Tuesday, 31 May 2011

An introverted profession

Is translation an introverted profession? You do not need to speak to anyone and you can work at home in a boxed-in room behind a pile of large dictionaries communicating with electronic devices. However in these days of Internet and social networking, you cannot remain closeted away hoping that work will come to you. Therefore you do need to network, be it online at The Watercooler Network or Proz.com or attending conferences that your local translation organization has arranged. Gone are the days where translation is seen as a secondary profession. It is said to be the oldest profession apart from prostitution. Networking is important to see current trends in the market, keep up to date and just to make contacts. introverts beware then.

Screen translation seems to be an oxymoron to me. Although you are translating, you are also interpreting and then transferring the message into a written medium. This seems to be a good choice for a person in the middle of the continuum of introvert and extrovert.

It is never easy in translation to network etc. as it is mostly a private activity unless you are an in-house translator. It would be an ideal world if translation was a more easily recognizable profession and easy to get into. One can hope though.

Monday, 30 May 2011


Numerous articles have been written and conferences given on the subject of copyright in translation.

Translators are writer's in themselves. What people frequently tend to assume is that to be bilingual automatically means that you can translate. This is a terrible misconception. Translators most often train to be translators, developing writing skills and appropriate ways into which to transfer a message. However back to the topic in hand. Out of this comes the sticky issue of copyright. Translators are in fact copying a text. It does not matter that the text is in another language but in essence it is the same text and the same ideas of the author are brought across in a different language. Should then the translator's name appear on the page as having translated it? In my opinion, yes. Having the translator's name appear at the bottom of the page does not mean that the translator wrote the work but contributed in another task to compiling this text and facilitating. Another issue to contemplate is that translator's are often said not to be creative as they just copy a text into another language. This is not true because it takes a great deal of creativity to transfer a message for a target audience who will accept it as well as transferring the meaning of the author's message as well not getting bogged down in Nord's (1997) words "source-text fidelity". This can be one of the pit falls of translation when a translator becomes so immersed in the source text that a stilted or source text oriented translation is produced with skewed collocations in the target text. Once again back to the topic at hand; translators are not fraudsters who copy other people's work in the guise of translating but are creative writers who transfer sense and who are writers, proofreaders and editors who are detail oriented by referring always to the source of the original text.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

The value of podcasting and apps in this digital age

The iPod revolution has taken the world by storm and as such so has the concept of podcasts. I subscribe to numerous podcasts, among them language podcasts e.g. children's stories in Spanish and how to learn Spanish. This got me thinking that there must be other podcasts dedicated to other faculties of language. However a search on the iTunes directory brought up zero hits for podcasts on translation and interpreting. This is an area lacking. I think national translation institutes such as the ATA and the ITI should consider providing something of this sort and tap into this vacuum; even if it is for a nominal fee. I think they could reap great rewards institutes and translators can listen to conferences etc. that have been recorded and be mobile at the same time i.e on the train to their vacation spot and still be productive in enhancing their skills.

Apps have been more successful in this industry as it is far easier to create a language app where the person can work with the app on a large screen with wifi access. More and more people have the new tabs being brought out by almost every manufacturer of digital products e.g. Samsung, Apple, Motorola etc. Me being biased having the iPad has meant that I have found many useful apps for the language user. Some apps are free and others are available at a small cost and unfortunately some are available only in some country stores. However as basic language apps, I am impressed with the range a language user has to choose from. There are dictionaries, terminologies etc. available. Although you cannot complete your specialized library with these apps they are useful for quick references. As these tabs become more available and the digital revolution evolves even more there will hopefully be more use for these tabs in a productive way.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Useful resources

There are many useful translation resources on the web and in bookstores. So many that you can easily get bogged down and overwhelmed (as was the case with me trying to get helpful hints and advice as a starting translator and being bombarded with information overload). I therefore thought it would be useful to put all the resources which I have found useful in one place and add to this blog. As of now the list is quite short but I have found these resources very informative and applicable.


How to succeed as a freelance translator - Corrine McKay
The entrepreneurial linguist - Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner
The prosperous translator - Chris Durban


The translator's teacup
Translation times
Also see my blog roll on the left hand side of this blog as well as my recent post on "A heart for langauge blogs"

I know that there are many more books, blogs, websites etc. out there that may be even more varied than these but I like to keep it simple. This list will be added to on a regular basis.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011


An extract of a poem by W.H. Auden

"You need not see what someone is doing
to know if it is his vocation,

you have only to watch his eyes:
a cook mixing a sauce, a surgeon

making a primary incision,
a clerk completing a bill of lading,

wear the same rapt expression,
forgetting themselves in a function.

How beautiful it is,
that eye-on-the-object look."

This poem describes the way I feel about translation. If you can't say daily that "I was made for this"; perhaps you are doing the wrong thing. Although I am a novice translator, I have my "eye-on-the-object look" in the field of translation.

Monday, 23 May 2011

It's all in a name

Although this does not strictly have anything to do with translation, the concept of names is fascinating. Where did the meanings of names come from? Were they translations of concepts or concepts in themselves? I know that surnames were often the person's 'job title' e.g. Smith. There are so many first names that I would like to know if these were names for concepts before they became strictly names for people. It would be interesting to see if a person becomes what they are named. For example, the name 'Maria' means 'bitter'. Does a person who is named Maria have a demeanor of bitterness or is it only psychological i.e. Only when the person knows what his/her name means does s/he adopt these characteristics?

In Spain, often translations into Spanish which contain names such as John, William, Paul etc. are translated into the Spanish equivalent which is interesting as other countries often leave names as they appear in the source language. This may mean that names are universal if there is a direct equivalent in another language e.g. 'John' is translated as 'Juan' in Spanish, and this may support my view that names were concepts a long time ago. I have not done much research into this but names are fascinating and important-just take for example the process expectant parents go through to name a child.

Any comments?

Thursday, 19 May 2011

An office colleague

While studying my cat, Chloe, used to sit on my desk and study with me. I would not be surprised if by osmosis she managed to learn more about translation than I did. In the winter time she didn't take too much to her studies as my lap was a better place. Chloe can read English and her mother tongue is cat. I'm not sure if she misses studying but she definitely is one erudite cat. 

In Other Words

The title of my blog came from Mona Baker's 'In other words. A coursebook on translation'. It is such a rich phrase for translators that I could not resist naming my blog after it. The public can even appreciate this title. Hopefully my blog can live up to the title in the way it expresses the thoughts in my head onto the screen. There truly is an art to writing!

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

The problem with translation

It is very difficult for recently qualified translators to get a foot in the door. In house positions are hard to come by and as in most professions recruiters do not seem to give you the time of day unless you have relevant experience and how do you get experience if you're never given the opportunity. The quote by Lanna Castellano seems to ring true (this quote is taken from 'Get rich - but slow', in C. Picken (Ed.)Iti Conference 2: Translators and Interpreters mean business, London:Aslib):

"Our professoin is based on knowledge and experience. It has the longest apprenticeship of any profession. Not until thirty do you start to be useful as a trasnlator, not until fifty do you start to be in your prime.
The first stage of the career pyramid - the apprenticeship stage - is the time we devote to investing in ourselves by acquiring knowledge and experience of life. Let me propose a life path: grandparents of different nationalities, a good school education in which you learn to read, write, spell, construe and love your own language. Then roam the world, make friends, see life. Go back to education, but to take a commercial or technical degree, not a language degree. Spend the rest of your twenties and early thirties in the countries whose languages you speak, working in industry or commerce but not directly in languages. Never marry into your own nationality. Have your children. Then back to a postgraduate translation course. A staff job as a translator, and then go freelance. By which time you are forty and ready to begin."

This profession now takes on a whole new perspective. It is tru what the Earl of Roscommon said in describing our profession: "I pity from my soul unhappy men/ Compelled by want to prostitute their pen/Who must like lawyers, either starve or plead/And follow right or wrong, where Guineas lead".

In light of all of this, any suggestions for a starter translator would be appreciated!

Monday, 16 May 2011

New language learning techniques

In a recent article in New Scientist dated 23 April 2011, they published an article on "Learn a language, translate the web". This new technique involves machine translation (MT) and automated translation software to teach someone a foreign langauge. The basic premise  is that users translate web pages at the same time as teaching them the langauge which the pages are written in. A pilot is due to start in a few months and will involve users translating phrases and sentences from the web page. This is the brain child of Luis von Ahn of Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania. We will have to wait and see what comes of this and if this will be the new break for supplying flawless machine translation.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Screen Translation

Screen translation is one of the areas of speciality of which I am interested. Unfortunately my degree did not incorporate this in my syllabus. In South Africa this speciality seems to fall under the film industry where people who speak a second language and who have not necessarily studied translation are employed. Another problem of being resident in South Africa is that the local languages are often given priority and translators who speak one of these languages are given the opportunity to become involved in this industry. I do accept that European institutions are better equipped to offer additional courses in screen translation in European languages however with the history of South Africa being as it is, better opportunities for all language practitioners should be given in the spirit of multiculturalism and tolerance. This will be difficult to achieve in a country where most of the eleven official languages are still under-represented.

Screen translation is a mix between translation and interpretation. Spain often dubs their foreign films (a relic from Franco's reign) however foreign film imports to English speaking countries provide subtitles and not dubbing. Screen translation does not directly translate the characters' words but takes into account many factors such as the length the person is speaking and the length of a sentence. There can be no disparagy between the two. There are many factors to consider and hopefully one day there will be a translator directed course avaiable in South Africa.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

The problem with learning another language

It is never easy learning a foreign language. On a recent trip to Spain I visited the famous El Rastro flea market in Madrid where you won't find a Goya hidden away however you do find some very interesting things. El Rastro is packed on a Sunday with tourists and as a result many of the vendors have a smattering of English. However this stall in the picture was trying to sell men's boxer shorts however the sign said "boxes". Although this results in many hilarious and outrageous signs and memories for the tourists to laugh over, it made me think that this happens all too often with second language learners. Often  words are written down which sound the same to the foreign language speaker e.g. 'wish' and 'which'. This, as a side note, is fascinating to me. These kinds of signs provide immense amusement as you can see from the sheer number of examples sent via email every year, and as they say, laughter truely is the best medicine. This picture is one of the memories of my trip which combined humour and the linguistic and mental effort invested in learning another language.