivik, court-appointed interpreter made an error of translating Norwegian term "nødrett" as self-defense. A multitude of international news-sources immediately transmitted this as breaking news around the world, and the articles are still up. Google search for "Breivik self-defense" returns news articles from veritable media such as CNN, BBC, New York Times and many others, including even videos on Youtube.

Court officials corrected this error the next day, saying the correct legal term was "necessity", but the damage has already been done. The Guardian posted a full explanation of the correction:

On Tuesday, the court-appointed interpreters issued a correction to their translation of Breivik's not guilty plea on Monday. He is not claiming to have acted out of "self-defence", as originally reported, but is using a defence under section 47 of the Norwegian penal code that states: "No person may be punished for any act that he has committed in order to save someone's person or property from an otherwise unavoidable danger when the circumstances justified him in regarding this danger as particularly significant in relation to the damage that might be caused by his act.

Server-side scripts - a step up

We looked at the simplest localization solution for small static websites in the previous post. Now let's move on to a more complex and flexible solution involving server-side scripts. This approach is used by most sites running a custom CMS engine or using server-side scripts for building and laying out website pages dynamically.

For dynamic pages, we will use the key-value pairs to hold the information we want to present on the website. For example, the title string will be stored under key main_title, and the subtitle for a header on the page will be stored under the key main_subtitle. When a script gets called to present a webpage, it will assemble the output by looking up the requested language from the user using the same key. The language will be set by the user when it picks the language through the site UI.

These key-value paris are stored in so called resource files with every single string used on the website listed inside. The format could be either plain text or XML - it depends on what facilities for reading the files your script language provides. A resource file typically consists of key-value paris and comments with useful instructions for the translator for each pair.

It is important to use descriptive keys and choose a format that allows for comments inside the resource file, because they become extremely useful not only to the coders doing the work, but to translators as well. Remember, that translators usually get just the resource file to work with; they don't always see the product being localized. Descriptive key names and comments help them come up with an accurate and relevant translation.

Bad example:

{codecitation style="brush: xml;"} key1=Hello, World! key2=My first localization attempt. {/codecitation}

Good example:

{codecitation style="brush: xml;"} ; used in the titel of the main page main.title = Hello, World! ; this will show up on the main page in the subheader of the central column main.subtitle = My first localization attempt {/codecitation}

Good example using XML:

{codecitation style="brush: xml;"} main_title Hello, World! used in the titel of the main page main_subtitle My first localization attempt this will show up on the main page in the subheader of the central column {/codecitation}

Parametrizing resource strings

So far so good: we translated the static strings on your website, like title, subtitle, paragraphs, and other contents that does not change. What about dynamic strings? For example, you have a calendar application with a string that tells the user the day of the week:

{codecitation style="brush: xml;"}Today is: Sunday{/codecitation}

We shouldn't create all possible variations of the string that could occur on the website. Instead we add a parameter to the string, and when we localize it, we will include this parameter in the translated string as well. Use some kind of special symbol to denote parameters, for example: $1 for the first, $2 for the second, and so on. Now our resource file could look like this: {codecitation style="brush: xml;"} calendar_greeting Hello! Today is $1, month of $2 $1 is day of week: (Mon ... Sun), $2 is month of the year (Jan...Dec) day_name Monday day of the week month_name January month of the year {/codecitation}

Now translator knows how the string is supposed to look like, and what parameters it takes, so that when it is translated, the sentence structure makes sense, and the parameters themselves are translated as well.

String length

String length is a very important aspect of localization. Translated sentence could be much shorter or longer than its original, and the UI has to adjust for it, or provide guidelines on how long or short the translated strings should be. There's very little a translator can do with single words that can be translated in one way only (dates, geographical names, etc), but with longer sentences there is some leeway in creating sentences of different lengths, trying to stay under the imposed UI limit.

The guidance for sentence length should be included in the comments insides the resource file.

Putting it all together

Now that your resource file is ready, and you had it translated, it's time to arrange the resource files and include the logic in your scripts to pick the right one. It doesn't really matter how you organize the resource files, but a good practice is to name them using international abbreviations for languages and encodings, like en_US, es_ES, and so on. Once the user selects a language, you can persist the choice in the $SESSION variable, and insert the logic in the scripts to automatically pick the right resource file.

That's all! In the next article we'll take a look at localizing CMS systems.

See also:

  • Step 1: localizing static pages