Booth-friendly terminology management:

Believe it or not, only a few weeks ago I came across just another booth-friendly terminology management program (or rather it was kindly brought to my attention by a student when I talked about the subject at Heidelberg University). It has been around since 2008 and completely escaped my attention. So I am all the happier to present today yet another player on the scene of interpreter-friendly terminology management tools:

Glossarmanager by Glossarmanager GbR/Frank Brempel (Bonn, Germany)

As the name suggests, in Glossarmanager terms are organised in different glossaries, each glossary including the data fields language 1 („Sprache 1“), language 2 („Sprache 2“), synonym, antonym, picture and comment. The number of working languages in each glossary is limited to two (or three if you decide to use the synonyms column for a third language). Each glossary can also be subdivided into chapters („Kapitel“).

Glossarmanager GlossarEdit

You may import and export rtf, csv and txt files, so basically anything that formerly was a text or table/spreadsheet document, and the import function is very user-friendly (it lets you insert the new data into an existing glossary and checks new entries against existing ones, or create a new glossary).

The vocab training module requires typing in and is very unforgiving, so each typo or other deviation from what is written in the database counts as a mistake. But if you are not put off by the nasty comments („That was rubbish“, „Please concentrate!“) or the even nastier learning record, you may well use this trainer as a mental memorising tool without typing the required terms.

The search module comes as a small window which, if you want it to, always stays in the foreground. Entering search terms is intuitive and mouse-free and the results can be filtered by language pairs, glossaries and authors. Ignoring of special characters like ü, è, ß etc. and case-sensitive search can be activated. Right under the hit list, Glossarmanager provides (customisable) links to online resources for further searching.

Glossarmanager Suche

Available for Windows

Cost: Free of charge (download here and use the free licence key)


About the author:
Anja Rütten is a freelance conference interpreter for German (A), Spanish (B), English (C) and French (C) based in Düsseldorf, Germany. She has specialised in knowledge management since the mid-1990s.


The Future of Interpreting & Translating – Professional Precariat or Digital Elite?

Interpreters being paid by the minute (or hour) nowadays does not seem as inconceivable as it used to be. Technically speaking, small worktime and payment units have become easier to handle, thus more probable to be applied. The question arises if working and being paid on a micro or macro level, as the two extremes, bring about any special advantages or disadvantages for interpreters/translators and their customers – a question I would like to share some thoughts with you about, paying special attention to the information and knowledge aspect.

Knowledge work

Interpreters and translators are knowledge workers constantly moving back and forth between different linguistic and technical knowledge systems. In order to do so, they rely on their own knowledge base being complemented by external information sources. This consultation of external sources is what I call “secondary knowledge work”, it is performed in order to properly perform the actual, primary knowledge work, i.e. the interpreting assignment or translation at hand. Interpreters do so mainly during preparation and, to a limited extent, on the job when doing ad hoc research and after the job while a translator’s secondary knowledge work tends to be more intermittent and less clearly distinguishable from the primary task of translating.

primary and secondary knowledge work in interpreting

Macro knowledge work

What interpreters need to know in order to interpret a certain speech goes far beyond the text itself both technically, linguistically and pragmatically. In a macro knowledge work scenario, they have indeed acquired this knowledge. Ideally (but not necessarily) they are all-round language service providers to companies and organisations – cooperating if need be with a team of freelance colleagues – taking care of anything ranging from translations (documentation, website, brochures, meeting documents, even short emails) and terminology to interpretation of meetings, sales events, negotiations and short phone calls. Micro work elements like interpreting (or making) the said phone call, answering spontaneous terminological questions or translating single sentences smoothly integrate into the macro level of long-term, relatively large-volume language service provision. There is no need for extensive secondary knowledge work in order to familiarise with the respective industry, company products, background and intentions of the persons involved and the company terminology and typical jargon, the background knowledge as a decisive production factor having been acquired (and financed) in the course of the long-term cooperation. Primary and secondary knowledge work go hand in hand. In this scenario, a company may well draw from the extensive insight the interpreter or translator has and rely on their professional judgement and advice.

Micro knowledge work

Sometimes the cost and effort of recruiting a proper specialist would by far exceed the benefit. This is the case when no context knowledge is required to fulfil the task or when quality simply does not pay off. If the customer lives off selling very cheap products and needs multilingual categorising or key word finding for tons of products just to feed the search engines, then less quality for less money is a business case. A company may give thousands of words to a dozen translators and have them translated in no time, saving time and money by not investing in the meaningful translation of a text that, after all, has a very life-expectancy.

When confidential matters are interpreted, like in medical or legal interpreting, the customer would rather see the insight gained by the interpreter disappear without traces from the interpreter’s memory, just like current assets in a factory, rather than make use of it.

Under certain circumstances context knowledge may even be a caveat when, for example, unbiased and unprejudiced views are required and, in the opinion of the customer, an informed interpreter might be prejudiced and render a pre-filtered version of what is being said on the basis of what he or she considers important or unimportant.

In all these cases, no secondary knowledge work is required, and everyone is just fine with the interpreter mentally operating within a confined space of information. However, in most interpreting settings the task becomes extremely difficult without a wider view on the technical, linguistic and pragmatic background.

Macro payment

When remuneration is based on larger units – like in the case of employees’ monthly or annual salaries – the long-term benefit provided to the company or organisation by the employee based on their experience, training, soft skills etc. positively influences the amount being paid (macro payment). The largest usual payment unit for freelance interpreters is a day and for translators an hour (if not paid by the word or line). Without an in-depth survey it is hard to tell whether the knowledge acquired in the long run by the interpreter, as well as the time required for the secondary knowledge work dedicated to a special assignment, are factored in when these fees are calculated. Conference interpreters tend to argue that their daily fees include preparation. However, when analysing the typical cost structures, this often turns out not to be true (see AIIC Blog article about this subject).

Generally speaking, the larger the work volume the smaller will be the proportion of secondary knowledge work in relation to the primary task. This is due to a certain scale effect when working on a macro level, for the effort of familiarisation/knowledge acquisition can be allocated to a larger amount of work. This may be a long and/or repeated assignment or the sum of translation plus interpreting plus any other minor linguistic support like phone calls and emails, provided that these tasks are in a way interrelated. For example,  interpreters being present at a meeting have translated the documentation beforehand or translate the minutes afterwards and also interpret the occasional phone call between the meeting participants. As they are familiar both with the subject matter and with the people involved, they will not have to prepare as much as someone unfamiliar and, more importantly, be able to compensate the loss of visual and contextual information on the phone and read (or hear) between the lines more easily.

Larger work volumes tend to be remunerated in larger payment units. Let’s say a two-day interpreting assignment will hardly be paid by the hour, whereas this might be the case for a two-hour job and a customer might tend to pay a fifty-minute job by the minute. However, if a small one-off project involving a small amount of micro working units (minutes) is not embedded in a long term, macro-type of cooperation but “informed” interpreting is still required then macro payment will be more appropriate in order to account for the secondary knowledge work required. It does not necessarily have to be in big payment units as long as the preparation effort is factored in. However, this may be easier to factor into bigger payment units.

Micro payment

In translation, payment in small units like words or lines (i.e. characters) has been common practice for a long time. In interpreting, it is becoming increasingly popular at least from the customer side what with Voice over IP and remote interpreting techniques. Crowd sourcing platforms offer a superb technical environment for assigning micro jobs and will be happy to inform crowd workers about their excessive pricing (without knowing their cost base) simply based on a comparison of prices indicated by their competitors. With smaller payment units, the focus may be reduced to mere primary knowledge work with the secondary knowledge work being lost out of sight and thus not being factored in both time-wise and financially (micropayment). This may be a sensible thing to do for the reasons mentioned above – basically if the job at hand requires low qualification. It may, however, happen accidentally – i.e. when “informed” macro knowledge work is required and the additional effort of macro knowledge work is not assigned to the small payment units. The idea of working and paying on a macro level while using small payment units may sound contradictory at first. But it works perfectly well for many translators provided they don’t calculate their fees on the basis of some words being typed away. The same goes for interpreting, which might even be charged by the minute as long as the scope of the calculation is not limited to the mere physical presence of the interpreting person. It may, however, be difficult to calculate if the amount of minutes needed is unknown beforehand. If, for example, a price per minute were to be fixed for “over the phone” interpreting, this would have to vary in the extreme according to the number of minutes bought. If the interpreter prepares three hours and charges 80 EUR/hours worked then the price per minute will have to be 240 EUR for one minute interpreted, 48 EUR/minute for five minutes interpreted (not counting the actual minutes of interpretation so far) and 5.50 EUR/minute for 60 minutes interpreted. The principle (and difficulty) of calculating volume discounts becomes quite clear here.

The role of software

Crowd sourcing and job platforms first and foremost facilitate the search for and selection of interpreters and translators for both large and small jobs. In translation business, translation memory systems (if possible cloud-based) may then help in having many different people work on one text simultaneously. On the other hand, those systems also offer positive solutions for long term cooperation with reliable data bases growing over time –a perfect support for efficient macro knowledge work with benefits for both sides. In interpreting, so far no similarly beneficial technical development can be reported, at least not to my knowledge. If there is something I have missed out on, please let me know in the comments!


About the author:
Anja Rütten is a freelance conference interpreter for German (A), Spanish (B), English (C) and French (C) based in Düsseldorf, Germany. She has specialised in knowledge management since the mid-1990s.

In the booth or in the hen house – experts all around | Dolmetschkabine oder Hühnerstall – Expertentum, wohin man schaut | Entre expertos: ya sea en el gallinero o en la cabina de interpretación


+++ for English see below +++ para español, aun más abajo +++

Wie inspirierend der Bau eines Hühnerhäuschens sein kann, erschließt sich eventuell nicht auf den ersten Blick. Wer im Laufe der letzten Monate die Kabine mit mir teilen und meine Hühnerfotos bewundern musste, fragt sich aber vielleicht schon seit Längerem, wann die Hennen denn nun Eingang in diesen Blog finden. Nun denn:

In den vergangenen Herbstferien haben mein Vater, mein Sohn, meine Tochter und ich uns anderthalb Tage mit dem Bau eines Hühnerhauses vertrieben. Mein Vater kommt aus der Saunabau-Branche und verfügt über einen exzessiv gut ausgestatteten Werkraum und es war ein außerordentliches Vergnügen, gemeinsam zu werkeln. Im Nachgang betrachtet fällt mir dabei auf, dass es mir durchaus schön häufiger Freude bereitet hat, Experten bei ihrem Tun auf die Finger zu schauen – ein angenehmer Nebeneffekt der extremen (zunehmenden) Fachlichkeit der meisten Dolmetscheinsätze. Dabei ist mir einerlei, ob ich einem Programmierer, einem Hufschmied, einem Schlachthausinspekteur, einem Patentanwalt oder einem Statistiker zuschauen oder zumindest zuhören darf. Bestimmte Verhaltensmuster scheinen vielen Experten gemein, die ich sowohl bei dem hühnerstallbauenden Saunafachmann als auch bei Konferenzdolmetschern wiederzufinden meine:

  • Wir machen keine halben Sachen. Nicht am Material sparen – kein billiges Sperrholz, sondern ordentliche OSB-Platten. Nicht schnell, schnell, sondern durchdacht. Wir sind immer gut vorbereitet. (Wir mögen weder schlechten Ton noch schlecht sitzende Kopfhörer und noch viel weniger schlechte Informationsversorgung im Vorfeld einer Veranstaltung.)
  • Wir kaufen nicht das hübsche 300-EUR-Hühnerhaus bei Amazon von der Stange, sondern wir wägen ab, was in diesem Garten und an diesem Haus individuell am besten funktioniert (in diesem Fall eine Kernbohrung in die Garage und das Hühnerhaus von innen dagegengesetzt). (Wir dolmetschen das, was der Redner gerade in diesem Moment meint, und nicht mit dem Wörterbuch. Wir finden für jede noch so abwegige Situation einen passenden Dolmetschmodus.)
  • Wir besitzen so viel Vorstellungsvermögen, dass wir – zunächst auf dem Papier – von null an das perfekte Häuschen konzipieren, das dann aus einem Haufen vom Baumarkt zugeschnittener Holzplatten zusammengebaut wird. (Wir wissen genau, ob simultan oder konsekutiv besser funktioniert und wie wir ein Team für genau diesen Kunden richtig zusammenstellen. Ebenso wie wir die Rede mit dem Redner mitdenken und dem anderssprachigen Zuhörer eine Version davon präsentieren, die für ihn funktioniert.)
  • Wenn wir auch noch nie im Leben einen Hühnerstall gebaut haben, so arbeiten wir uns ein und übertragen unser Wissen und unsere Fertigkeiten auf diesen neuen Anwendungsfall. (Wie an fast jedem normalen Arbeitstag eines Konferenzdolmetschers).
  • Wir haben einen Blick dafür, was geht; auch, weil wir das richtige Werkzeug sowohl kennen als auch besitzen (oder jemanden kennen, der es uns leihen kann). (Flüstern für eine zwölfköpfige Delegation sicher nicht. Wir verstehen es, große Dokumentenmengen zu bändigen, und wissen, wer gute Simultantechnik liefert.)
  • Wir können Prioritäten setzen: Welche schiefe Schraube muss noch einmal herausgedreht werden, weil sonst alles instabil wird, was kann man getrost schief stecken lassen? (Welchen Dolmetschfehler muss ich korrigieren, damit kein dramatisches Missverständnis entsteht, was kann ich stehen lassen?)
  • Spontan auftretende Schwierigkeiten halten uns nicht auf. Ein Fehler im Zuschnitt wird entweder durch Umplanung beantwortet oder die tragbare Kreissäge, die für den Fall der Fälle schon bereitsteht (wir sind immer gut vorbereitet), kommt zum Einsatz. Zu lange, auf der anderen Seite herausstehende Schrauben bedeuten nicht zwingend, dass man noch einmal zum Baumarkt fährt, sondern dass man sie kurzerhand abflext. (Fällt die Simultantechnik aus, gehen wir in den Raum und dolmetschen konsekutiv oder flüstern. Liegt das Vorbereitungsmaterial über die technischen Finessen eines Fertigungsarbeitsplatzes in Zeiten von Industrie 4.0 nicht vor, schöpfen wir aus unserem Vorwissen und machen mit Hilfe des Kabinenpartners, der uns mit Spontanrecherche und Mitschrift unterstützt, trotzdem etwas daraus.)

Theoretisch hätte ich bei dieser Baumaßnahme jeden einzelnen Handgriff auch selbst tätigen können, aber letztendlich ist doch auch ein Hühnerhaus mehr als die Summe seiner Teile. Wahrscheinlich hätte ich am falschen Ende angefangen, die falschen Bohrer verwendet und mir auch nicht die Mühe gemacht, die Sitzstange abzuhobeln, damit die Hühner keine Splitter in die weichen Fußballen bekommen.

Die richtigen Fragen stellen und der Blick fürs Ganze, das können auch Experten von Experten lernen. Also seid Experten und erfreut Euch an ebensolchen, wo Ihr nur könnt!

PS: Sehr interessant: In diesem schönen Artikel über Expertentum aus Experten-(Psychologen-)Sicht von Tad Waddington findet sich Einiges aus der Dolmetscher-Hühnerhaus-Analogie wieder.

Über die Autorin:
Anja Rütten ist freiberufliche Konferenzdolmetscherin für Deutsch (A), Spanisch (B), Englisch (C) und Französisch (C) in Düsseldorf. Sie widmet sich seit Mitte der 1990er dem Wissensmanagement.

+++ English version +++

I had no idea how inspiring it could be to build your own chicken coop. But those who have shared a booth with me lately and were obliged to admire my chicken photos may have been wondering for some time when those lovely hens will finally make their way into this blog. Now, then:

During the last autumn break my father, my son, my daughter and myself spent a day and a half designing and building a splendid new hen house. My father has a track record in the sauna-building industry and, besides, owns an excessively well-equipped little basement workshop, which made it an utmost pleasure to work together. Only later did I realise that I had experienced this fascination before when watching experts at work, i.e. people who really seem to know what they are doing. This phenomenon called expert, or expertise, is something we come across very often as interpreters (and increasingly so as interpreters tend to be recruited more often when very specific subjects are being discussed). And to me it is all the same whether I can watch or listen to a coder, farrier, slaughterhouse inspector, patent lawyer or statistician. It seems to me that most experts act alike, in a certain way, no matter if they build wooden boxes or, say, act as conference interpreters:

  • We don’t do things by halves. No cheap stuff – better go for the robust OSB panels and not the inexpensive chipboard. No hurry, think everything through properly. We always come well prepared, after all. (We don’t like bad sound, neither are we very fond of badly fitting headphones and even less of bad information supply before a conference.)
  • We do not buy the ready-made fancy little 300 € coop on Amazon. We rather ponder the pros and cons of what might best be suited for this particular house and garden and find and individual solution (in this case, drilling a big hole into the outer wall of the garage and putting the coop up against this wall from the inside). (We translate the message the speaker wants to convey in this particular situation and do not mechanically put together words like a dictionary on legs. We find a suitable mode of interpretation for any weird situation.)
  • We use our imagination in order to create the perfect solution – on paper first – which we then put together from a pile of custom cut-to-size wood panels from the DIY store. (We know exactly when sim or consec work better and we will find exactly the right people for a team to suit the needs of this special customer. Just like we think the speech alongside with the speaker and then present another version of it to the audience in the other language which will work for them).
  • We may well never have built a hen house in our lives, but we are smart enough to familiarise ourselves with the subject and transfer our knowledge and our skills to this new task. (The usual stuff on any day in the life of a conference interpreter).
  • We can tell what’s possible and what’s not; also because we know and possess the right tools (or know who to borrow them from). (Whispered interpretation for a delegation of twelve? Surely not. We know how to handle huge amounts of documents and where to rent the best conference equipment.)
  • We know our priorities: Which one of the badly placed screws can just stay where it is and when is it a good idea to take it out again and screw it in properly in order to prevent the whole thing from falling apart? (Which error do I need to correct when interpreting because there will be a terrible misunderstanding otherwise, which one will most probably pass unnoticed?)
  • Unexpected difficulties won’t stop us. One of the panels cut to the wrong dimensions means we just rearrange our construction or use the portable circular saw we have already brought, just in case (We always come well prepared, after all). If the screws turn out to be too long and stick out on the other side of the wall, we don’t necessarily go back to the DIY store to get some shorter ones. We may as well cut them off using this very handy little angle grinder we happen to possess. (If the booth sound system fails, we will get out of our booths and do consecutive or whispered interpretation if ever possible. Have we not received any information about the technical details of a modern shop floor setting in times of industry 4.0 then we will still be able to make something of it on the basis of our experience and the help of our colleague who will be doing emergency internet research and/or emergency scribbling.)

Theoretically, I would have been able to carry out every single task on my own. But I have learnt that a chicken coop is more than the sum of its parts. I would most probably have started at the wrong end, used the wrong drills and wouldn’t have bothered smooth-planing the perch so that the chickens don’t get splinters in the soft little balls they have under their feet.

Asking the right questions and seeing the big picture, that’s what experts can learn from experts. So: Be an expert, watch out for those around you and enjoy!

PD: Very interesting: Many an aspect of this henhouse-interpreter analogy can also be found in this very nice article about expertise from the expert‘s/psychologist‘s view by Tad Waddington.

About the author:
Anja Rütten is a freelance conference interpreter for German (A), Spanish (B), English (C) and French (C) based in Düsseldorf, Germany. She has specialised in knowledge management since the mid-1990s.

+++ Versión española +++

No tenía ni idea de lo inspiradora que puede ser la construcción de un gallinero. A los que han estado en cabina conmigo últimamente ya les tocó admirar las fotos de mis gallinas como si fueran mis bebés, ya se habrán preguntado cuánto tardarían en aparecer en mi blog. Pues ahora sí:

En las últimas vacaciones de otoño mi papá, mi hijo, mi hija y yo nos pasamos día y medio construyendo un gallinero. Mi padre se ha ganado la vida en la construcción de saunas, y además dispone de un taller exageradamente bien equipado, y realmente disfrutamos un montón de estar ahí todos juntos haciendo bricolaje. En retrospectiva, me quedó aun más claro por qué: Es que me encanta observar a un experto (o experta, claro) en su trabajo, y lo hago bastante seguido – un efecto secundario muy grato de lo (cada vez más) técnico que resultan muchos trabajos de interpretación. Y me da igual si se trata de un herrador, programador, inspector de matadero, abogado de patentes o estadísticos, mientras me dejen observar o escucharlos. Y mi impresión es que los expertos tienen, o mejor dicho tenemos, ciertas pautas de comportamiento en común, ya sea que se trate de ingenieros de gallineros o de intérpretes de conferencias:

  • No nos conformamos con las cosas hechas a medias. Tampoco usamos material barato – nada de tableros aglomerados de baja calidad, mejor los tableros OSB de virutas orientadas. Y no lo hacemos todo rápido, sino con calma y bien pensado. Siempre llegamos bien preparados. (A nosotros no nos gusta ni el mal sonido, ni los auriculares mal ajustados, ni mucho menos la falta de información para preparar una conferencia.)
  • Tampoco compramos el gallinero prefabricado en Amazon por 300 EUR, sino que sopesamos las ventajas y los inconvenientes de las diferentes opciones para encontrar la solución perfecta para esta casa y este jardín en particular. En este caso, consistía en perforar la pared del garaje y montar el gallinero contra la pared desde el lado interior. (Interpretamos lo que el orador quiere decir en esta situación y no nos limitamos a ser diccionarios vivientes. En situaciones absurdas encontramos la manera de hacer posible la interpretación.)
  • Tenemos la imaginación suficiente como para diseñar – primero sobre el papel – el gallinero perfecto, para luego armarlo del montón de tablas cortadas a la medida, que nos facilitaron en el negocio de materiales para la construcción. (Sabemos decir exactamente en qué situación va a funcionar la interpretación simultánea o consecutiva y qué equipo de colegas conviene enviar a qué cliente. Acompañamos al orador en sus pensamientos y creamos para el auditorio del otro idioma un discurso adecuado que funcione para ellos en ese )
  • Aunque nunca jamás en la vida hayamos construido un gallinero, nos familiarizamos con el tema y aplicamos nuestros conocimientos y nuestras aptitudes a ese nuevo caso (Lo normal en la vida de un intérprete de conferencias).
  • Tenemos buen juicio para saber lo que es posible y lo que no; porque conocemos también las herramientas adecuadas y disponemos de ellas (o por lo menos sabemos a quién pedirlas prestadas). (Susurrar para una delegación de doce personas – seguro que no; sabemos manejar grandes cantidades de documentos y en dónde conseguir el mejor equipamiento técnico.)
  • Sabemos fijar prioridades. Un tornillo mal colocado: ¿Mejor lo vuelvo a quitar y lo pongo bien?, porque si no, todo se puede venir abajo; o bien ¿puedo dejarlo tal cual y nadie se va a enterar? (¿Cuáles son los errores de interpretación que hay que corregir para evitar malentendios dramáticos? ¿Y cuáles son los que van a pasar desapercibidos?)
  • Las dificultades imprevistas no nos pueden detener. Una tabla mal cortada – pues nos reorganizamos un poquito, o usamos la sierra circular que, por si acaso, ya habíamos traído (porque siempre llegamos bien preparados). Si los tornillos son demasiado largos y salen por el otro lado de la pared, eso no significa que debamos volver a la tienda para comprar otros; más bien los cortamos con la amoladora angular. (Si falla el sistema de sonido, salimos de las cabinas e interpretamos de modo consecutivo o susurramos, según permitan las circunstancias. Si no disponemos de la documentación sobre, digamos, los puestos de trabajo ultra conectados en las factorías de la industria 4.0, igual nos organizamos, aprovechando nuestros conocimientos previos y el apoyo del colega que nos apunta cosas y busca términos en internet.)

En teoría, habría sido capaz de hacer cada una de las maniobras yo solita, pero al final, inclusive un gallinero es más que la suma de sus partes. Probablemente habría empezado por el extremo equivocado, habría usado el taladro equivocado y tampoco se me habría ocurrido alisar la percha para que las gallinas no se astillaran las delicadas plantas de sus patitas.

Hacer las preguntas acertadas y siempre contemplar el sistema en su conjunto – eso es algo que los expertos podemos aprender de otros expertos. Entonces: ¡Seamos expertos y disfrutemos de aquellos con los que nos podamos topar!

PD: Muy interesante: En este artículo maravilloso sobre la pericia – desde el punto de vista de un experto/psicólogo – de Tad Waddington se pueden encontrar algunos aspectos de la analogía gallinero-interpretación von Tad Waddington.


La autora:
Anja Rütten es intérprete de conferencias autónoma para alemán (A), español (B), inglés y francés (C), domiciliada en Düsseldorf/Alemania. Se dedica al tema de la gestión de los conocimientos desde mediados de los años 1990.

Verträge auf dem Smartphone oder Tablet unterschreiben +++ Signing contracts on your smartphone or tablet

+++ For English see below +++

Man kennt es ja: Gerade liegt man unter Palmen, da schneit per Mail der Vertrag für den nächsten Auftrag hinein und will sofort unterschrieben zurückgeschickt werden. Und nun? Zur Rezeption laufen, Vertrag ausdrucken lassen (supervertraulich) und unterschrieben zurückfaxen? Natürlich nicht. Denn zu meiner übergroßen Freude habe ich in meinem diesjährigen Urlaub festgestellt, dass das, was viele von uns schon lange am PC machen, nämlich Pdfs oder Bilddateien digital signieren, jetzt auch – und noch viel besser – am Tablet oder Smartphone geht. Mit dem ganz normalen kostenlosen Adobe Acrobat Reader für Android (was sagen die ipad-Nutzer?) kann man ganz einfach ein pdf am Bildschirm handschriftlich unterzeichnen, speichern und verschicken. Der Vorteil: Man benötigt noch nicht einmal eine gescannte Unterschrift auf der Festplatte oder in der Cloud, denn man malt sie einfach mit dem Zeigefinger (oder einem Stift, wer hat) auf das Touchscreen. Besser geht’s nicht.

So weit, so gut. Aber wie sieht es denn eigentlich rechtlich aus mit diesen digitalen Unterschriften? Meine Notarin erklärte mir auf diese Frage hin gestern erst einmal, dass Verträge, wenn es nicht gegenteilig im Gesetz oder durch Vereinbarung der Parteien vorgesehen ist, gar nicht zwingend der Schriftform bedürfen. Im Prinzip reiche also in unseren Verträgen über Dolmetschleistungen auch eine E-Mail, eine (fern)mündliche Vereinbarung, ein Fax oder eben auch eine gescannte Unterschrift oder eine vom Touchscreen (ein anderes Thema ist dann natürlich die Nachweisbarkeit im Falle eines Rechtsstreits). Ist die Schriftform aber laut Gesetz erforderlich oder unter den Vertragspartnern vereinbart, so reicht  weder eine gescannte Unterschrift noch das Gekrakel auf dem Tochscreen. Einer Unterschrift auf Papier gleichwertig ist eine digitale Unterschrift erst, wenn die Anforderungen an eine „qualifizierte elektronische Signatur“ mit Signaturschlüssel (vgl. Signaturgesetz SigG 2001 § 2) erfüllt sind. Das heißt, bei Verträgen mit Formfreiheit können wir uns im Prinzip den ganzen Aufwand mit den „unqualifizierten“ digitalen Unterschriften auch sparen und stattdessen einfach eine Mail schicken. Es sei denn, der Kunde besteht darauf bzw. man möchte ihm einfach den Gefallen tun.

PS: Ich bin keine Juristin, daher alle Informationen unter Vorbehalt. Interessant dazu auch eine Stellungnahme des Verbandes Organisations- und Informationssysteme e.V.

Unterschrift Tablet
signature on a tablet pc


Typical … just as you are enjoying another cocktail on the beach, there comes an email with the contract for your next job, which please needs to be signed and returned right away. Now what? Walk to reception, have it printed out (very confidential indeed) and fax back? No way. To my utmost delight, what has been possible for quite some time on a desktop or laptop computer, i.e. signing your pdfs or image files electronically, can now be done on a tablet or smartphone just as well – and even better. The very normal, free of charge Adobe Acrobat Reader for Android (don’t know about ipad?) allows you to sign your pdfs manually, saving them and sending them on. The nice thing about it is that there isn’t even a need for a scanned signature being saved somewhere on the hard disk (or in the cloud), you simply draw the signature on your touchscreen with your finger (or using a stylus pen if you happen to have one).

So far, so good. But what about the legal status of such electronic signatures? I don’t know about other countries, but my German notary explained to me that there is no explicit need for contracts do be done in writing anyway. If not stipulated differently in the law or agreed upon by the parties, contracts like ours may as well be made orally, by phone, email, fax or using scanned signatures or those scribbled on a touchscreen (theoretically speaking, that is; what holds proof in the case of a dispute remains to be seen). If, however, a written contract is required, all this won’t do the trick anyway. In order to have an electronic equivalent to a pen and paper signature, you need to use what the German „signature law“ calls a „qualified electronic signature“, i.e. one including a signature key. So actually, when no written contract is required, there is no point in using all those „unqualified“ signatures anyway, you may as well just send an email, unless your customer insists or you just want to do them the favour anyway.

PS: As I am not a lawyer, the above information merely reflects my personal understanding of the matter.