Recently in Info for translators Category

A busy time of year for networking

The beginning of autumn always seems to be a busy time of year for networking, updating skills, becoming acquainted with what's new in the world of languages and generally getting more involved.

I am very much looking forward to the BDÜ's 2012 conference "Interpreting the Future" from 28-30 September. If the conference three years ago is anything to go by, it will be a wonderfully enriching experience. Contact me in advance if you are going too and we'll meet up for a coffee!

And if you can't attend this event....BDUe_Konferenz_2012_Plakat_DE_RGB_oR.jpg...then perhaps the Proz virtual conference will be easier to attend from your desk or laptop...

There is a week of events for freelance translators from 24-28 September. Check out the details here.

The next event is for all those interested in languages: teachers, tourists, students as well as translators and interpreters.  The Language Show Live is making its annual appearance at Olympia, London from 19-21 October. It is always packed with interesting stands, engaging seminars and presentations and fascinating languages for people at all levels of ability. The Institute of Translating and Interpreting (ITI) will be running a seminar on The Day in the Life of a Translator. I must say, I'm intrigued!


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News of language bookshops

I have only just discovered that the wonderful London foreign-language bookshop, Grant and Cutler, is now located at Foyles on the Charing Cross Road (and has been since March 2011).

I am particularly fond of Grant and Cutler because I was a frequent customer during my undergraduate days. It was located in Buckingham St in a wonderfully labyrinthine building down by the River. The rooms were small and stuffed from top to bottom with all sorts of fascinating tomes; one could easily allow a couple of hours to pass unnoticed ensconced in the atmospheric surroundings.

After graduating, I was employed in the shop's German department after the business had relocated to Great Marlborough St. This was a very lively area - just next to Liberty's and Carnaby St and directly behind Oxford St. I was assigned a desk in the middle of the shop with a typewriter that looked as if it might have been state-of-the-art in 1936 when the shop first opened its doors but which looked decidedly antiquated by the time I came to use it. I don't think the little finger on my left hand has ever quite recovered from the force needed to hit the "a" and "z" keys ("z" is much more commonly used in German than in English). Computers were not in common use at the time and unbelievable as this may sound these days we managed perfectly well with ordering and despatching books without their advantages.

I shall make a point of going to visit the shop in its new incarnation when I am next in London and see if I can spot any former colleagues lurking behind piles of Goethe plays and Kafka novels. I don't suppose their desks will be in the middle of the shop!

The next piece of bookshop news is slightly more current. Waterstones has recently announced that it is opening a bookshop selling Russian-language books in its Piccadilly branch. A bit of healthy competition for Foyles perhaps?

Bath Literature Festival

The Bath Literature Festival's programme has been published and it is proving popular. Two events I thought I might attend have already sold out!  So get your skates on if you want to attend.

Two other events for which I believe there are still seats available and that will be of interest to translators and other linguists in Bath are these:

Translating Tolstoy on Tuesday 6 March with Rosamund Bartlett who is currently translating  Anna Karenina. She will be in conversation with the Artistic Director of the Festival, James Runcie. It will be interesting to hear about how she tackles her work.

All fans of correct punctuation will be delighted to hear that Lynne Truss, author of Eats, Shoots and Leaves will be talking on that subject on Sunday 11 March. I wonder what her position is on the recent decision by Waterstones to drop their apostrophe?

There are lots more events too! I can't wait.

independent-logo_335.jpg(Image copyright of Bath LitFest)

New Year Reading List

I once heard that a 40-year old man worked out that if he lived to the age of 70, he would have time to read only another 360 books at his current rate of one per month.  It does not sound like an awful lot of books so with that in mind one has to be discerning about what one selects. There is no time to waste on the wrong kind of book - whatever you might deem that to be.

Two books that I have come across recently are definitely on my reading list and are likely to appeal to almost all readers of this blog.

The first is The Etymologicon by Mark Foster which is a fascinating stroll through the highways and byways of the English language during which he demonstrates the links between words. See if you agree with his sweeping claim that "almost every word in the English language derives from shah"!

Never dusty, always entertaining and I can recommend it as un-put-downable. (I've had to hide my copy from myself (!) to make sure I concentrate on a project I'm currently doing!!)

51SSrCHF6KL._SL160_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-dp,TopRight,12,-18_SH30_OU02_AA160_.jpg(If you want to look inside, you'll have to visit the Amazon website. I obtained my copy from the wonderful Mr B's Emporium of Reading Delights in Bath - a hugely satisfying "real world" experience).

Another book I cannot wait to start looking at is already causing a buzz in the translation world.  Most translators will be already familiar with Mox's blog - and now the hilarious cartoon strips of the world of freelance translation have been collected into book form by Mox's creator, Alejandro Moreno-Ramos. Follow this link to find out more about Mox. Illustrated Guide to Freelance Translation.


Calling would-be linguists

Graduates with degrees in languages are in great demand so this event will help you to think about pursuing a career using your skills.  The Careers in Languages Day on Saturday 28 January (and again on Saturday 12 February) held at the University of Westminster, London, sounds like a good place to find out about the options open to you.

Check out this link for all the details you need - and contact the organisers direct. Have fun!

Machine translation

As a translator, I am often asked if my job will soon be taken over by machine translation. After all, the argument goes, surely a computer could do your job? Perhaps it could in some instances and indeed computers can translate relatively complex sentences. But how can they possibly have the innate feeling for language that a human has?

There has been a bit of a buzz on this subject in Germany this week. It was reported on the radio that when inputting "one one one" (surely one of the simplest words in the English language?) into Google Translate the answer delivered was "Ostzonensuppenwürfel Ostzonensuppenwürfel Ostzonensuppenwürfel".  English speakers are always fascinated by the extraordinary length of some German words yet 99% per cent of them would probably smell a rat when confronted with this answer.

If it does not mean "one" what does it mean? Answer: East German soup cubes.

And when you've finished laughing, consider this: how easy would it be to spot much more subtle mistakes when running your marketing documents through a machine translation system? If you do not speak the target language, how will you know that it is littered with mistakes? One thing's for sure: your foreign clients will notice immediately. They might be kind about the blunders but they're not going to be impressed.  A human translator may cost more initially but the savings to your reputation and the positive feedback in terms of an increase in sales will be worth their weight in gold!

Events in Bath for translators

There are two events taking place in Bath this month that I think will pique the interest of fellow translators. (Thanks to Cherry for the heads-up whilst blackberrying yesterday evening!)

The first will take place on Wednesday, 7 September at Topping & Co's bookshop. David Bellos, a translator and biographer has been invited to talk about the process of translation at the shop as part of its regular programme of events. Bellos, who currently teaches French, Italian and Comparative Literature at Princeton University has won awards for his translations. His most recent work published by Penguin is a survey of translation theory Is That a Fish in your Ear? More information and tickets from Toppings.

On Tuesday, 20 September, Maureen Freely, who is perhaps best known for her translations of Orhan Pamuk's novels from Turkish into English, will be giving a talk at the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution. Freely also lectures at the University of Warwick and is an entertaining speaker. I heard her talk at the Bath Literature Festival last year and thoroughly enjoyed her lecture.

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!

Bridging the Gap

There have been reports this year of thousands of A level students foregoing the opportunity of a gap year so that they can ensure they start university before fees are raised to £9000 a year. And this attitude is perfectly understandable. Particularly as gap years have acquired a less-than-sparkling reputation for being a 12-month-long party on the beaches of Thailand and Australia financed by the Bank of Mum and Dad.

This may have been the case for some students but many take the opportunity to do something worthwhile, be it to further their understanding of the subject they wish to study, earn some money before going to university or enhance their career prospects - or even all three. I think my own gap year probably fulfilled two of these three as well as giving me some life experience and a few hilarious anecdotes.

When I attend a local school's careers fair, I often suggest to young people that they consider spending a gap year in advance of their course. Not only will they arrive at university fluent in their chosen language, having a clear advantage over their fellows who are still making grammatical mistakes, but they will also be able to read secondary literature in the foreign language more easily (and quickly!) giving a further depth and understanding to their studies.

Gap years spent in the target language country are invaluable for linguists. By immersing oneself in the local culture, community and language, one learns so much more than a whole course could teach in three years. Classroom learning has its place, of course, but it cannot demonstrate the cultural details one learns by actually living in the country itself.

With the economy in Europe suffering its current problems, it is likely that competition will be stiff for the plum jobs (approximately 45% of Spain's young people are currently unemployed) but there are opportunities nevertheless.  This British Council website is an excellent place to start your search. And it is not restricted to opportunities for would-be translators and interpreters, there are also suggestions for those wishing to combine their language skills with other areas.

My advice to students is to think broadly. If, for example, you are interested in studying Art History, why not find a job in Italy, lodge with a family, brush up your Italian on a course for foreigners and even find a course on Italian art? or do something similar with German and Music, or French and Cookery, or any other exciting combination?

Another option, perhaps once you have completely fallen in love with the language and country, would be to consider doing a degree course in that country. If the tuition fees are lower than those in the UK, not only will your language skills benefit you will find yourself eminently employable.


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!