July 2010 Archives

The Language Show 2010

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At the end of last October, I reported on my visit to the Language Show at Olympia, London.

The show will be staged again but this year the venue is Earl's Court and registration has just opened. This is sure to be a great day out for anyone interested in all aspects of languages with language taster sessions, foreign-language film shows, careers advice, seminars and much more.

logo_languageshow.gifFree entry is available with prior registration. See their website for more details.

German today

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This morning, there was a short interview on BBC Radio 4's Today programme with Uwe Rau, the deputy director and head of language at London's Goethe-Institut.

Under discussion was the influence of English on the German language - "Denglisch" as the Germans call it or "Germish" as Evan Davis, the interviewer, suggested it be called. One of the examples cited is "Handy" the Denglisch for mobile phone.

The interview can be heard on the BBC's iPlayer. It starts at 2:48:31 and lasts for 3 minutes.
News from TrànslationWörks, Bath, 16 July 2010

The Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) is one of the UK's two recognised associations for linguists. The other is the Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIoL).  Both organisations run training courses for their members to ensure that they are kept up to date with the latest developments in the profession. A relatively new development in training is webinars, these are seminars held via the web. Previous webinars I have attended have proved to be very useful and interesting and today's was no exception.

With 90 other participants, I attended the ITI's first-ever webinar which focused on "Promoting the Highest Standards in the Profession". This consisted of a general introduction to the ITI including information about the different grades of membership, admission requirements, the MITI examination, CPD and training, and activities in the regions of the UK.

The presenters were speakers from the ITI familiar with the Institute's admissions process, CPD programme and the benefits of the ITI's networks and Regional Groups. Although one cannot actually see the presenters or fellow attendees, questions can be submitted via the system and these are read out and answered by the panel.

Such webinars are open to all translators and interpreters (some are free) and are advertised on the websites of the respective organisation: ITI or the CIoL

Interviewing an interpreter

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The roles of interpreters and translators are often confused. The difference is quite simple: a translator deals with the written word and an interpreter deals with the spoken word.  Some people train in both disciplines, others specialise in just one.

If you are interested to find out about the real world of the interpreter, a BBC World Service interview conducted by Owen Bennett-Jones with French/English interpreter, Amanda Galsworthy, is available on the iPlayer.

Ms Galsworthy has been an interpreter for many years - and has worked for three French presidents. She gives a lively and interesting account of the challenges of the job ranging from linguistic problems, dealing with an over-friendly Presidential dog and trying not to laugh when a VIP makes a very embarrassing mistake!

Discovering the Röstigraben

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Translators are always being exhorted to keep up to date with their languages, that is, developments in both their native language and their source languages.  This can be done in many different ways.

I made a few new little discoveries about Switzerland whilst listening to the radio on Saturday morning. Excess Baggage on BBC Radio 4 is a magazine-style programme presented by Sandi Toksvig covering various aspects of travelling outside the UK. In this week's edition, she was chatting to Diccon Bewes, a travel writer, about his experiences of living on this "landlocked island". 

In the interview, the pair discuss Swiss red tape, cuckoo clocks, holes in Swiss social life and the Röstigraben of which I confess I had never heard before. Bewes' definition of the Röstigraben  is borne out by my copy of the Duden "Wie sagt man in der Schweiz". This little extra snippet of information may be useful for a future translation!

If you would like to discover what the Röstigraben is, you can listen to the 13-minute interview on the BBC's iPlayer  (It is the first item on the programme.) According to the BBC website it is available until Thursday 1 Jan 2099. I think this could be a misprint - programmes are usually available for 7-14 days after their first broadcast.

MA research in the translation industry

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Sometimes freelance translators may feel that they work in a bit of a vacuum so here is an opportunity to contribute to research being carried out on how we use technology in our businesses.

Joanna Gough is an MA student at the Centre for Translation Studies at the University of Surrey. As part of her degree, she is researching the future technologies and trends of the translation industry. 

The focus of her dissertation is professional translators and how they react to and embrace the current trends of openness, sharing and collaboration; not only in their social aspects, but more importantly as business solutions for the future.

Joanna has developed a short questionnaire to ascertain the views of professional translators. In a spirit of "openness, sharing and collaboration" I have offered to advertise the survey on my blog in the hope that readers will help Joanna. (Please note that TranslationWorks is in no way connected to Joanna or her research. If you have any comments about the research these should be addressed to Joanna direct.) The survey takes less than 15 minutes to complete.

Click this link to participate before 26 August 2010 when the survey will close. If you wish, Joanna will let you have a copy of the results.

European Day of Languages - 26 September 2010

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It's all go in September for recognising the importance of languages. I have already reported on a Proz conference to be held on International Translators' Day. This will take place just days after the European Day of Languages which is celebrated on 26 September. The event has been celebrated every year since 2001 following an initiative by the Council of Europe, Strasbourg.

The website dedicated to the day (available in English and French) explains the project like this:

"Globalisation and patterns of business ownership mean that citizens increasingly need foreign language skills to work effectively within their own countries. English alone is no longer enough.

Europe is rich in languages - there are over 200 European languages and many more spoken by citizens whose family origin is from other continents. This is an important resource to be recognised, used and cherished."

Everyone is encouraged to celebrate Europe's 200 languages by organising or participating in an event. As 26 September falls on a Sunday this year, I'm going to suggest to my local independent cinema that they show only foreign films that day. I might even be cheeky enough to suggest which ones they might like to show - i.e. ones I haven't had the opportunity to see yet! I'll let you know if I'm successful.

What ideas do you have for promoting languages in your area on 26 September?

Proz Conferences

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Proz has announced two conferences coming up in the autumn.


Building on the success of last year's virtual conference, there will be a second virtual conference on International Translators' Day, September 30, from 10 a.m. - 10 p.m. GMT. Registration is free.

If you prefer to experience the buzz of a live conference and network with your colleagues face to face, there is an in-person conference scheduled for the first weekend in October in Prague entitled "Achieving recognition and prestige". Early bird rates apply if you register before August 1st.

If you're very clever, have the appropriate technology and can time your travel plans carefully, you could even attend both!

Prize for Literary Translation

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There is a saying that things come along in threes - and this latest sequence of blog posts is no exception. It also seems that my wish for translators to be credited for their translations has been heard. An acknowledgment in the shape of a prize, no less!

I have just learned of the Harvill Secker Young Translators' Prize and thought I should let budding translators know about it immediately as time is of the essence. The deadline for entries is 31st July 2010.

Harvill Secker, part of The Random House Group, launched the prize on April 19th in conjunction with Waterstone's, to celebrate 100 years of publishing quality international writing. This annual Young Translators' Prize will be presented to a translator at the start of their career and will focus on a different language each year.

In 2010 - the inaugural year - the chosen language is Spanish and entrants are asked to translate 'El hachazo', a short story by the Argentine writer Matías Néspolo.

The short story and details on how to enter can be found here.

The prize is open to anyone between the ages of 16 and 34, with no restriction on country of residence.

The winner's name will be announced at the FreeWord Centre during a special evening event on International Translators' Day, 30 September 2010. The winning translator will receive £1000, a selection of Harvill Secker titles and Waterstone's books vouchers.

One of the judges, Margaret Jull Costa (herself an award-winning translator), commented 'There are very few prizes open to the young, unpublished translator, who is either trying to get a toehold in the world of literary translation or who simply loves translating. All praise to Harvill Secker, then, for instigating this Young Translators' Prize.'

What a pity Spanish is not one of my languages - but let us know if you have entered. Good luck!

Credit where credit is due

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When drafting my previous post, I was quite shocked to discover that there was no mention of the name of the translator of Penguin Popular Classics' 1997 edition of Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

This is an illustration of the curious way that translators are perceived.  When I meet people for the first time, they seem to be rather impressed that I speak a couple of foreign languages and that I earn my living from translation. Their reaction usually includes a regretful recitation of why they abandoned their language studies at an early age.

In the English-speaking world, particularly, we have become used to "everything" being in English and when we read a text in translation, it is usually done so perfectly that it is not possible to discern the language in which it was originally written.

Translators, in contrast to interpreters, are usually unseen by the general public and, as their profile is not public, their contribution can often be overlooked - as is the case of the translator of 430 pages of Dostoyevsky's Russian classic.  Without his or her hard work, I, as a non-Russian speaker, would not have been able to read this novel.

I hope in the future all publishers will acknowledge their translators!

As a New Year's Resolution, I challenged myself to read one World Classic in translation every month.  Something I did not appreciate at the outset was how huge a task this actually is. World Classics tend to be mighty tomes and so far I have found that I am behind on my quota!

However, my quest has not been entirely in vain, for, when reading Fyodor Doestoyevsky's Crime and Punishment, I came across this passage which is a perfect illustration of one reason to use a professionally trained and qualified translator and not to believe that by using a student you will obtain a product of equal quality.

In this short scene Razoumikhin meets his friend Raskolnikoff in the street.  "Stop a minute, Mr Chimney Sweep! You are positively out of your mind! I am giving no lessons myself, either. I am at present doing translations for a publisher. I had counted on you as being useful to me. My orthography is rather bad and I am very weak in German - indeed, I only undertook the work with the hope of its leading to something better. Look here, he will pay three roubles for translating these German pages, and you may do them if you like. Here!"

Raskolnikoff is not tempted by the handsome sum on offer and refuses the translations and payment. He has weightier matters on his mind - namely the premeditated murders he has just committed for little material gain. His mental anguish is such that he is unable to function properly and has made himself ill.

Now, I am not suggesting that students are known for committing murder but it is clear here that Razoumikhin realises that he has bitten off more than he can chew. He admits that he cannot spell and that his German is not up to the standard required. His inexperience and eagerness have caught up with him.

Professional translators will know their limitations; for example, I know that I do not know anything about nuclear physics and so will not attempt such a text. Conversely, translators do know which texts they can tackle to make a difference and make the language sparkle. Recently, I was asked three times by a project manager to work on texts concerning railway engineering. Each time I reiterated that he would be better advised to ask someone qualified to undertake the work. I did not omit to mention that would be happy to help him if he required translations of texts in my specialist areas of marketing and advertising, travel and tourism, education, human resources and cookery!

[Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dosteyevsky. Penguin Popular Classics 1997]

Do we need an Academy of English?

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This is the question that was causing some comment in the Press last month. The French have their Académie Française so should we not rise to the challenge to defend our language? After all, surely, anything they can do, we can do better?

As I understand it, the Queen's English Society has raised a call to arms because our language is no longer what it once was. The shorthand used in texting has had a deleterious effect on literacy, and the mass media, the BBC in particular, which was once considered a bastion of correct English grammar, has contributed to a breakdown in standards.

There is a general weeping, wailing and beating of dictionaries and a gnashing of grammars by those who believe that the language of Chaucer and Shakespeare is going to the dogs. But is this entirely fair?

English, like any other language, is undergoing constant change. But English, unlike many other languages, is spoken by millions of people across the world as a first language and by millions more as a second or business language. It is inevitable that that there will be variations and these are not necessarily wrong; they are alternatives.

That said, there are those who are passionate about correct grammar for the language variant in question. I am one of these people. I do wonder, however, if we really need a body to make more rules (which inevitably will have exceptions!) for the written language.  How would the Queen's Academy manage to satisfy the grammar pedants as far apart as Britain, the US, New Zealand - to name a few countries - given that so many regional differences have existed for so long? In 1995, it was hard enough for Germany, Austria and Switzerland, three countries that share borders and can obtain each other's media, to agree on changes to standardise certain anomalies that exist in German.

I believe that one solution would be to teach English grammar in schools; something that is often neglected here in the UK. I also hold the view that by learning foreign languages, we acquire a greater understanding of the mechanics of language generally and so appreciate the potential pitfalls awaiting us in our own language.  

Any Academy would face a huge challenge in keeping pace with the changes in the language. I cannot see how it would contribute over and above the service already provided by good dictionary compilers (which do not always agree with one another!). It is unlikely that an Academy would propose change or invent new words entirely in isolation. Changes in language occur mainly because our environment changes and the language is found wanting. New technology and new situations create the need for coining or adopting new words.  How many people outside South Africa had heard of a vuvuzela only a few weeks ago? There can be few people who have not heard of this Zulu trumpet-shaped horn since the Football World Cup. It remains to be seen as to whether it will be an enduring term in English or be forgotten in a few years' time. 

So let us not be overly bureaucratic with the English language. Let's simply learn and teach it properly. There are some common mistakes made by English speakers and I shall blog about these in future posts.