If you follow me on social media, you’ll know that recently my two colleagues and I won the ITI Award for best performance on a translation assignment. Together with Magdalena Herok-Broughton and Aleksandra J. Chlon I had a pleasure of working on a very interesting and important project – a Scots-Polish dictionary app. Funded by the Scottish Government, the dictionary has been created by Dictionaries of the Scots Language SCIO, the main authority on the Scots language.
I got involved in July 2021, when Aleksandra messaged me and said she’d been offered the project revision and wanted to know if I’d be keen to join the team. It sounded very interesting, so I accepted straight away. Soon enough I was video chatting with Jan McNeillie from scriever, an Edinburgh-based publishing company specializing in foreign languages and digital publications.
By the time I joined the project, the dictionary workload had already been assigned to Magdalena, whom I didn’t know at the time. There was still plenty to do for me, as the scope exceeded translation alone – all three of us acted more as linguistic and cultural consultants. And it was incredibly enjoyable.
My first task was to work on the Scottish geography labels. These can be tricky, as a few regions (like Scottish Borders) don’t have Polish translations. To be absolutely sure, I consulted the glossary published by the Polish Head Office of Geodesy and Cartography. I had learnt about that resource during my traineeship at the European Parliament and I often use it in my work.
As słownik podstawowy is an app, rather than using phonetic alphabet like with a print dictionary, there was scope for providing audio guides. However, first we needed to decide which ones from the 9,500 entries to record. My job was to go through all of the terms from the dictionary and decide which ones would be tricky for a Polish speaker. And, believe me, there were a lot.
I was supposed to pick maximum of 900 terms. When I realised there were more words on my list than that, I asked scriever if there would be any written guide in the app – many terms included the same clusters of letters and providing information about those would be more efficient. In the end, I picked just over 500 terms and sent the client a list of letter combinations that would be difficult to pronounce. Fun fact: people who see Polish writing often moan about the number of consonants in our words. For Poles it’s the Scots vowels that are problematic.
The biggest part of my workload was translating the app store information, guides on using the app and – the most enjoyable section – culture notes. Having lived in Scotland for almost 13 years, I already knew quite a few traditions. However, I still learnt a lot. For example, I wasn’t familiar with the Shetland festival Up Helly Aa, the Orkney Kirkwall Ba or the Burning of the Clavie custom.
My cultural expertise was nevertheless essential for the project. In the Burns Night entry, I added more information about haggis, neeps and tatties, and included a Polish-specific reference – I’ve heard many Poles compare haggis to kaszanka, but I explained that the spices and herb used in haggis make the dish taste completely different (I’d say that kaszanka is much closer to black pudding!).
Throughout our collaboration, Jan consulted with me about ideas for the project and I’m very happy that my suggestion for adding a note about Irn-Bru made it to the app. I’ve had many Polish visitors over the years and all of them are always very curious about this peculiarly coloured drink. My mum, who's a teacher, even brought some back for her students so that they could try some!
Translation is far from transferring a word in one language into a word in another one – it’s conveying the meaning of the text, explaining the culture and adding information that would be a helpful for our target readers.
And that’s why machine translation cannot compare to people –
we bring value Google Translate can only dream* of providing.
Fancy checking out the app? Download it and have a browse!
And before I go, I just wanted to say huge congratulations to Anna Stevenson from scriever, whose translation of Oliver Giroud's autobiography has scored it the International Autobiography of the Year award at Sports Book Awards!
P.S. Additionally to our team award, the ITI has also given me a special commendation for a project I had completed for another client. A blog post about it will follow. Subscribe to my monthly newsletter to make sure you don’t miss it!
*And it can’t even do that. Useless! 😉