Posted by: patenttranslator | January 18, 2011

Hoc Erat in Votis: A Well Equipped Translator’s Home Office (With a View of a Meadow Or a Garden with Trees and Blooming Flowers)

Hoc erat in votis, modus agri, non ita magnus hortus ubi et tecto vicinus jugis aquae fons et paullum silvae super his foret. Auctius atque di melius fecere. Bene est. Nil amplius oro …  Q. Horatius Flaccus (Horace), Satires, II.6 This is what I prayed for  — a piece of land not very large, where there would be a garden, and near the house a spring of ever-flowing water, and also a bit of a wood. More and better than this have the gods done for me. I am content. Nothing more do I ask …

This is what a Roman poet wrote in the time of Augustus, more than two thousand years ago. People have not really changed all that much since then.

The only thing that Horace forgot to ask for and that this patent translator would absolutely need to have would be a computer with Internet access and a very, very comfortable chair. The chair is in fact even more important than the high-speed Internet access. Sometime I have to work more than 10 hours a day when I am on a particularly brutal deadline. I have to make breaks, of course, get up and walk around the house, get another cup of coffee. Translation requires long periods of heightened concentration of the kind that cannot be forced when you are tired. I find that if I sit in a different chair and work on a different computer, I feel refreshed and ready for a few more minutes or hours of what looks like senseless pounding at the keyboard, which certainly could be one description of what translating would look like to an outsider.

I have two desktop computers in my main home office and I switch between them often because by doing so, I can sit in a different chair at a slightly different angle, and I also have a different view as each workstation is near a different window. I also have another desktop in what used to be my son’s room and what became my second office now that both of my sons finally managed to escape from the largely benevolent tyranny of their parents. And sometime, usually towards the evening, I switch to my laptop which I can use while actually lying on the sofa, or on the counter in our double vanity bathroom.The bathroom has the best light and the best view in the house thanks to a glass wall and a window overlooking a pond, a garden, and a forest, just like Horace wrote in the Satires.

But still more and better than this have the gods done for me. Unlike some other workers, translators can listen to music when they translate. Nobody minds when we do that, so why not? Music ruins my concentration usually only when it has a heavy beat to it, which is why I mostly listen to New Age or classical music, although sometime I switch to oldies from fifties through seventies.

Because I usually listen to Internet radio stations, I purchased for 20 dollars a USB Internet radio adaptor from Aluratek. I have my favorite stations saved on this adaptor and I can continue listening to the same music regardless of which computer I happen to be working on. Some days I listen to a French or Russian station to escape from the English language only ghetto of American music stations (, or relax FM from Russia), usually in late afternoon because it is night in France and Russia by then and they don’t talk much at night and mostly just play music. I recently discovered a great station in Bratislava, Slovakia, called for some strange reason “Mixing of  Particulate Solids”, which plays really weird music all the time, without any interruptions with speech whatsoever. Most of the time this music is a perfect accompaniment for translating Japanese and German patents. But I keep discovering new stations with music that is perfect for pounding on the keyboard while translating, and discard old stations, sometime temporarily and sometime for good.

The one problem that translators have, of course, is that there are so many distractions on the Internet. You can read newspapers (although I usually just look for articles of my favorite columnists), or read and write blog posts and look for things that have nothing to do with your translation whenever something occurs to you as you translate.

But I have a solution for this problem too. Although translating may be the source of my income, the only source, in fact, there is no need to regard it as my main activity while thinking that listening to music or reading a book or something on the Internet are mere distractions. If I consider the various “distracting” activities that I engage in frequently during a typical day as important (or unimportant) as the work that I do, than I was not really wasting my time if I have just written a long blog about nothing, was I? And if I still somehow manage to translate a few thousand words while having spent half of my day or so reading, writing and listening to strange music, then I can still pay bills, which is kind of important too.


  1. Nil amplius oro… a beautiful quotation, indeed, Steve. My wife has a beautiful summer house in an area you might know from your childhood–about 40 km southwest of Prague, in the Bohemian Woods, as it were, near the “Brdy”. It is now her daughter’s but once or twice a year we retire there, and I really enjoy the simple country life with a view of the lush garden and the forest just beyond. We would go there more often, were it not for lack of a decent Internet connection.

    Now, on a different theme. I finally found a solution to the problem of sitting at my desk, immovable, for hours on end. I use speech recognition (Dragon Naturally Speaking) over a wireless headset. This gives me the freedom to walk around the room while I dictate. I just resize the font on my monitor so I can see it from a greater distance, and I set up a second (wireless) keyboard and mouse on a cupboard so I won’t have to sit down at my desk whenever something needs manual intervention. After getting the hang of dictating, my productivity really took off–not only on account of Speech Recognition but also because I feel far more fresh and alert, especially during the leaden afternoon hours.

    An added bonus: I can listen to music over my headset while I amble through my room, gaze out the window and dictate. You can’t get much more hedonistic than that!


  2. I have nice woods behind my house here in Virginia too. Plus unlike in Bohemia, I am not too far from the beaches in Virginia Beach. But Bohemian woods are very beautiful too and unlike here, I don’t remember many ticks over there.

    I don’t think that I could use speech recognition for translating Japanese, although a friend of mine tried it at one point and said he liked it. So I just migrate between different rooms.

    I often start the English sentence from the end or from the middle and translate segments of sentences in an order which can be easily changed on the screen but probably not on a recording.


  3. Thanks, Steve. Many ticks in the Bohemian Woods in the last few years.

    About SR–if your language pair is Japanese->English, SR is no problem as you would be dictating in English. By “dictating” I mean dictating directly into an editable document on your computer rather than on a recording device or into a sound file. You dictate, your computer types what you say, almost simultaneously. I use SDLX for a CAT tool and dictate my translation into the segment that I would normally type into.

    In your case, you could start your sentence in the middle, then continue at the end, at the start or at any other place in the sentence. All you need to do is put your cursor in the appropriate place as you would for typing. I do this frequently for long legal clauses, works like typing, only much faster.


  4. Yes, I think I should look into SR. Thanks for your tips.

    The growing population of ticks in Bohemian woods is alarming.

    It may have something to do with Czechs’ entry into European Union – nobody stops ticks on the border any more.


  5. Love this post and your music recommendation… I’m listening to Particulate Solids right now! Interesting also that you would assign this post to culture & propaganda, or even that you would use culture and propaganda in the same tag line.


  6. Thank you for your comment.

    I believe that we live in a world where culture is propaganda and propaganda is culture.

    For example, how many commercials and advertisements do you see on a daily basis? Ten, twenty, thirty, more? Most of them are mostly lies (you could call them propaganda), and yet, you can’t get away from this propaganda in this culture. And it does not really matter that much which country you happen to be living in, although it is probably worse here than for instance in Germany.


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