Letter from the Editor

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the founding of the New York Circle of Translators. On September 28th we will celebrate this milestone with a symposium featuring a keynote address by industry leader Renato Beninatto and a panel discussion with NYCT members who will reflect upon the Circle’s evolution over the years. The reception which will follow will be an excellent networking opportunity and we hope to see all our readers there.

The event, which is being co-sponsored by the Mencius Society for the Arts, will also serve to mark International Translation Day, which is celebrated every year on September 30th. The International Federation of Translators (FIT) chose this date to celebrate the pivotal role that translation plays in communicating ideas across international boundaries. September 30th was originally the feast day of Saint Jerome, the first person to translate the Bible into Latin from the original Hebrew. St. Jerome is considered to be the patron saint of translators.

I think it is also appropriate to mention that August was Women in Translation month. Since we did not publish in August, I am including my write-up of a September event at which the translator Minna Proctor read from her new translation of Natalia Ginzburg’s novel Happiness as Such. Acclaimed author Vivian Gornick also read one of Ginzburg’s most famous essays at the event.

I would like to thank the following women whose work is featured in this issue: Deborah Lockhart and Andrea González, who co-authored an article on multi-language subtitling; Kate Deimling for her write-up on Jon Ritzdorf’s machine translation presentation; and Renata Stein, who shared her translation experiences with me in a recent interview. Last and not by any means least, I am also including my interview with Alex Gross, one of the Circle’s founding members, who shared his fascinating and extremely varied translation career with me.

I hope you enjoy this issue and look forward to seeing everyone on September 28th.

Interview with Founding Member Alex Gross

Translator, author and activist Alex Gross is a true polyglot, speaking French, German, Italian and Spanish fluently and translating from all of them. His language abilities were honed with twelve years of residence and study abroad in Europe. He has published a wide variety of translations, articles and computer programs, many of which can be accessed on his website which is http://language.home.sprynet.com. Now 87 years young (going on 88), he is largely retired from translation.

Alex remembers how Eva Berry, who ran a translation agency in New York, and translators including Tom Snow and Charles Stern, joined together in 1979 to form the New York Circle of Translators. The first of the Circle’s monthly dinner meetings was held at a Czech restaurant on the Upper East Side. The monthly dinner meetings were a source of enjoyable social interactions for its members as well as a forum for the exchange of professional ideas and opinions. 

Alex entered the translation profession as a theatre translator. When he was living in London, he translated a play by Swiss author Friedrich Dὒrrenmatt entitled “Hercules in the Augean Stables” which was performed by a British theatre company and attracted the attention of the Royal Shakespeare Company. In 1965, while on a fellowship in Berlin, he translated a seminal work by the post-war German writer Peter Weiss called “The Investigation” which was based on the Frankfurt Auschwitz trials. This play was very relevant to the period since the statute of limitations on war crimes was scheduled to expire that year and theatre companies around the world were looking for works on that subject to perform.

Alex was very involved in the radical activist movements of the 1960s and published a book called The Untold 60s: When Hope was Born based on his activist experiences in Europe and the U.S.  During this period he edited major underground newspapers in London, New York, Berlin and Amsterdam. He also founded The Art Workers Coalition, a group of radical artist activists who demonstrated in New York and elsewhere. In the 1980s, Alex studied Chinese language and culture with an emphasis on Chinese medical techniques.

Alex’s advice to new translators is to “study, study, study” and “learn, learn, learn” and, if possible, live in the culture you are translating. He also cited a book called Translation Matters by the German-American translator Jost Zetzsche as a work of particular interest to translators who wish to work with computers. The book contains stories and essays collected over a fifteen year period about  the importance of translation in our world and how translation tools and technology are the changing the craft.

Alex believes that translation is “primal” to our lives in helping to foster communication and understanding among people. Thank you, Alex, for sharing your fascinating and multi-faceted translation career with the Circle.

Important Elements of a Multi-Language Video Subtitling Project

by: Andrea F. González Ocando and Deborah Avril Lockhart

Deborah Lockhart

Andrea F. González Ocando

Andrea F. González Ocando

Multi-Language Video Subtitling is a type of audiovisual translation often referred to as “subordinate translation.” This is because the translation process is constrained by specific technical parameters of the project, including but not limited to the number of characters allowed per line and per subtitle, minimum and maximum on-screen durations, and reading speed, which refers to the average number of characters per second that the audience is able to read. These technical parameters are time-and-space restrictions that affect the final result on different levels.

Additionally, the translation of audio-visual files is influenced by two sources of information that add meaning and context to dialogue — content that is heard (audio) and content that is seen (video). This can be both beneficial and problematic to the process. On the one hand, audio and video content provides extra-linguistic pieces of information that are often crucial for understanding some dialogues, references, concepts, puns, and jokes. On the other hand, due to the project’s parameters, there are cases in which it is difficult to include everything that is heard in the audio or seen in the video. The subtitling team may encounter spoken content that is very fast paced in the video or long passages of text, notes, headlines, etc., appearing on screen in a short period of time. When this happens, it is almost impossible for the team to include all of the information that was conveyed without violating the time-and-space restrictions mentioned above. For these reasons, subtitling is a daunting task.

Below, we will discuss important elements of a multi-language video subtitling project.

Project Evaluation

In order to evaluate your project, you must check all variables. These include duration, video quality, number of speakers, intelligibility, number of files, target language and on-screen specifications. Durations of previewed videos in a file sharing service such as Dropbox can be different (usually shorter) than actual durations when you download the files and open them. Therefore, make sure you download, open and check the duration of each file so there are no surprises when you are wrapping up the project.

Team Assembly/Connection

Before you consider how your team will look, you must have an idea of what it will take to complete the work. This means breaking down the project into stages and considering particularities such as deadline, budget, specifications, etc. It is advisable to work with experienced providers. You will also need to connect team members so that they may share terminology, and scheduling information such as delivery timelines, etc. The team will also need to be in touch with each other in order to standardize parameters as well.


When you prepare your proposal, you must consider the output of the video. A transcript corresponding to one hour of video will yield approximately 10,000 words. You will need to estimate the time spent doing each portion of the project.


1. Preparation of the Transcript

This step comes first because the audio content in each video needs to be recorded in print before anything else can be done with the project.

2. Segmenting the Transcript

The segmenting process consists of breaking down the transcript and any relevant existing on-screen text into smaller sections or segments, following syntax and grammar rules to add line breaks at logical places in order to ensure and improve readability. Depending on the project and the purpose of the videos, these segments can have a maximum of two lines and their length may vary from 29 characters to 42 characters per line, including spaces, for a total amount of 58 to 84 characters per segment or subtitle.

3. Spotting

After the segmenting process is complete, all of the segments are introduced into a specialized computer software application where the time-codes are created and formatted so that the final spotted file can be used as a subtitling file. These time-codes indicate when the subtitles should appear and disappear, as well as other technical elements, such as their position if there is on-screen text overlapping. Time-codes are manually adjusted to ensure the best possible accuracy. At this point, the segments are ready to be translated.

4. Translation of Segmented Transcript

In the translation step, it is important to make sure that the text flows naturally and that it respects the style and linguistic features of the original text, such as register and language conventions. Also, due to technical requirements and specific parameters such as number of characters per line and reading speed, the translator always has to try to summarize the spoken dialogue in the most efficient way to create concise and easy-to-read subtitles. Some say that subtitles represent only two thirds of the spoken dialogue. However, at times – for example, when subtitling a training video that might contain very long nouns, omissions might lead to misunderstandings. The subtitling team must manipulate the time-codes and try to include as much information as possible (except for redundancies and hesitations). Nonetheless, as a general rule, the translator needs to summarize, depending on the specific parameters of the project, for the audience to be able to read and have access to all of the meanings rather than include every word.

5. Simulation

The simulation phase consists of ensuring that the translated subtitles in the subtitled video file meet all of the project’s requirements. In this step, the final deliverable is reviewed. Time-coding and synchronization are tweaked, as necessary, during the proofreading and editing of the text.

6. Burning Subtitles

Finally, after the translated subtitles have been reviewed, proofread and edited, it is time to insert them into the video. When it comes to subtitle output, there are two possible methods. The first is the hardcoding or hard burn method, which writes the subtitles on top of the image so they will be permanently displayed over the video. The second method is the soft burn, which allows you to turn the subtitles on or off as required, as they will be a separate selectable track in the output file. This second method allows you to have multiple tracks available for subtitles in different languages.

7. Uploading/Sharing

The final translated videos can be shared through Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, WeTransfer or any other cloud-based file transfer service, or via an encrypted file-transfer service, such as Firefox Send.


In closing, it must be said that certain characteristics must be present for the successful execution of a subtitling project. They are commitment to quality, respect for deadlines, constant communication and flexibility. Add these to a clear working knowledge and understanding of each respective piece of the project, and success will be inevitable.

Co-authored by Andrea F. González Ocando and Deborah Avril Lockhart 

A Venezuelan native, Andrea F. González Ocando has been a freelance translator, editor, and proofreader since 2013. She holds a B.A. in English/Spanish and French/Spanish Translation from Universidad Central de Venezuela; a Diploma in Teaching Spanish as a Second Language and a Diploma in Advanced French Language (DALF). She specializes in audiovisual translation (subtitling, dubbing, and closed captioning), and localization. She has worked for several direct clients and translation companies, and she has translated and subtitled over 5,500 minutes of video for movies, TV series, and documentaries.

Deborah Lockhart is the founder and director of operations of The Language Shop. She graduated from the University of the West Indies with a B.A. Degree (with Honours) in History with Language and Literature. She launched her translation and interpreting career working for government offices in Antigua and Barbuda. Her other clients included the Venezuelan and US embassies, various commercial and professional entities, and individuals seeking immigration-related translation services. After nine years, she moved to New York, where she worked as a freelance translator and legal secretary. At The Language Shop, which she founded in 2006, she directs project managers and team leaders to provide all language support to the Company’s diverse, worldwide clientele. Deborah speaks English, Jamaican Patois and other Caribbean Creoles, Spanish, French and basic Arabic. She also served as treasurer of the New York Circle of Translators in 2006.

Meet the Translator: Renata Stein

Renata Stein is an ATA-accredited German to English translator, museum curator and multi-media artist. A native of Berlin, she came to the US in 1983 as a visiting scholar after having finished her Master’s Degree in Germany. Her academic specialization was American, Russian and English literature and she wrote her thesis on autobiographies by Russian Jews who fled from Czarist Russia to the U.S.   

Renata joined the Circle in 1984. She recalls that a sizable portion of the membership at that time was comprised of older European refugees from Germany and Eastern Europe, many of whom had fled Nazi persecution. The Circle brought together like-minded individuals with various language skills and diverse technical backgrounds. She particularly recalls Helmut Leuffen, an experienced banker, and Philippe Jerome, a technical translator. The Circle’s monthly meetings were enjoyable social occasions which were held in various ethnic restaurants around the city; lectures were organized as well. She also remembers the summer picnics which were sometimes held at Laurie Treuhaft’s family home in New Jersey.  

Renata’s interest in literature initially set her career path as a translator in motion. Her translation assignments grew out of her diverse work experience, including her involvement in the arts. She worked as Art Director of a film company in NYC that specialized in educational and children’s films where she did subtitling and also narrated several children’s films.

Her position as curator of the Leo Baeck Institute, a partner organization of the Center for Jewish History in Chelsea dedicated to documenting the history and culture of German-speaking Jews, frequently required translating German archival documents into English.  During her 20-year tenure, she curated well over forty exhibitions on a wide range of topics, including Starting Over, on the impact of German Jews in America and Perils of Prominence, about Jews in the Weimar Republic. While at the Institute, she was also often called upon by scholars and historians to translate their publications.

Some of her other projects include:

  • The diaries of Wilhelm Hesse, father of noted sculptor Eva Hesse, depicting the childhood of his daughters Eva and Helen.
  • the translation of the autobiography of a prominent  German-Jewish banker written for his family.
  • work on the documentary, Lodz Ghetto: A Community Under Siege, (1989) by Alan Adelson and Robert Lapides, for which she translated historical documents and eye witness accounts of life in the ghetto.
  • translation of interviews with German-Jewish survivors of Nazi Germany used in the book version of We Were So Beloved: Autobiography of a German Jewish Community that was originally released as a documentary film by Manfred Kirchheimer (1985).

Renata’s current projects include the translation of a catalog for an exhibition at the Bröhan museum in Berlin on the influence of the Bauhaus movement on Nordic design. Her translation of Rachel Wischnitzer’s 1935 book Form and Symbols in Jewish Art will also be published before the end of 2019.

Acknowledging the difficulty of making a living from translation in today’s marketplace, Renata’s advice to fledgling translators is to find a niche for which they are uniquely qualified and “to go for it.” She also advocates reading widely and frequently to improve your own writing skills and, most importantly, to exchange information with colleagues.

Thank you, Renata, for sharing your translation experiences with the Circle. See renatastein.com to find out more about Renata’s mixed-media artworks.

The Machines are Coming! A Look at Machine Translation with Jon Ritzdorf

By: Kate Deimling

On May 20, 2019, Jon Ritzdorf gave a presentation on machine translation at the NYCT’s monthly meeting. Ritzdorf, a long-time friend of the Circle, is the Senior Solutions Architect and Machine Translation lead at RWS Moravia and also teaches translation technology at institutions including the University of Maryland, the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, and NYU. In a very engaging presentation to a full house, Ritzdorf covered the history of machine translation (MT), gave a demonstration of its use, and described its limitations and potential.

History and Future of MT

            MT has gone through several phases. The first MT, invented in the 1950s, was “rules-based,” meaning that researchers attempted to “teach” the computer all the rules of the languages it was translating. This system was not very effective. The next phase, known as the “statistical” or “phrase-based” model, came about in the 2000s. Using the resources of the internet, it was based on a corpus of samples in source and target languages, with no rules involved. Now, we have “neural MT.” This is not a drastic step beyond statistical MT, but millions of aligned training data are needed.

Ritzdorf pointed out that MT definitely needs human post-editing. While it has improved vastly in the last 10 years, there are still adequacy issues: it can leave out sentences, or make a negative statement into an affirmative one. He specified that MT should not be used in high-risk situations (where a financial penalty or life-or-death consequences could be involved). He predicts that CAT tools will be gone in 10 years (and he is not alone in saying this).

Evaluating MT Results

            In order to evaluate a machine translation, we need a triplet sample: a source text, a human translation of this text, and a machine translation of this text. Using a sample French source and an English translation provided by NYCT vice president Kate Deimling, Ritzdorf produced MT translations of the same text using five MT engines: Google Translate, Amazon Translate, Microsoft Translate, Deepl Pro, and Systran PNMT. There are several approaches to evaluating a machine translation. BLEU (bilingual evaluation understudy) is a metric available online that compares the overlap between the machine translation and the human translation.

Using BLEU gives the machine translation a score between 1-100. Ritzdorf recommends the following breakdown:

Score below 40 – Do not use (30-40 could be OK but heavy editing will be necessary)

Score of 40-50 – Very useable, post-editing necessary

Score of 50 – Good, involves some post-editing

Score of 60 – Very good, not much effort to correct

A score of above 70 is practically impossible, as not even two human translations will overlap 70 percent or more.

            The French sample analyzed in the meeting was from a report on asylum policy in Europe. Four of the five MT engines produced scores ranging from 45 to 47, meaning that this could be a time-saving method for translating this text.

Do We Want to Be Translators or Post-Editors?

            However, as some members brought up after the meeting, even if it may save time, MT replaces the experience of translating with the experience of post-editing. Generally, translators have chosen this profession because we enjoy the challenges of thinking through the translation process. And many translators do not accept jobs editing other people’s translations because these kinds of corrections are tedious to make. As a post-editor, the translator will need to compare the original with the translation to make sure no meaning was lost. Then stylistic changes will be necessary. For instance, in the sample analyzed, the heading “the lottery of asylum” will need to be changed to “the asylum lottery.”

My personal opinion is that, for now, many translators will choose to forgo MT and focus on fields where it will not be used or will be slow to penetrate. Many clients are skeptical of MT and have confidence in the expertise of human translators. Although there is a huge corpus of materials on the web for MT to learn from, much of it is not of good quality. In particular, quality writing and creativity are needed in the fields of marketing and advertising, journalism and reports, and literary translation. Also, due to security and confidentiality concerns, much legal and medical translation will not be appropriate for MT.

Helpful Resources

            However, if MT is indeed the wave of the future, translators may need to come to terms with it and learn to be post-editors, just as many translators previously found it necessary to learn CAT tools. Many of us have already been asked by agencies we work with if we are willing to do post-editing. For more information, NYCT members can log in to the member area of the Circle’s website and go to our meeting archives for audio of the presentation and a PDF of his slides that Jon Ritzdorf kindly provided to us. In the meeting archives, you will also find links to useful resources such as the BLEU scores of the translation sample that was analyzed, MT engines available online, and the online BLEU scoring metric. Ritzdorf suggests that translators can run BLEU evaluations on samples of texts they’ve already translated to get a feel for how useful MT may be as we enter this brave new world.

NYCT vice-president Kate Deimling has been a freelance French-to-English translator for over 12 years, after obtaining a Ph.D. in French from Columbia University and working in academia. ATA-certified since 2009, she specializes in advertising and marketing, art and culture, international development, and fiction and non-fiction. She has spoken on translation at Duke University and the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey and has translated books on wine, fashion, and art history. She also directs the Circle’s mentoring program, which she founded in 2015. 

Women in Translation Month: Two Works by Natalia Ginzburg

On September 16, 2019 the translator Minna Zallman Proctor spoke at the bookstore 192 Books about her new translation of Natalia Ginzburg’s novel Happiness as Such, which was recently published by New Directions Press. Also speaking at the event was the acclaimed author Vivian Gornick who read one of Ginzburg’s most well known essays.

Ms. Proctor, the author of Landslide and the editor of The Literary Review, won the PEN/Renato Poggioli Award for her translation of Federigo Tozzi’s Love in Vain. Ms. Gornick, whose book Fierce Attachments was recently named by the New York Times as the best memoir of the past 50 years, is also the author of the bestselling memoir The Odd Woman and the City

Natalia Ginzburg was born to a Jewish father and a Catholic mother in Palermo in 1916. She grew up in Turin where her father Giuseppe Levi was a professor at the University. The family home was a meeting place for the intellectual and cultural leaders of the period. In 1938 the author married Leone Ginzburg, a Russian Jew and a Slavic studies scholar. He lost his position at the University of Turin because of the racial laws that had been promulgated in Italy that discriminated against Jews. When the Nazis invaded Italy, the Ginzburgs and their three children were exiled to the Abruzzi region of Italy. Eventually returning to Rome and then Turin, Leone Ginzburg continued his underground resistance activity and was eventually captured, tortured and executed by the Nazis. 

Ms. Proctor read the first chapter of Happiness as Such which was originally published in Italy in 1973 as Caro Michele (Dear Michele). The book is written primarily as a series of letters exchanged between members of a family whose only son fled Italy to escape the consequences of his radical politics. It speaks about the difficulties the family faces in coming to terms with what was a traumatic event in their lives. The letters encapsulate the love, hate, and confusion that characterize much of everyday domestic life. It was mentioned during the presentation that the book was not well received in Italy when it was published; it was seen as making fun of the chaotic political situation in Italy at that time.

Vivian Gornick read one of Ginzburg’s most famous essays, He and I, which was originally published in Italy in 1962 in a collection of essays entitled Le Piccole Virtu’ (The Little Virtues).The essay isbased on Ginzburg’s second marriage to Gabriele Baldini, a professor of English in Trieste.  The interactions between husband and wife of which Ginzburg writes seem to be marked by the husband’s domineering nature and the wife’s diffidence in the fact of that fact.  The wife compares herself to her brilliant and charismatic husband and seems to find herself wanting. Yet at the end of the essay, the author writes with sympathy about a day twenty years before when the couple walked through town together, still young and in love and able to judge each other “with kind impartiality.” The absence of an overtly feminist voice in the story should probably be viewed in the context of the period in which it was written (the 1960’s). 

After the reading, Ms. Gornick pointed out the restraint and the lack of sentiment in Ginzburg’s writing. Despite having survived the torture and death of her first husband, the family’s exile in the Abruzzi and the suicide of her friend, the poet and novelist Cesare Pavese, her language remains minimalist, almost conversational. Ms.Proctor made the interesting point that while the author often writes out of grief, her deceptively simple style may be a way of keeping intense grief at bay. It is interesting to note, however, that while Ginzburg is not noted as a comic writer, many of the listeners in the room enjoyed the ironic and highly witty passages that were nevertheless present in both of these works.

There has been a resurgence of interest in Ginzburg’s writings in the English speaking world over recent years. Based on the readings of these two works and the enthusiastic reception by those who attended the event, this resurgence is more than justified.