Having worked in the SEO industry for many years, I still have the old reflex to make full use of Google search. And I have noticed over time that the way I use the search engine can actually come in handy for my translation work.
Most of you have probably already heard about SEO. But what I wanted to share was what SEO’s searching methods have to offer to translators.
Why would I need Google as a translator?
As I started as a translator, I discovered many useful tools, like CAT-tools, translation memories and glossaries. But sometimes, all of these fail to provide me with the answer I am looking for.
When it happens, I turn to the biggest TM in the world: Google. Indeed, the search engine registers billions of pages from billions of websites, updated every day. And it can outpower even the company itself while providing information about its website. I remember a funny comment made by a journalist in the newspaper I was working for. She said that when she wanted to find an old article in the company’s website, she actually used Google instead of the internal search engine because it always delivered better results.
While it said a lot about the internal engine, it also showed that having a structured and relevant database is not as easy as it seems, even when dealing with your own information.
One of the first things you learn as a SEO (in the Western world at least) is how to speak Google’s language, which can actually be more than typing 3 words in its search field. Some basic “commands” enable you to search deeper and more precisely into the giant database.
The command I find the most useful is the one that consists in searching results on a specific website, typing: site:www.yoursitesname.com followed by the term that you are looking for.
Finding the client’s preferred term
One of the biggest challenges I face as a translator is that there are several ways to translate a sentence or even a specific term. I can spend hours wondering which is the best option. While it’s part of the job, and actually a part that I find quite exciting, I always ask myself what would be the client’s preferred term. And the command “site” makes me earn some precious time in finding out what it is, when the TM or glossary don’t have the answer.
Depending on the size and the level of digitalization of the client’s company, there is usually a high chance they’ve already published a lot of material on the Internet -if not, they probably should!
Let’s take a simple example, imagining that you need to translate a post from WWF’s blog from English to French. The source document mentions “sea turtles”, which can be translated either by “tortue de mer” or “tortue marine” in French. But you don’t find this term on any of the client’s resources.
To run a comparison on Google, all you have to do is to first type: site:www.wwf.fr “tortues de mer”, which means: “give me all the results from my target site (wwf.fr) including the precise term “tortues de mer” -if you don’t use the quotation mark, Google will give you approximate results. This allows us to spot if it is a term that WWF prefers to use.
Then I do the same with “tortues marines”.
Even though the results show a few occurrences for “tortues de mer”, it is clear that “tortues marines” is most often used. Just look at the number of results Google announces under the search field (6 for “tortues de mer” and 440 for “tortues marines”).
Checking your language’s usage
Another challenge is to always use the proper grammar, syntax and punctuation from your target language. Again, this is part of the job, and there are many incredibly useful books to help, but sometimes, after a few hours spent on a text, I just block on some basic usage, and I want to “de-block” myself as soon as possible to go on working on what matters.
In this case, a simple search on the Internet might not be clever, as the quality of most websites is unfortunately quite bad and you might end up following a misleading answer. But if you conduct a more precise search, then you’re likely to find a solid answer.
We all have newspapers or specific resources that we trust more. For me, one of the most reliable resource in French is Le Monde. I know they have a team of proofreaders who will always check everything that is published, even online. And the good thing is that they have covered a huge amount of topics, from very broad topics like geopolitics to more specific ones like palaeontology.
So if I want to make sure I am using the right turn of phrase, I quickly check among their papers, using the site command in Google. For instance, I recently had a doubt about how to use the term “catalyseur” (catalyzer, in English). Would it be “catalyseur pour”, “catalyseur de”, or should I rather use the verb “calalyser”? At this point, everything just sounded strange.
When i started typing site:lemonde.fr catalyseur, I realized that this expression was obviously metaphoric, as most results referred to chemistry. Fortunately, you remove all the results including the term “chemistry” by simply adding the sign “-“: site:lemonde.fr catalyseur -chimie. Then I could find some inspiring examples including “catalyseur” in the right context and be reassured on my own phrasing.
Understanding tricky marketing terms
One thing I have noticed when working on e-commerce website, is that marketing teams are very creative. Very, very creative, at a point that sometimes it makes it difficult to understand what they actually mean. It is especially true when they use a specific jargon, like they often do in fashion, for example.
Clothing is pretty straight-forward, but when you enter a fashion website, you discover a whole new world of colours and textures you didn’t even know existed. That is why specialization is great: fashion translators probably do a better job translating clothing websites than generalists who are more likely to deliver weird translations.
But even if you deal with your speciality, some unusual terms sometimes pop-up. Even if you have an intuition of what it refers to, you want to make sure you are on the same page as your client. There is nothing worse than a translator who doesn’t understand the text he is translating, right?
So a quick check on Google Images might help erase your doubts, or make you reconsider your interpretation. Let’s say that you have found the term “tapir waves” in a product title for a dress. Can they really be talking about this short and fat animal with a big nose? How does it even relate to waves?
That’s what you need to check on Google Image. First, by searching for “tapir waves”.
Once you get the look of the idea, you can check if the analogy is what you think it is, by simply searching for, in this case, “tapir”.
This quick search makes you realize that indeed, a baby tapir has very nice black and white wavy fur which disappears as it gets older. You’re safe, your translation will not fall into the unfortunate category of mistranslation.
Integrated tools that might help
There are also a wide range of Google tools integrated directly in the search engine that can assist you in basic tasks.
For example, the measurement converter is quite nice, because you have a direct answer instead of spending time searching and calculating your equivalent. It’s quite simple, as you just have to type your query in English. If you wish to know how many kilometres there are in 150 miles, simply type: 150 miles in kilometres.
Almost all translators have clients abroad, and sometimes it can get a bit confusing with deadlines. Handing a project out at 1pm Seattle time is not the same as delivering it 1pm Oslo time. To know the time gap and adjust quickly, just use the time operator, typing time:your client’s city in Google.
Not many know about the calculator neither. Sometimes, instead of opening a calculator app in your computer, it’s just quicker to type your query in Google. As a freelance translator, you might want to calculate how much money you are going to earn working on a 845 words document, how much tax you can expect, or pretty much anything. Who doesn’t need to make simple calculations now and then?
To finish with, I wanted to share this geeky calculation that you just have to copy and paste in Google to get a lovely result -because there is also some fun in knowing some small tools like these.
(sqrt(cos(x))*cos(200x)+sqrt(abs(x))-0.7)*(4-x*x)^0.01, sqrt(9-x^2), -sqrt(9-x^2) from -4.5 to 4.5
There you have it, a small insight into which searching techniques that I personally find useful, based on my experience. Once you understand some of them, you can become quite creative in your usage of Google search. It is unlikely to nullify the need for good solid work, but it can be another tool to add to your translator’s toolbox, and a free one at that.