Pair translation?

Pair programming is the practice of two programmers working collaboratively at one work station. One person types while the other watches and gives advice, with frequent switches.

I've pair programmed before, and I've found that — perhaps counterintuitively — we actually got more work done than if we had worked alone, and the work was of better quality.

I wonder if this could be applied to translation as well: pair translation. Has anybody tried this? You might say that it wouldn't work because translation is such a slow process, but programmers only average a few hundred lines of code in a day, which is much less than translators' output, and they still get benefits.

The closest I've come to pair translation is when I was in the military as a "Spanish linguist." We'd frequently pair up with trainees, sometimes with us typing and the trainee watching, and sometimes the other way around. We called this "sitting sidesaddle."

Today, tools are improving to the point where even remote collaboration in the "pair translation" style should be possible. There are ways to share computer screens and chat live. I'm hoping to try out "pair translation" sometime.

8 comments to Pair translation?

  • Kevin Kirton

    It’s not every day that you come across a completely new idea, but I’ve never even dreamed of pair translation. But I imagine it would have benefits. Motivation is probably better in pairs. One eye on the screen and two brains for the translating would probably catch a lot of errors in the first draft.

  • The writer-pair Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins have collaborated in quite a number of books, such as Freedom at Midnight, Oh Jerusalem, Is Paris burning and so on.

    Their modus operandi is as follows.

    Larry will write a chapter in English and hand it over to Dominique for its French translation. Similarly Dominique will write another chapter in French and Larry will translate it into English. In this way the entire book will be covered and at the end of the day the book will be original in English as well as in French. No one else will know who wrote which chapter.

    Can this be termed as an example for your post?

    N. Raghavan

  • @N. Raghavan

    This is a bit different. I’m talking about simultaneously working on the same translation. Literally one person typing, and the other watching, checking for errors, offering suggestions, discussing tough passages, etc.

    It kind of compresses the translation/editing step into one pass, and makes sure that the editor knows what the translator meant; the editor actually checks each translated sentence instead of succumbing to the temptation to skim; and enables the editor to spot mistranslations before the translator goes off onto a tangent. And of course, the roles would switch several times over the course of the translation. This would also allow translators to learn from each other.

  • Jonas

    Actually my Girlfriend and I did this when doing translation homework for university classes (we were often taking the same classes). But we never made the connection to pair programming, despite having computer science as our second major.

    It did speed up translating and improved (at least subjectively) the quality of the translation quite a bit. It made parsing long sentences easier, and we often had heated discussions how something should be translated. But we never did this professionally.

  • @Jonas

    Interesting, thanks! Are you both native speakers of the same language, or was one a native speaker of the target and the other of the source?

  • What a fascinating idea – as a process it sounds intriguing. I’ve never heard of pair translation before, but it would be great to find examples of translators who work like this.

  • A new concept indeed! My twin and I just have our not-so-progressive-sounding-anymore twin-editing technique; which is a five-step translation process. However, we never sit next to each other and work at the same time, mostly due to the fact that we live in different countries. Might be worth a try; we will be working together for 2 whole months this summer. Off the top of my head, I think it would actually decrease my productivity, but it is worth a shot for sure. Thanks for sharing.

  • Thanks a for a great post that awakens an old memory: I and my colleague did something similar a couple of times when I worked in-house at a software company in Germany, when working on particularly urgent translations. Before I joined the company it’s how he first did most of the localisation, with an English-speaking programmer as the other half of his pair. It was a combination of pair translation and pair programming, and it meant that i18n errors could be pinpointed and often corrected immediately. Although I work with my wife now, I don’t think we’d be any more productive working this way – probably just argue (discuss) more! 😉

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