Translating Aotearoa


Our work

English we can all understand

Many of you will know me as a project manager or German translator at The Translation Service. If you’ve noticed my absence in the last few months, it’s because at the end of last year I was given a secondment opportunity with another team at DIA, working on a unique project, redeveloping the current website. The aim of this project is to transform the way government in New Zealand delivers information and services online. Specifically – to make it easier for everyone.

One of the key ways in which we’re doing this is by using plain English, or in other words, by writing like people talk. With my background in translation, it was very easy for me to relate to the value of this approach, knowing how many foreigners live here. Many government websites are hard enough for native English speakers to navigate, let alone those who’re still learning the language!

Aside from a half-year course in content writing, I was pretty new to this type of work when I started here. But I was amazed how many parallels I found between translation and this particular kind of content writing. As you all know, a good translator doesn’t translate word for word, one word at a time. A good translator reads and comprehends a source text and re-writes it in a way it would naturally have been written in the target language, making sure that the same information is given, the same messages and concepts conveyed.

What I do here is surprisingly similar. I read… and eventually comprehend… texts written in one language (business English), and re-write these in another language (plain English), making sure that the same information and concepts are conveyed – in a way that’s appropriate for the target audience, the general public of New Zealand.

The site is currently in a ‘beta phase’, meaning it’s already in use, but hasn’t yet replaced the old website. This is due to happen on the 31st of July. At the moment it’s still more of an information tool – guiding you to the government department that’s appropriate for what you want to do, and summarising what you’ll need to do when you get there, but this may change in the future. The site is still fairly small – new content and design features will be added on a regular basis.

As linguists, and also because of your diverse backgrounds, it would be very interesting to hear some of your opinions on what we’ve been doing. At the bottom of the home page under ‘About this site’ you’ll find a link that takes you to a feedback form. Have a look at the site and tell us what you think!


35 years of translating

I first joined the Translation Service in 1978 and stayed there for seven years.  In those days it was virtually the only provider of quality translations in New Zealand. Many of the people who worked there seemed to be refugees from the teaching profession, like me. In the early days we used manual typewriters and eventually graduated to electric typewriters, all in an open-plan office.

After three years working in Sydney I came back in 1988 when personal computers were just coming into use. My first work computer was an Apple Mac SE with a 20-megabyte hard drive. (Nowadays I own a Macbook Pro with a 500-gigabyte drive). We eventually changed to an all-Windows system.

The translation industry has also changed radically since the late 1980s with the launch of NZTC and other translation agencies, who have a worldwide client base. The Translation Service still caters mostly for clients in New Zealand, although we now have a worldwide network of freelance translators. Paying overseas contractors would have been too difficult for the system to cope with until a few years ago (it still poses occasional problems). Clients also expect a much higher quality of service than they did years ago.

Over the past year there have been major changes in the Translation Service, which has moved towards a system of producing translations on screen instead of on paper. This is in line with the government policy of providing services online wherever possible. We have started the new year by moving to new premises in the National Archives building, so it will be interesting to see what future changes are in store. Time will tell!


The reviser’s role

Picture of pen lying on a page of text riddled with correctionsWe have been asked by many of you to give a reminder of the reviser’s role, especially since some of you have noted that in many cases, the changes suggested are purely stylistic.

We have already approached this topic in issue #6 (September 2013), nevertheless we believe that it is worth to remind you of a few things.

If you are asked to revise a translation, please bear in mind that:

  • revision is not a retranslation, i.e. you should not do the translation all over again;
  • revision is not proofreading, i.e. you should not simply read the translation and make sure that it sounds good, without checking it against the original.

As a reviser, your task is to make sure that the translator has understood the source text and translated it properly into the target language, without any mistakes or misunderstandings. Each translator has their own style and the reviser needs to respect this style as long as the translation flows well and does not deviate from the original meaning.

This means that if the text submitted to you does not contain any errors, you should not make any corrections. You can however make rephrasing suggestions if you think that they would significantly improve the quality of the translation.

If you believe that the style or quality of the translation is too poor to be revised, please let us know and give us some examples. Do not start the translation afresh without being instructed to do so by the Project Manager.

Finally, from a practical point of view, please use track changes to mark your corrections (if you don’t know how to use track changes, read this page), and use the comment function to make your suggestions (learn how to use comments here).

If you have any further questions or you need any clarifications regarding the role of the reviser please do not hesitate to contact us.


E-learning platform – progress update

It has been a while since this newsletter last mentioned our training programme, but don’t despair: this project is still going ahead. Although it may not look like it from your end, we have made a lot of progress (‘a lot of work has been going on behind the scenes’ as my former manager would say).

Image of a light bulb with the text: I learn, what's your superpower?We have tested different Learning Management Systems, including iLearn (the Department’s LMS for employees’ professional development), the LMS of the Ministry of Education, and Edmodo which creates an online classroom with a very Facebook-inspired design. The one that seems the most appropriate is the Ministry of Education’s system. In due course, you will each receive login details to access e-learning modules that will have been assigned to you. You will also be able to sign up for modules that you would like to take.

For now, there are three streams of e-learning: Translator, Reviser, and Assessor. They complement each other, and you would be expected to complete the Translator stream before starting any module of the Reviser stream. This being said, we will adapt the e-learning programme to your needs and your objectives. If you know how to use track changes in Word, there is no point in assigning this module to you. There is also no point in assigning you Reviser training if you don’t wish to carry out revision work.

You will receive a certificate on completion of an e-learning stream. Our hope is that you will be in a better position to perform well. This in turn will be reflected in the fees that we will pay you. As a matter of fact, we are reviewing our payment structure, and an emphasis will be put on quality.

We are currently developing the e-learning material using a programme called Articulate – and I must say that I’m very excited about the possibilities it offers! Here is a list of the modules that are planned so far:

  • Welcome to the Translation Service: this module will allow you to meet the team, find out who we are and learn about our expectations;
  • What is a good translation?: this module will set out translation principles that should be followed when translating for TTS. There will be some theoretical background but not too much! It will primarily make use of examples and give some advice and a few translation strategies;
  • The Art of Selective Translations: this module will take you through the selective translation process step-by-step, and will put an emphasis on practice;
  • The Art of Full Translations: this module will explain the full translation process and draw upon some fundamental translation principles. Formatting issues and other TTS standard practices will be addressed as well;
  • Basics of Word Processing: this module will help you make the most of word processing software;
  • The Art of Revision: this module will take you through the revision process and explain exactly what is expected from you;
  • Getting to Grips with Track Changes and Comments: the title is transparent. This module will take you through the track changes and commenting functions of word processing software;
  • The Art of Test Translation Assessment: this module will help you understand what is expected from you when assessing a test translation. It will take you through our quality assessment metric and provide some practice opportunities.

This is a work-in-progress, so any feedback is welcomed. Would you like to add anything to this list? If so, let me know.


International Translation Day 2013

Every year, International Translation Day is celebrated on St Jerome’s Day throughout the world. Established in 1991 by the International Federation of Translators under the patronage of Saint Jerome – the Bible translator, International Translation Day celebrates the important work translators and interpreters do in an increasingly globalised world, and raises awareness on language and cultural issues, and the need for translation.

Did you do anything special to celebrate on Monday 30 September? (If so, let us know.) We certainly did.

The Translation Service invited the rest of the Department of Internal Affairs to an informal afternoon tea. The aim was to raise the profile of TTS within the Department and to discuss potential cooperation opportunities. About ten people from Births, Deaths and Marriages, the National Library, Government Technology Services, and the Authentication Unit came along. We had some interesting conversations, in particular with the National Librarians, which will hopefully open up new possibilities. Our intention is to launch a series of discussions with the rest of the Department to identify language needs and how we can help government to meet them.


The Authentication Unit uncovered

The Translation Service, the Authentication Unit, and Births, Deaths and Marriages work very closely to offer a streamlined service – in the form of a one-stop shop – to clients in need of documents to be used overseas, such as birth, marriage and death certificates. Some of the documents that you translate into foreign languages for us are issued by BDM, and will be either ‘Apostilled’ or Seal of the Department of Internal Affairs of New Zealand‘authenticated’.

We also translate a number of documents which aren’t issued by BDM, and hand them over to the Authentication Unit. Any document issued by a government agency or a Notary Public can be processed by the Authentication Unit. Many of those documents are powers of attorney, notarised copies of foreign birth or marriage certificates etc.

Carlee – who took the Proust Questionnaire this month – kindly agreed to answer all our questions and tell you what happens to some of your translations.

Q: Good afternoon Carlee. As you know, our translators do a lot of translations that end up on your unit’s desks. But before we go into more details about the secret workings of the AU, could you tell us what your unit actually does?

A: With pleasure Stefan! Our job at the Authentication Unit is to verify NZ issued documents that people need to use overseas. Often an overseas authority will require this verification as they are unable to tell whether a foreign document is genuine or not. We can verify all original NZ government issued documents, as well as any document that has been notarised by a Notary Public. We are able to verify the signatures and seals on these documents as we hold a vast database with the signatures and seals of government officials and notaries in it. Once we have verified that the document is genuine we attach one of two kinds of certificate to it – either an Apostille certificate or an authentication certificate. These certificates have the official seal of the Department and are recognised overseas.

Q: What’s the difference between an Apostille and an authentication? And why is one more expensive than the other?

A: What kind of certificate you require depends on what country you are using your document in. If the country has signed the Apostille Convention (Convention of 5 October 1961 Abolishing the Requirement of Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents) then you need an Apostille certificate. Once we attach an Apostille to your document you can use it overseas without further ado. However, if the country requesting your document is not party to the Apostille Convention then you need an authentication. This is a longer and more expensive process as once we have attached the authentication to your document the documents must be stamped by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and then stamped by the foreign embassy of the destination country.

Q: What’s all the rage about the e-Apostille?

A: An e-Apostille is an electronic version of an Apostille. Basically it’s a scan of your document attached to an electronic Apostille certificate, which we email to you. e-Apostilles are great as you can email them overseas, saving time and money, since NZ is far from most overseas countries. It also has more security features than a paper Apostille.

Q: Is there a legal requirement for documents to be translated if they are to be Apostilled or authenticated and used overseas?

A: We don’t require people to translate their documents when they submit them to us for an Apostille or authentication – we don’t need to be able to read the document so we can accept documents in a foreign language. However, the overseas authority requesting the document may require a translation, either into their language or into English. Some foreign embassies here in NZ require translations – for example the Italian and Russian embassies.

Q: Are some foreign authorities harder to work with than others?

A: Different countries definitely have different requirements when it comes to accepting NZ issued documents. Authorities in some countries require people to provide translated documents, with individual Apostilles, which costs more for the applicant. Some countries even ask us to translate the Apostille certificate itself, which is not required under the Apostille Convention. We’ve had Apostilles rejected in some countries – one common reason is that they look at the person’s document and expect it to look the way the same document looks in that country. This is not a valid reason to reject an Apostille – countries need to take into account that documents are issued differently in different countries. We have also had Apostilles rejected as an overseas authority took issue with the dimensions of our certificate!

Q: Do you think the way AU and TTS work together could be improved? If so, how?

A: I think we offer a pretty good service. I don’t know of any overseas Authentication Office that offers translations, or one where you can order a marriage certificate, a translation and an Apostille all from one department. I think our service is pretty fast and helpful to customers. We work pretty closely with the Translation Service. We need them to provide excellent translations for our customers so their documents will be accepted overseas without any hiccups. We want to be sending the highest quality documentation overseas so we can maintain NZ’s good reputation for trusted documents, and we rely on the Translation Service to help us with language related issues.

Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions.

Do you have questions for Carlee? Leave a comment and we’ll grill her again.



Translating for government – What does it mean?

As freelance translators of the Translation Service, you all work for a government agency. Our collaboration may be more or less intensive, depending on your language combination and our needs. But what does it actually mean – to be translating for government? Is it any different to working for a private translation company or private clients?

I started working at the Translation Service last October after spending four years as an in-house translator and head of department within a translation company. Working for the public sector is different to working for private companies in a variety of ways: the clients are different; the types of translations are different, although there is some overlap; the purpose of the translator’s work is different.

The Department of Internal Affairs’ raison d’être, and by way of consequence, that of the Translation Service, is to ‘connect people, communities and government’. In contrast to a private company, which understandably seeks commercial benefits, the logic of public service is paramount to the Translation Service’s operations and is reflected, among other things, in its mission to cover all language communities present in New Zealand, which are deemed unprofitable by the private sector. In other words, if a member of the public or a government agency requires a translation from or into a language of low diffusion or a language that is for whatever reason more difficult to source, we will endeavour to meet that client’s needs. Providing high quality translations in those languages can be a challenge, but one that we are ready to take on.

Unsurprisingly, central and local government agencies call upon our services when they wish to communicate with the increasingly ethnically and linguistically diverse population of New Zealand. Providing high quality translations is essential, as they reflect on the perception that our communities have of the NZ government. We also translate or proof material to be used overseas – international conventions and treaties, information etc. These translations matter too, as they reflect on the image of New Zealand abroad.

The bulk of our translations – about a third of our work – is however directly related to citizenship or immigration applications. This includes selective translations of birth details, marriage certificates, adoption documents etc., and full translations of love letters, testimonies, court decisions, medical reports and so on. As these translated documents play a significant role in the outcome of their applications, clients care very deeply about them and will ask for amendments to be made or explanations to be given if they are unhappy with the translation(s) they receive. This, of course, has its own drawbacks, as it can lead to heated debates with conflicting ideas about what a translation should be.

But our work does matter, and that in itself is very rewarding. In no way am I saying that translating for private companies does not convey the same sense of satisfaction – they sometimes do: I remember translating material for NGOs operating in Africa, and immigration papers for private clients for instance. However, I also remember enormous localisation projects with chunks of text that had no meaning, and hundreds of questions that remained unanswered as the client couldn’t care less.

How do you feel about working for the Translation Service? Do you see a difference compared to your other clients? Leave a comment to let us know.


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