Thursday, 30 June 2011

A heart for language blogs

Judy and Dagmar Jenner have suggested that language bloggers do a post where we list our favourite language blogs. I think this is a great idea because I have found my favourite blogs only by navigating from page to page to page of other people's blogs and to have them all in one place certainly reduces the trolling time on the Internet. A lot of other posts have mentioned the same blogs as I am about to but they certainly deserve to be mentioned again and again. So, here they are in no particular order of preference:

-Translation Times ( Judy and Dagmar Jenner always have relevant interesting posts to share about the translation industry and they have a wealth of information which they share generously. They are also the authors of "The Entrepreneurial Linguist" a must-have book for any freelance translator.

-The Translator's Teacup ( Rose Newell hosts this awesome blog. She always has an interesting perspective on all things translation and language and has some great posts on technology and related advice. Her posts will hopefully one day be made into an e-book covering all things translation and more.

-Intralingo ( Lisa Carter is the author of this blog and is mainly a literary translator. She is very interesting to follow and her posts are direct and to the point covering general and specific topics related to translation. She also leaves you with many practical guidelines. You won't be able to resist commenting on her posts.

-Blog de aprender español ( This is an amazing blog where they offer free material to people learning Spanish. It is a dual language blog with posts in Spanish and English, with almost daily grammar, vocabulary building and culture posts which often come from people's questions on the blog. If you're a beginner or a fluent second language speaker, this blog is entertaining and always has relevant posts.

-Speaking of Translation ( This blog is run by Corinne McKay, author of "How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator" and here she posts podcasts on different aspects of translation. These podcasts are wonderful often giving listeners access to material which they might not have been able to come across e.g. she does a series of interviews from the 2008 ATA Conference highlighting some of the seminar topics. Her latest one is on the second edition of her book. These podcasts are co-hosted by Eve Bodeux. I have never come across another translation podcast and this one is pure gold.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

South Africa, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Translation

I'm currently reading Nelson Mandela's memoirs "Long Walk to Freedom" and seeing as it's his birthday soon (18 July) I thought it would be quite fun to do a post on translation in South Africa when he was ruling the country.

Having studied translation I can now look back on the history of South Africa with some sense of understanding and this got me thinking about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The TRC was a body set up after apartheid to deal with human rights injustices which happened under apartheid. It was a restorative body which sought to record and in some cases grant amnesty to human rights violators. It was based on a reconciliatory process where healing and forgiveness could occur. Throughout the process people from all walks of life (Afrikaaners, English and Xhosa) were called to the TRC. For this reason many translators were needed to bridge the language barrier. Being still very young when the TRC was put into effect and disbanded I didn't think of the full significance until now from a translation perspective.

Teams of translators/interpreters were needed for court documents and testimony. The TRC dealt with many atrocities and for the translators/interpreters this was emotional reading and hearing about it as the tentacles of apartheid gripped everyone with fear. The translators/interpreters were not separate from the people who had actually been through these atrocities as everyone experienced apartheid even if it was in small ways such as only being able to use the African designated toilets. At the time there were accounts of translators/interpreters breaking down in tears during testimony because of this. We are taught in translation studies to be impartial but this was one case where this was not possible and no matter how much we say we have to be impartial there will always be some kind of impact a text leaves with us.

I'm very proud to say that the TRC had a great impact in the healing of our nation South Africa and this could not be due without the help of translators/interpreters eliminating barriers.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Story of a rapper

We as translators know that translation/interpreting always occurs in a context and often something which may seem incomprehensible, in a certain context makes prefect sense. Lots of fields have specific vocabularies that occur in general language but have different meanings in a work environment. For example, a ward for a nurse means a hospital room whereas for a lawyer it means a child under the care of a guardian or of the court of law.

Recently friend told me a story which was quite humorous when you come to think that the meaning should have been gleaned from the context. Recently my friend went to a shop to buy a present for someone. Now, in South Africa a lot of the shops offer wrapping services after you've bought something. My friend goes to the till to pay and asks the cashier if she can have it wrapped. The cashier then proceeded to look at my friend like she was out of her mind and asked for her to repeat what she had just said. After repeating that she would like to have the item wrapped the cashier started rapping a song about the item purchased. This was very amusing at the time. Finally my friend was able to convey what she meant and went home with a smile.

Often the problem in a multicultural society such as South Africa is that the people who are put into positions such as cashiers etc. English is often their second or third language. This can often result in amusing anecdotes such as the one told above. This story though reminded me that translators can also fall prey to misunderstandings such as this and therefore need a thorough knowledge of the two languages s/he is translating between, culture, past experiences, previous knowledge etc. an author of the text and the projected readership may have or it may have just as a disastrous effect as the story told and may not be as humorous.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

A Confidence Boost

I often suffer from self-confidence issues especially in the translating field where there are so many excellent translators. However in reading blogs and other materials, I have come to realize that it's how you value yourself. One of the misconceptions I have had is that a translator is fully proficient and completely bilingual. Let me explain what it truly is. Thanks to Judy and Dagmar Jenner's book "The Entrepreneurial Linguist" translators need to be proficient in their language combination but their source language may not be as up to a high standard as their target language as it is their working language. Rose Newell, a German-English translator expresses this excellently in her blog "The Translator's Teacup" where she says "You should be able to understand the majority of texts without the aid of a dictionary, to the standard of an educated native-speaker. You do not have to be able to write to the same standard (particularly in terms of grammar, which few non-natives will ever fully master), but you should be able to understand concepts as well as any native. A good translator will use a dictionary and other resources to find the precise words to express the concepts, terms and ideas in the target language, but should also remember that such tools are there to assist only, and cannot do the work for them." Being a recent graduate from a postgraduate degree in translation, this has dispelled the many myths I have been carrying around with me, i.e. that a translator must have lived for many many years in a country where their source language is spoken and that how can you expect clients to employ you if you aren't a native in your source language and target language. Although having things such as these are useful they aren't a prerequisite and many successful translators do not have these and as witnessed by Rose Newell's statement it doesn't need to be a prerequisite. If I haven't mentioned before, Judy and Dagmar's "The Entrepreneurial Linguist" is a vital tool on any translator's bookshelf. Also I have recently stumbled across Rose Newell's blog where there is a wealth of information which is relevant and up to date. Twitter truly is one of the social networking tools you should pay attention to. I started out following one or two translators on twitter and this led to me finding even more blogs and relevant material on translation and technology related to marketing etc. that has become invaluable to me. You can follow Rose Newell on twitter @lingocode and Judy Jenner @language_news. They tweet so many relevant articles and information on the translation field that you don't feel isolated at all in translation. And of course you can follow me on twitter @WellRebekka

Monday, 13 June 2011


Often in second language learning interference between two or even more languages occur. I remember when I was simultaneously learning Spanish and French at school that the structure of the two languages overlapped, or I would remember one word in one language but not another. Lately though, having Spanish as a second language I have noticed interference with my English. I often catch myself saying "the bed of the cat" or something similar where it sounds clumsy in English although it's perfectly acceptable.

As translators, we need to be careful that this kind of interference doesn't affect our work resulting in translationese(too strict an adherence to source text structure). I find it extremely difficult to render a translation free of translationese because when you are translating the concept you are thinking about it in the source language and you may know the corresponding term but at that moment it seems you'll never remember it.

Thursday, 9 June 2011


I have just returned from a recent trip to Spain. It was a two in one trip where I went to the UK for my brother's wedding and then I popped over the ocean to spend a couple of weeks in Spain seeing as I had studied Spanish for four years and never been to a Spanish speaking country. I really enjoyed it there being able to hear Spanish all the time however I think my expectations were different than what actually happened. The economic crisis has driven Spain down and you can see that Spain is battling. I thought I would go over there to fish around for jobs in a language arena but that soon ended. I really was over confident in my ability in speaking Spanish. I can read and understand Spanish almost as a native but getting hardly any practice in South Africa in Spanish has stunted my vocal ability. I thought I could speak Spanish until I went to Spain where anyone who hasn't spent a few years there most definitely can't understand. It is almost as if they are speaking another language. This experience though has not demotivated me and I continue to supplement my language learning everyday. This experience has even made me more anxious to explore and delve into the never-ending depths of language proficiency. I think all translators suffer with their anxiety about their language proficiency as a poor translation can have long lasting effects. Being in an isolated profession as most translators are freelance means we have to keep a watch on our own standards not being surrounded by co-workers everyday. How do we do this and who "will guard the guardians themselves"? I only have one answer to this... Be accountable whether it be to a translation institute and do their test or abiding by perfectionist standards because isn't it shocking when you see a language mistake in any publication?

Tuesday, 7 June 2011


A question I've been mulling over for a while now is if it's possible to come straight from university having studied languages and then a postgraduate translation degree and to enter the translation workforce. After reading many discussion forums on and I'm starting to feel it isn't something you should study as a young graduate. Is it possible to get an in-house translation job with training? Most of the personal stories I've read seem to indicate otherwise. Most translators start out in another profession and eventually come round to translation carrying all their life experience with them, teachers, engineers etc. Should there then be a minimum age that you can enter to do the degree of translation if it is so hard to get training? You can't simply start your own freelance agency straight out of school at the age of 23. You need accountability and confidence. It seems to be a catch 22 situation. You find your passion early on in life but can't realistically achieve it. From a personal perspective it's even harder being in South Africa as in-house translation positions are few and far between and mostly for the indigenous languages of South Africa. Unless one works as a sole in-house translator for an international company to translate documents (and this is even improbable because you need to be mentored) the only other viable way would be to start your freelance agency translating birth certificates, degree certificates (at least there's sworn translation training for this!) for people people entering the country and this would hardly butter your bread. One void in this profession is that there are no graduate programmes to train you or help you enter the market. It is simply assumed that you have the necessary experience from life experience. Is it truly greener on the other side in America where there is a huge demand for translators and interpreters being an immigrant country?

Friday, 3 June 2011

Linguistic Forensics

A while ago I read an article in a South African law journal of how linguistic forensics was being used to identify authors of documents where a court case needed this kind of expertise. Back then it wasn't frequent but now it is common practice and admissible. The idea that we all have a certain linguistic fingerprint is fascinating. Linguists trained in this area can identify, through their training, certain common peculiarities to your grammar, syntax etc. and compare this according to the task entrusted to them. This is a fairly new profession but one as old as the hills. You can almost always detect a certain person's writing style but to turn it into a science is truly amazing. More and more people are being trained as these kind of professionals, being able to detect even the smallest evidence. Universities should start to offer this in their language degree programmes and a love of language and detail is a must.

If we as translators are trained in this science, I believe we'll be able to produce even better productions of our work. If we have an even deeper understanding of linguistic forensics, we'll be able to produce an even better replica of the source text on a linguistic (not functional) level. I don't negate that we don't do this already in our source text analysis but to do this on a deeper level would be beneficial to everyone meaning greater fidelity to the source text author replicating his/her particular style on a linguistic level. This then complicates the question of faithful and free translation. Perhaps a faithful and a free translation is possible in the translation of one text.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Pjs or no pjs?

Working from home as a translator can have it's bonuses. It is one of the few professions which you can truly work from home; you don't need to see clients or interact with employees. This means you can wake up at any time and as long as you deliver your work on time and in a professional manner, you can dictate when you do it. You can even sit in your pajamas all day and no one will be the wiser. I've always adhered to the rule, look good, feel good. It doesn't matter if you don't go out the whole day, if you dress professionally then the product of your work will be professional and you never know when an opportunity comes your way and there you are sitting in your pajamas unprepared. Sharp pencil, sharp dressing, more work?