Off topic: How did translation companies work before computers?
Thread poster: Bethany Davies

Bethany Davies  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:04
Italian to English
+ ...
Oct 10

Would clients post/fax all the documents to be translated? Did agencies tend only to work for local clients? Was the word count undertaken manually?

Just curious.

[Edited at 2019-10-10 14:17 GMT]


 

Jean Lachaud  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 01:04
English to French
+ ...
You answered your own questions Oct 10

As someone who started in the industry in the typewriter era, before fax machines and even dedicated word processors (anyone remembers Wang?), I can say that you answered your own questions.

Let me add that there were more couriers, at the time.

[Edited at 2019-10-10 15:00 GMT]


 

Kevin Fulton  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 01:04
German to English
Back in the olden days Oct 10

Based on my experience... translators generally worked with typewriters (I had an IBM Selectric with a modest memory which allowed corrections to be made if noticed immediately), although some translators either wrote translations out in longhand or dictated them, which were then transcribed. In my experience, translations were generally faxed, or if the agency was within driving distance, delivered personally. Once personal computers were widely used (but pre-Internet), translations could be de... See more
Based on my experience... translators generally worked with typewriters (I had an IBM Selectric with a modest memory which allowed corrections to be made if noticed immediately), although some translators either wrote translations out in longhand or dictated them, which were then transcribed. In my experience, translations were generally faxed, or if the agency was within driving distance, delivered personally. Once personal computers were widely used (but pre-Internet), translations could be delivered by modem, but the texts were not generally formatted, apart from paragraph breaks. The client then had to provide formatting, special fonts, etc. based on the source documents. Agencies and end clients had word processing specialists who adapted/formatted documents as needed.

It should be pointed out that prior to widespread use of PCs, documents to be translated generally had some importance: contracts, specifications, etc. and were not "for information purposes only" to be read once (if at all), then discarded, as is the case nowadays.

Widespread use of computers resulted in the appearance of spreadsheets like VisiCalc or Lotus 123, presentation software like Harvard Graphics or PowerPoint. This was before the advent of CAT tools, so the unfortunate translator had to own a copy of the source software or create an accompanying file providing translations of the text based on printouts of the source document. Use of the Internet/e-mail also resulted in an explosive increase of documents to be translated, since they could be so easily created by almost every office employee and transmitted willy-nilly throughout companies. This resulted in lots of available translation work.
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Mirelluk
Hedwig Spitzer Cáceres
Max Chernov
 

Bethany Davies  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:04
Italian to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Fascinating! Thank you. Oct 10

Fascinating! Thank you.

Vadim Kadyrov
 

Rolf Keller
Germany
Local time: 07:04
English to German
Via paper anyway. Oct 10

Bethany Davies wrote:

Would clients post/fax all the documents to be translated?

In the pre-1980 era clients used post, courier services and teleprinters (teletypewriters).

Most freelancers had no teleprinter and bought their first fax machine not before 1990.

Somtimes in the evening I rushed to the central railway station and had a railway worker put my envelope directly into the right mail car so that it reached the remote city on the next morning.


Max Chernov
 

Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 06:04
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
But wordcount? Oct 10

Kevin Fulton wrote:
Based on my experience... translators generally worked with typewriters (I had an IBM Selectric with a modest memory which allowed corrections to be made if noticed immediately), although some translators either wrote translations out in longhand or dictated them, which were then transcribed. In my experience, translations were generally faxed, or if the agency was within driving distance, delivered personally.

Did you count the words at all? Or was charging done on some other basis? I imagine there were a lot of ancillary charges to be handed to the client, such as postal costs, petrol costs and payment for time spent on deliveries etc.?

Thanks for the topic, Bethany . As someone who came to the Internet pretty late (2000, with only an appalling dial-up connection until 2009) but who actually started working way back in 1975, I'm constantly trying to recall how we managed to do anything! I seem to rely on it totally nowadays: recipes, holiday bookings, shopping, hobbies, general info ....


Cristina Bufi Poecksteiner, M.A.
Nathalie Bullen
 

Noni Gilbert  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 07:04
Spanish to English
+ ...
Translation Memory Oct 10

I took over a colleague's portfolio in the early 1990s and he very kindly provided me with his handwritten TMs (he had little intention of transitioning into the digital age) while pointing out that most of the his TM was lodged in the grey stuff! I found those TMs recently during a clear-out and feel rather guilty that I never really made use of them. Since the subject areas were mainly technical - car stuff - much of the terminology has even changed since then. Intresting reading all the same.

 

Jean Lachaud  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 01:04
English to French
+ ...
Ah, yes Oct 10

Telexes, I had forgotten about those! There was one in the New York City translation agency where I apprenticed, starting in 1981. But, frankly, even then, it was a relic of the past. My memory is uncertain, but I think it was being kept for a single customer.

Everyone used Fedex which, at the time, was really a fast courier company, rather than a package-delivery outfit. Then faxes came out (the US Postal Service, one may remember, announced that it would install faxes in its post
... See more
Telexes, I had forgotten about those! There was one in the New York City translation agency where I apprenticed, starting in 1981. But, frankly, even then, it was a relic of the past. My memory is uncertain, but I think it was being kept for a single customer.

Everyone used Fedex which, at the time, was really a fast courier company, rather than a package-delivery outfit. Then faxes came out (the US Postal Service, one may remember, announced that it would install faxes in its post offices, and that faxed documents would then be put into envelopes and hand-delivered locally. That idea lasted only a few weeks, and was never implemented.)

There was a typing staff; typists typed only a few words per line, with wide spacing, and double-line interval, to make edits possible. Since I had started as a proofreader, not yet entrusted to translate by myself, I regularly caught errors in the handwritten translations, including one from Japanese, once (the translator did apologize for his or her error), hence the need for wide spacing of words and lines, to avoid retyping an entire page!

One major issue was terminology: dictionaries were expensive, and could not keep up to date with technology, even though technology change was at a snail pace at the time. Research was long and tedious, and often unsuccessful.

There were tricks to make word counting easy; these tricks are still valid, and I use them occasionally.
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Kevin Fulton
 

Tina Vonhof
Canada
Local time: 23:04
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Word count? Oct 10

Sheila Wilson wrote:

Did you count the words at all? Or was charging done on some other basis? I imagine there were a lot of ancillary charges to be handed to the client, such as postal costs, petrol costs and payment for time spent on deliveries etc.?


I wasn't translating in those days but I guess people charged per page or per hour plus postal or courier costs.


Christine Andersen
 

Christel Zipfel  Identity Verified
Member (2004)
Italian to German
+ ...
Long time ago... Oct 10

Bethany Davies wrote:

Would clients post/fax all the documents to be translated? Did agencies tend only to work for local clients? Was the word count undertaken manually?

Just curious.


First everything was sent by snail mail, of course, then, in the 80's, I personally purchased a fax which cost me a fortune but I found was a revolution and gave me much peace of mind. No more translations to be sent or documents received by (snail) mail, courier or dictated by phone (yes!), at least the shorter ones. If I remember well, very few translators at this time had a fax. Longer documents continued to be sent and received mostly by courier which was generally more reliable, but this meant that you had to organise everything and be at home when you expected the delivery. The count of course was made manually, how could you do otherwise?
Anyway, I have to say that then people didn't want everything "yesterday" because it was literally impossible. If the document to be translated or the translation didn't arrive the day they were expected (at least by snail mail), everyone was supposed to be patient at least one other day... And people survived even though! Food for thought...

N.B. I forgot, I too had an IBM Selectric (or two, or even three, don't remember - only one at a time, though:-), which I was very proud of, and of course the errors had to be corrected in the original and all the copies (I used to make two of them) with Tipp-Ex, the correction fluid.

[Bearbeitet am 2019-10-12 14:03 GMT]


Mirelluk
Hedwig Spitzer Cáceres
 

Bethany Davies  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:04
Italian to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Love it! Oct 10

This is all so interesting! Thank you all for sharing you reminiscences. Keep 'em coming.

[Edited at 2019-10-10 19:53 GMT]


Alistair Gainey
Sheila Wilson
Max Chernov
 

Maxi Schwarz  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:04
German to English
+ ...
semi-olden Oct 11

I used a computer and MS Word, documents came per fax half the time, and since there was only dial-up, a "large" document took forever. The source documents were paper form, or scans, and one counted them. One PM I worked with was adept at making a rather accurate estimate of word count just by glancing through, simply from experience.

Once I had a "large" document (it had pictures), e-mailed it to my client hitting "send", went shopping, went for a walk, and it was still sendin
... See more
I used a computer and MS Word, documents came per fax half the time, and since there was only dial-up, a "large" document took forever. The source documents were paper form, or scans, and one counted them. One PM I worked with was adept at making a rather accurate estimate of word count just by glancing through, simply from experience.

Once I had a "large" document (it had pictures), e-mailed it to my client hitting "send", went shopping, went for a walk, and it was still sending after that. The client was madder than a wet hen because it took them as long to receive it as it had taken me to send it.

My fax was a "modern" kind that didn't need the "special paper" (anyone remember those?). I remember proofreading a translation that had actually been typed on a typewriter.
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Stuart Hoskins
Local time: 07:04
Czech to English
+ ...
Post office regular Oct 11

When I was still a student, and acting as a stand-in (cushy holiday job, basically), an international press agency would send me articles (literally cuttings) culled from the Czechoslovak press. I’d type the translation (often a precis), then pop off to the post office with it. Rinse and repeat every day. They paid a flat rate.

 

Kay Denney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 07:04
Member (2018)
French to English
. Oct 11

Tina Vonhof wrote:

Sheila Wilson wrote:

Did you count the words at all? Or was charging done on some other basis? I imagine there were a lot of ancillary charges to be handed to the client, such as postal costs, petrol costs and payment for time spent on deliveries etc.?


I wasn't translating in those days but I guess people charged per page or per hour plus postal or courier costs.


My first task at the agency I used to work at was to count the words of a huge document, about six inches thick. It was in German - ich spreche nicht Deutsch but I could tell it was pretty repetitive, being minutes of Board meetings, with the same people absent each time. I vaguely remember it taking me a very long time to count the number of words. It felt like a week at least.

When I first started translating we used a fax. I remember looking out for the courier while having a coffee in my neighbour's front yard. The guy literally rode right past, at top speed, then called the client to say he couldn't find me!

I also remember delivering floppy disks in person, arriving on purpose after lunchtime so as not to disturb the employees on their break, but finding everyone enjoying a late pizza, and being invited to join in. I had my daughter in her pushchair, a bit too young for pizza, and she was quite a sensation covered in tomato sauce!


 

Gerard de Noord  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 07:04
Member (2003)
German to Dutch
+ ...
Paperless office Oct 11

In the eighties I started using PCs whenever I could. We were using Wordstar 4.0 at the time. We copied the application from floppy to floppy and then had 200 KB left for the text. That was more than enough. The floppy went to the proofreader, who subsequently sent it to the printer's.

 


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