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Not that I don't believe that outsourcing can happen in technical writing,
but I think that the companies that try it are going to be in for a rude
awakening when they get back manuals that are written in poor or even
unrecognizable English. This is not to say that no one in India and other
countries could do an acceptable job of writing in English. I'm sure that
there are many who could. However, I would imagine that the pool of
competent English-as-a-Second-Language writers is small, and companies in
the U.S. would quickly find themselves scraping the bottom of the barrel
of foreign writers looking for someone who even remotely understands
English. In that case, they will definitely get what they pay for.
To illustrate how things get lost in translation, I tried a little
experiment using a free online translation program. I translated a
sentence into Spanish, then translated the results back into English using
the same program. I don't speak Spanish other than a few quotes from "Dora
the Explorer," so I don't know if the first translation was very good, but
I'm making that assumption. For arguments' sake, I'm pretending that this
re-translation might be equivalent to the level of competence of an
average native-Spanish writer who also happens to speak some English.
- The front panel display shows the printer's operating status
and allows you to change settings as needed to work with your
media and label formats.
TRANSLATED INTO SPANISH
- El despliegue anterior del entrepano muestra la impresora's
que opera la posicion y lo permite cambiar los escenarios
necesitaron como trabajar con sus formatos de medios y etiqueta.
TRANSLATED BACK INTO ENGLISH
- The unfold previous of the entrepano shows the printer's that
operates the position and permits it to change the settings
needed as working with its formats of media and label.
Repeat with me--HUH???
Rather than panicking as English-speaking technical writers and finding
new professions, I think we should concentrate on learning other
languages. That way, if our jobs are outsourced to other countries, we can
be available on the sidelines to help edit the resulting manuals into more
standard English or to translate them from the native language of the
original writer. In the next few years (before all of our jobs
theoretically disappear), each of us should be able to become somewhat
fluent in something other than English. If you see lemons on the horizon,
start making ice cubes and get out the sugar!
I was out of the workforce for two years after a layoff, but I always seem
to have optimism and enthusiasm to spare. If only I could bottle the
Technical Writer II
Vernon Hills, IL
A DEFINITION OF OPTIMISM: Rather than running around yelling, "The sky is
falling!" ask yourself what you can make or do with pieces of fallen sky.
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