August 2009 Archives

Summer's End

For many in the UK today's Late Summer Bank Holiday marks the end of summer (not in Scotland where the holiday is a couple of weeks earlier).  Schools start back this week and the rhythm of life resumes a familiar pattern. The long light evenings are drawing in and will soon be a distant memory.

Sommerboken written in Swedish by the Finnish writer, Tove Jansson, and translated into English by Thomas Teal with the title The Summer Book is a delightful depiction of a young girl, Sophia aged 6, and her elderly grandmother, living on a tiny island for a summer.

Summer Book.jpg

For months, they live an idyllic life, pottering around their small kingdom, planting seeds, watching the sea and the weather, and doing very little that they do not wish to do. Each is at the stage of life where the days are endless in a positive way: for Sophia the long, long school-free days stretch ahead and for her grandmother the days of diurnal duties and drudgery are over and she can more or less please herself how she spends the time she has left.

Grandmother is a bit of a free spirit, unconstrained by convention, and often happy to indulge in childlike pursuits. Sophia is wise beyond her years, thinking of her grandmother's constraints of age (her walking stick and dizzy spells) and together they pass the days seemingly without one eye on the clock, or worrying about what should be achieved.

By August, the days are drawing in and they make preparations to leave the island and start to put things away for the winter. Grandmother worries that people might land on the island and not know where essential things are kept. "A little later, she started worrying about the stovepipe and put up a sign: "Don't close the damper. It might rust shut. If it doesn't draw, there may be a bird's nest in the chimney - later on in the spring, that is."

This epitomises the innocence and generosity that run through the story evoking all that is perfect about summer.  It evokes that yearning in all of us that we seek to find on our summer holidays - the endless days of lightness and freedom.

Although I have been translating professionally for nearly 10 years now, I sometimes still take translation of literature for granted.  Had it not been for Thomas Teal's expertise in Swedish and English, this novel would have been a delight I would never have enjoyed. It is a charming read and perhaps one I may revisit in depths of winter to remind me of what is to come next year.

Discerning the sheep from the goats

I recently received notification via a translators' website of a software programme purporting to be indispensable to all those earning their living from writing in one way or another.  The blurb breathlessly promised translators, journalists and copywriters that they would create flawless sentences using this company's brand new "grammer and writting software".

Apart from the fact that they clearly do not use their own product (or perhaps they do... in which case it is even less of a convincing advert) I could not help but think they were targeting the wrong market. Those who earn their living from words are perhaps less likely than others to misuse apostrophes or make howling spelling mistakes.  No one is infallible and, inevitably, errors are made. However, I cannot help but feel that the software is not going to be able to detect subtle and debatable points of grammar if the company's marketing department cannot spot the basic glaring mistakes in its own copy.

There are many companies and individuals who claim to be professionals in a given area. It is not always easy to distinguish who is who or what is what in a field with which one is unfamiliar. It always pays to do a few checks in advance of placing an order.

As a trained and qualified translator, with a love of languages - both my own and foreign - I, for one, will not be investing in such software until it can prove indisputably that it is better than highly-trained humans.

Wonderful clients

Over the ten years that I have been translating, I have had the privilege of working with some wonderful people.  I shall jealously guard the names of my favourite clients but I can tell you why I like them so much.

  • They include me in the project planning process
  • They check my availability
  • They book me well in advance
  • We discuss the purpose of the project together
  • We establish the target audience
  • We consider the appropriate language register
  • We build in slippage time for unforeseen problems
  • There is time to discuss knotty problems - such as obscure terminology
  • There is ample time for thorough proofreading
  • Result: an excellent product
When translators meet together, half their conversation is spent reciting the horror stories where only some (or none!) of the above points are taken into account leaving the poor translators feeling completely stressed out simply because their vital role has been included at the very last minute. Perhaps a subject for another post!

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News from TrànslationWörks, Bath, 7 August 2009

What exactly can you expect from my blog at TrànslationWörks?

I aim to celebrate the world of translation and translators. With good intentions and a bit of luck, I hope to raise the profile of the profession and foreign languages in general.  I have a feeling that the subjects covered will cover a wide range of topics and thoughts; some will be serious and others perhaps a little frivolous.

I'm looking forward to the journey and hope to share some of it with existing colleagues - and meet some new ones along the way, too!