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Bath German Society on the web

Bath German Society now has a Facebook page!

Please "like" it (who decided that the word "like" would be a good way of showing one's approval? It is so inelegant....) and keep up to date with the Society's programme.  Announcements of events concerning German/Austrian/Swiss culture taking place in Bath will also be posted there.

Click here for the link.

The Society's website is here.

Bath German Society's first meeting of the season takes place tomorrow, 20 September. Film licensing laws do not permit advertising so I'm not allowed to divulge the name of the film - but it is in German by a German director with German actors and deals with facing the end of life. I think it is more upbeat than I have made it sound!


TrànslationWörks would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Her Majesty the Queen on the occasion of her Diamond Jubilee.

Here, we (is that the Royal we?)  have been busy translating over the Jubilee Holiday but took some time off to perform in the village production of the Mechanicals' Play from a Midsummer Night's Dream. The part? Hippolyta - the queen....

Sign Language

Communication in daily is life is taken for granted.  We speak and listen to others all the time. We may listen to the trivia of the lives of our friends and family, we may address a meeting, or be required to give instructions in a life-and-death situation.  The hard-of-hearing and the deaf find communication has its own challenges when operating in the hearing world.

I was delighted to read in the Bath Chronicle that Bath Building Society staff have undertaken a tailor-made course in British Sign Language to communicate with their deaf customers.  This is a wonderful development in promoting the idea in our largely monolingual society that languages at work are an essential tool.  Effective communication, be it in English, sign language, or foreign languages, ensures better service, customer acquisition and customer retention.

Improving your spoken language skills - Part II

Traditionally in the UK, the new school year begins on September 1st or thereabouts. And it is also the time of year to enrol on evening classes and other activities to dispel the gloomy prospect of long dark winter evenings. Since I moved to Bath six years ago, I have been involved in the Bath German Society and have had the privilege of being Chair of the Society since April 2009. 

Bath German Society meets once a month and offers its members the opportunity to chat informally in German before engaging in the evening's main activity. The Society's members range from native speakers to enthusiastic learners of the language. It provides a forum for the latter to hear the language without being locked into the intricacies of grammar and for native speakers to speak their own language which they may not do very often as they live and work in an English-speaking country. There are benefits for all!

The committee endeavours to provide a programme covering a wide range of interests. In addition to lectures on topics from Engineering to Literature and Japanese culture, in recent years we have introduced a book group style meeting allowing everyone to read a specified novel in advance and then chat about it of lectures on a wide range of topics and for the musical amongst us we have assembled a small but enthusiastic choir to sing German carols at Bath's German Christmas Market.  This autumn, we are planning to visit the theatre to see a production of Goethe's Iphigenie auf Tauris, newly translated into English by Meredith Oakes - a rare opportunity to see a German play without having to leave the country!

In addition to our monthly meetings, the Society also hosts a Stammtisch on Wednesday mornings in the Strudelbar in the Hansel and Gretel shop on Margaret's Buildings in Bath. This conversation group is run on a "drop in when you can" basis. It starts at 11.30 am and often runs until after 2 pm. It is attended by a mixture of people ranging from shift workers with a morning off (nurses, catering staff, etc), to retired people (who often stay for the whole morning) to office workers using their lunch break to polish up their German whilst eating some delicious strudel and drinking coffee.

New members of all ages are always welcome to all our activities. We hope you will be able to join us!

Improving your spoken language skills - Part I

When I meet new people and tell them what I do for a living they often react with something bordering on awe. I find this rather embarrassing as I am all too aware of my own shortcomings no matter how impressive others think it is to be able to speak two foreign languages.

As a translator who specialises in certain fields, it is possible to forget vocabulary in other  areas of life because, as with everything, one has to keep in practice. One way of practising skills that are likely to get rusty from lack of use is to join a conversation group.

Many classes at adult education colleges have been victims of spending cuts in recent years and this seems to be true of courses in foreign languages. However, all is not yet lost! It costs nothing to chat and so about 15 months ago, I put an advert (in French) in the village newspaper announcing my intention to set up a French conversation group in a local pub. I had little idea of how many people would come and was delighted when about 8 people, including a couple of native speakers, turned up eager for a French conversation workout.

The group agreed to meet once a month and has a number of core members now. In addition to the native speakers, who also value the opportunity to keep their mother tongue in good shape, there are people from all walks of life ranging from retired people with property renovation projects in France, to a couple of translators to people who have spent a little time in French-speaking countries on a professional basis. The group also includes the local handyman (who was determined to learn a foreign language and whose vocabulary, grammar and idiomatic language are second to none), people who studied modern languages at university and need to brush up and school students determined to boost their grades and others whose native language is neither French nor English.

How is the group organised? This group is delightful in that it runs itself.  I hold an e-mail list of participants and send a message a week in advance as a reminder of the date of the next meeting. Members arrive at the pub, order a drink, sit down and start chatting! The subjects discussed are wide ranging including visits to the vet with the cat (it turned out to be quite a drama with the poor cat dying in the car on the way home), problems with restoring antique motorbikes, and new job applications. We have a big bi-lingual dictionary on the table to help with words that aren't in our everyday vocabulary such as "sump", "breech birth" or "dove-tail joint" and the Grammar Police are nowhere in sight. If someone needs help with formulating a sentence correctly, help is given but no one automatically corrects lapses in grammar. Purists may find this a bit shocking but as long as the sentence is comprehensible, the flow of the conversation is not interrupted. Members can study grammar books at home and hope to apply the rules more accurately next time.

Such a group is easy to set up and run - and our reputation has spread beyond the village with people coming from other areas to join us. We do not restrict our ability speak French to Francophiles; we have been known to generously share our knowledge with the local community. For example, we participated in the pub's annual "Beer and Carols" night in December last year. The regulars were treated to a rendition of carols in French - with tunes familiar to the audience to encourage some to join in with us. We hope to establish this as a tradition and do it again this year.

With the autumn on the horizon, a traditional time of year to think of evening activities, why not set up a group in your area? It is an ideal opportunity to start to dispel the myth that the Brits are "not interested in languages" and get plenty of practice before your next holiday!


Happy Christmas everyone from TrànslationWörks!

Xmas photo_22419_20101104.JPG

TrànslationWörks is taking a break for the festive season and will be back in business on Tuesday 4 January 2011. Happy New Year!

The free use of this image granted by the fine folks at Image: Idea go / is hereby gratefully acknowledged.

A voice for a bereaved Russian father

Avaaz, which means "voice" in several European, Middle Eastern and Asian languages, was launched in January 2007 with a simple democratic mission: organize citizens everywhere to help close the gap between the world we have and the world most people want.

It holds regular on-line campaigns to fight for justice for people throughout the world. These campaigns range from climate change and environmental issues to human rights concerns.

I have just received an e-mail from the organisation highlighting the plight of a young Russian woman (whose father is a member of the Avaaz community) who was tricked by unscrupulous men into leaving her homeland to follow her dream of becoming a translator/interpreter.

This is part of her father's appeal to the Avaaz community.

"My daughter Oxana was a beautiful, wonderful girl, gifted in languages. She left our home when she was 20 to take her dream job as a translator in Europe. We were so happy for her. Three weeks later, the police told us she died falling from a 5th story window, trying to escape men who fooled her about the job and forced her into a sex club. I died when she died. Now I live only to stop this from happening to other girls. Please, help me."

Avaaz states: Oxana was killed by a brutal and growing global industry - the rape trade. A major part of this trade is girls taken in Russia and sent to Europe and the US where they face an awful future of daily rape and brutality.

Oxana's father Nikolai is appealing to Russian Prime Minister Putin to sign a powerful new convention requires strong laws to stop the rape trade. If you would like to sign a petition to encourage Mr Putin to sign the convention, then please click this link to visit Avaaz's website. And give Oxana's father and young women like Oxana a voice. 

Calling native speakers of North American English

I have recently discovered that Yale University is conducting a survey of dialects spoken in North America.

Being a Brit, I'm not able to participate but, if you are a native speaker of American or Canadian English, you might be interested in contributing to the research.

Click here for more details.

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?

Training as a Translator

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News from TrànslationWörks 16 June 2010

Recently, I was invited to participate at a careers evening held at a secondary school here in Bath. My role was to speak to young people individually about their aspirations for using languages in their careers and particularly in the world of translation.

I had no idea how many people would come to my desk and so I was delighted when I had a steady stream of youngsters stopping for a chat.

One of the many attractive advantages to being a translator is that one can embark upon a career in this area at almost any stage in life once one has acquired the necessary level of language skills.

Acquiring language skills is naturally the key point. My advice to the young people included:

  • making sure that in their enthusiasm for foreign languages they did not neglect their skills in the English language
  • exploring the possibility of spending some time in their "source-language" country before embarking on their degree course, gaining fluency, understanding how the foreign language really works (i.e. going beyond a school textbook)
  • gaining experience and understanding of one or more professions in which they might like to specialise, and considering taking a degree course that combines a profession with a language, such as Engineering with German or Economics with Italian - the combinations are almost endless. Taking this route has the advantage that one learns - and can correctly apply - the right terminology in both languages as well as learning the nuts and bolts of the subject area.

There are, of course, other routes into translation such as the traditional approach of taking a Modern Languages degree or a degree in Translation Studies. I'd be interested in hearing from established translators about the route they took and what, if anything, they would do differently with the wonderful advantage of hindsight!