Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Why would such a job be necessary? After all, if you can read English and have some basic knowledge about vocabulary and grammar differences among the various Englishes, why should seeing the word “boot” (UK English) instead of “trunk” (US English) bother you? Wouldn’t you understand if a character in a novel asked, “Do you have a pen?” (US English) instead of “Have you got a pen?” (UK English). Wouldn’t it just add to the flavor (or flavour) of whatever you are reading?
Well, I believe that is generally true for literary works; after all, just as it would be odd if, in a book set in Spain, a character suddenly used American slang, I think preserving the original style and feeling of an English text is important. Publishers tend to disagree with me, however, in part because they seem to assume the audience would find it confusing or disturbing if a book was in any way “foreign.”
This is especially the case with children’s literature, because it is erroneously believed that children don’t understand that people in other countries might speak differently or have different traditions. So publishers worry that Americans kids might think it is “weird” if an English boy in a book that takes place in England says “lift” and not “elevator,” and therefore such things are translated to American English (or to British English, in the case of American books). I have not read any of the Harry Potter books, but I have been told that the vocabulary and grammar in them is Americanized for US audiences, and that some American Harry Potter aficionados insist on buying their books from the UK, so they can read the original texts. And, as another example, I received some information not long ago about a children’s book translated to English from a Scandinavian language. An editor at the British publishing company implied that major, “neutralizing” changes were made in the translation (including removing all mentions of the setting), so the book would be ready for child audiences in both the UK and the US, and so a second, American translator wouldn’t later be needed, at an additional cost to the publishers. To me, this kind of translation amounts to a sort of dumbing-down of the book, because it makes it easier for readers to access. Sure, explanation may sometimes be needed, and that can be given in a footnote or by adding a word or two to the text, but remaking parts of a novel so it appeals to foreign readers is going a bit far.
When it comes to non-fiction, though, I have more understanding for publishers. In some non-fiction works, it is essential that the message not be lost because the audience doesn’t recognize the words or the style. For example, I have seen an ad here in Wales that says “Have you sussed it?” As an American, I had no idea what that meant when I first saw it. Then I learned that “to suss” means “to check out” or “to find out” or “to understand.” If that ad were used in the US, perhaps it would be changed to “Do you get it?” and the company wouldn’t have to worry about losing potential customers because of the incomprehensibility of their message. That’s the kind of thing an English to English translator can help with.
Cultural references can add quite a bit to a novel, but might need explication in a work of non-fiction. Recently, I read Simon Winchester’s book about the OED, The Surgeon of Crowthorne. That’s the original British title, anyway. In the US, the book is called The Professor and the Madman, apparently because the American publishers thought (correctly, I suspect) that their more dramatic title would appeal more to Americans. Knowing that fact made me wonder what else beyond the spelling and grammar had been adapted or translated for American readers. I have not read the American version, but I would imagine that the mentions of the Civil War are not necessarily as detailed in the American book, since Americans are presumably more familiar with the facts of the war, and that there might be more information about the locations in the UK, so American readers can understand distances and issues of, say, fashionability. I wondered, too, if the tone of the book, which seems rather British to me, might have been changed a bit.
In short, translators from English to English analyze texts for issues of grammar, vocabulary, and culture-specific references (locations, politics, educational systems, and so forth), and they adapt such “problem passages” to another kind of English. As I made clear above, I see the need for this in non-fiction documents, especially for ads, user’s manuals, tourist information, and other such texts that are to serve an informational purpose. But I don’t think much of it when it is applied to fiction.
Have you sussed all that?
To learn a little more about this very specific kind of translation, check out this article. It would also be interesting to know whether this type of translation is common in other languages that are spoken in two or more countries (such as German, French, Spanish, or Swedish).
Monday, November 27, 2006
So here are some references I’ve found:
American versus British English
Grammar and spelling differences
I’ve given them to my students and I’ve sometimes found them useful myself, too, especially if I’ve needed to translate to British English (just because English is my native language doesn’t mean I can’t learn more about it!). And, yes, of course there are many other kinds of English as well, but I think it is safe to say that American and British English are by far the most influential.
The next post will look at translating from English to English. Yes, you read that right!
Friday, November 24, 2006
I always enjoy reading metaphors or other descriptions that involve translation in some way (both metaphors that depict translation and those that describe something else using translation), because they offer a view of what people think translation is. One day it might be interesting to study these metaphors and see how the sense of translation has changed over time.
For example, last month, I mentioned Alistair Elliot’s idea of translation as powdered eggs. Henry Rider, in the preface to his 1638 translation of Horace to English, offers a very different metaphor, that of translation as clothing:
“Translations of Authors from one language to another, are like old garments turn’d into new fashions; in which though the stuffe be still the same, yet the die and trimming are altered, and in the making, here something added, there something cut away.”
I’d thought of translation as many things before, but I hadn’t thought about it as “old garments,” and though I like Mr. Rider’s metaphor, I don’t really agree with it.
Do you have favorite translation metaphors or descriptions?
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
Here it is: you can, and should, proudly mention your education, your work experience, your skills, and anything else related to the prospective job that sets you apart from all other applicants, but please, do not pretend to be, do, or know more than is actually true. In other words, do not exaggerate or lie in any way.
If a potential employer believes that you are not being completely honest, she or he will not feel enthused or confident about hiring you. And if someone does ask for more information or even hires you, but later discovers you were not telling the truth – perhaps by the low quality of your work or by you being unable to do something you claimed you were proficient at – not only will that negatively affect your working relationship with that person (as in, you probably won’t have a working relationship anymore and she or he will certainly not recommend you to others), but you may also make that employer more suspicious and less likely to employ other freelancers in the future. Even one small lie can make things difficult for yourself and for others.
If you are exaggerating because you feel you don’t have enough experience, be honest about that instead and realize that you may have to accept lower fees or less challenging work until you can build up your CV. If you are exaggerating because it is part of your culture to do so, keep in mind that this may not work in other cultures and that you might have to adjust your approach. If you are exaggerating to make yourself feel better in some way, that is something for you to think seriously about.
So, do not say you have near-native fluency in seven languages (like that “interpreter” mentioned a few posts back) or that you are equally comfortable with literary, financial, legal, technical, and academic documents, or that you regularly translate 15,000 words a day. Do not pretend to have degrees from schools you only took one or two classes at or that you are familiar with all the translation software programs when you have in fact just heard about them. Do not give as references people who wouldn’t even recognize your name, and do not lard your CV with claims of work that you did not actually do.
To summarize, be honest about who you are and what you can do. Often, that’s good enough, and there is no need to employ exaggeration or lies; doing so will probably backfire in some way, and it will likely make you disappointed in yourself as well.
Saturday, November 18, 2006
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
First of all, if you’re looking for work – and this applies to any job, not just translation – you need to do some research. I suspect that many of these new translators are buying or finding lists of translation companies on translation websites or else that they are doing quick Google searches and that they don’t bother to carefully look at the companies’ websites before hurriedly sending off letters of interest. If you translate from Spanish to Chinese, there is no point in writing to a company that only works with Scandinavian languages. If you only have experience translating personal letters, don’t try to get work at a company that just hires authorized translators. And, frankly, there isn’t much call at all for you to write to other freelance translators, since chances are that they don’t want or need to hire someone, and that even if they do, they already have the contacts they need. So make sure you check to see what languages and what subjects each potential employer works with, and what needs they might have, before you waste both your time and theirs sending them a letter.
Once you have narrowed down your list and know where you want to inquire about work, you have to write a good, brief letter. Some of the applicants who have sent me letters have rambled on about themselves or mentioned things that have little to do with translation, and that doesn’t make me want to keep reading. Say who you are, what your background is, what you can offer the company you are writing to, and why you are interested in just that company. Each letter should be personalized; it is always obvious when someone is sending out a mass mailing (especially when there are lots of e-mail addresses listed in the “To” and “CC” fields, which really looks unprofessional) and mass mailings show that little thought or effort went into it, and that won’t make people want to hire you. This is why research is so essential; if you know something about the company, you’ll be able to add a sentence or two about why you would fit in well with their business objectives and needs. If they haven’t advertised for new freelancers (and, of course, even if they have), then you have to be able to clearly and succinctly explain why they ought to consider you.
Speaking of personalization, find out the actual name of the person you are writing to and don’t just write “Dear Madam/Sir.” If you are unsure of the gender of the person you are addressing, study the company’s website a little more; usually, the biographical information will refer to the person as “he” or “she” and then you know whether to use “Mr.” or “Ms.” Don’t use first names (or any other casual language or slang, for that matter) and make sure you spell the name of the person and the company correctly. In fact, check all your spelling carefully. Correct spelling and good language usage are always important, but this is particularly the case when you want to work with language!
So, if you want your letters of inquiry to be read, start by doing thorough research, then target your letters appropriately, write personalized and brief letters, and use correct, polite language. If you take the time and make the effort to look for work in this way, potential employers will see that you are conscientious and careful, and they will be more likely to consider your application, instead of just reading a sentence or two, getting frustrated and annoyed, and deleting your letter.
Monday, November 13, 2006
The last post was about unique or “untranslatable” words, some of which I believe ought to be borrowed into other languages, including English. But thinking about words reminds me of one of the biggest challenges for people learning new languages: building their vocabulary.
To become proficient in a language, you can’t just memorize the grammar rules and work on your accent; you also have to learn words. Lots of words. The language teacher’s rule of thumb is that for every 100 new words a learner sees, only 10 will stick in some way, especially if the words are not actively used more or less immediately. That means you have to be exposed to many words, and you have to try to use those words, too.
So how can you find new words to learn each day? Well, obviously you can read books or newspapers in English and pick a word or two each day to look up in the dictionary and attempt to understand. That’s the best way to learn new words in context. I’ve found that you may not remember a dictionary definition, but once you’ve seen a word in use, the next time you see it, you have a sense of what it means. After a few times, you really understand the word.
If you want, you can also get free e-newsletters that teach you a new word each day. Here are some of my favorites for English, and one for Swedish:
A Word A Day is one of the largest such e-newsletters, and it has a theme each week.
Oxford University Press publishes many dictionaries and other books, and they have various e-newsletters with words each day. Note that not all the words they introduce readers to are ones you’d want or need to use on a regular basis, but that doesn’t make them any less interesting. OUP offers: American Slang Word of the Day, New Oxford American Dictionary, Erin’s Weird & Wonderful Word of the Day, and Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day (this does not teach new words exactly, but it does give advice on using English, which sometimes includes distinguishing between two similar or frequently confused words).
Merriam-Webster, another dictionary publishing company, also has an e-newsletter.
Ett Ord om Dagen is a way to learn about Swedish words.
Let me know if you are familiar with other such sources for learning words!
Saturday, November 11, 2006
I noticed this recent BBC article on Hinglish, which hints at what each tongue has to offer other languages and cultures. Since each language has a different way of understanding life, it has unique words and phrases that explore the world from that point of view. English has long been a promiscuous language that has blended with and taken from other tongues. Now, besides Hinglish vocabulary, we should also eagerly accept new words from Swenglish, Spanglish, Chinglish, and so forth.
One of my personal efforts towards the goal of having a more inclusive English language (and by inclusive I mean that there are more words from more languages to describe more concepts), has been to try to see the Swedish word “sambo” transferred to English. “Sambo” comes from “tillsammans” (together) and “bo” (live) and it means partners who live together without being married, as is much more common in Scandinavia than in other parts of the world. Another possible Swedish candidate is “lagom,” which means, more or less, “just right.”
What other words should the English language absorb? Maybe Christopher Moore’s book In Other Words: A Language Lover's Guide to the Most Intriguing Words Around the World has some ideas for us.
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
Sarah Alys Lindholm is a Japanese to English translator located in Houston, TX. Since graduating from Bryn Mawr College as a linguistics major in 2003, she has been translating anime (Japanese animated TV shows and movies) for a living. Now she’s pairing that vocation with a job as Media Coordinator, coordinating releases and proofing DVDs for the Houston-based company ADV Films.
In this post, Ms. Lindholm discusses the differences between translation and interpretation, and it is a very timely and relevant issue, as interpretation has come up on the blog several times recently.
On Translation vs. Interpretation by Sarah Alys Lindholm:
Many people don’t realize there’s a difference between “translation” and “interpretation.” Even people who work with translators all the time will sometimes ask us “Can you translate at a meeting I’m holding?” And I’m sure interpreters frequently get handed documents and asked to translate them. Perhaps it’s easier to go from interpretation to translation; I wouldn’t know and wouldn’t like to assume. However, as a professional translator I can definitely say that interpretation is so unlike translation as to be an entirely different proposition and much more difficult for me.
So what is the difference between “translation” and “interpretation”? “Translation” refers to the translation from one language to another of something which is frozen in time: a book, a TV show, a letter, a play, a speech someone has already delivered which is recorded and then given to the translator in its entirety. “Interpretation” is a real-time exercise – when you interpret, conversation, speech, etc. is actually taking place, and as it happens you are taking what is said in Language A and communicating it in Language B. It may be that you are interpreting at the same time as others are speaking, or it may be that you wait until the end of a chunk of speech and then interpret it into another language while the speaker pauses to wait for you.
Although many people seem to regard “translation” and “interpretation” as the same or at least activities that the same person would do, and although there are people who do both translate and interpret, the two are radically different both experientially and practically.
Just recently I had my first interpretation gig. I had the honor of interpreting at two Question & Answer panels and two autograph sessions for Mr. Yoshitaka Amano at Oni-con 2006 in Houston, Texas. I think a large part of the reason why I was approached about the job (about 48 hours before the convention began) was that assumption so many people have that translators interpret and vice versa. However, I took the job and am glad I did so; it was fascinating. Here are a few of the things I learned or confirmed my suspicious about:
Translation is you in a room; interpretation is you in the world.
Most translation takes place alone at a desk. The translator interacts with something which is fixed in time, complete, a separate unit. The translator only talks to people as a side activity. The translator is free to wander the chambers of her mind, to ruminate and to solve problems in consultation with and according to the dictates of her own body and soul. There is silence in which to think; there is the freedom to, if she suddenly finds herself needing to know an obscure fact about whale migration, make a long-distance call to Dad and ask him about the migratory patterns of whales. Interpretation, on the other hand, generally takes place in a group of people, because what you are interpreting is generally the speech of or between people. You must interact with people. You are not free to intensely probe your own soul until you find the answer to a sticky problem, no matter how much introspection it may take. You are not free to take a bathroom break in the middle of the climactic point in the dialogue. You are not free to stop and call Dad to have him clarify a technical point.
The advantages and disadvantages there are obvious. However, there is another side to this interaction with the world in interpretation. In translation, it is often not possible to ask the original creator what s/he intended. If something is open to multiple interpretations, leaving you in a jam about which to opt for, there is usually no recourse. There is often no opportunity for dialogue between the translator and the original writer/speaker. It’s an inorganic process, in a way. Interpretation, however, is an organic process. There is often (though not always) an open avenue of dialogue between you and the person you are interpreting. Often you can ask a question, clarify a point, ask for a rephrase, or confirm that your understanding is correct. It’s possible to look much worse in interpretation – to crash and burn – because the result is real-world and not inorganically polished before publication. But it is also possible to fly much higher, in some ways.
Translation is out of time; interpretation is in time.
Because interpretation is in the world, it occurs in real time. The translator must make her deadline, but she does not have to translate in real time, or even in real order. She can take breaks; she can work slowly on a section of text if it is dense or difficult; she can even translate the end before the beginning if she wishes. The translation will be delivered as a whole product, and no one will ever know or care how it was done. In interpretation, there is no “whole product,” and there is immense time pressure. You cannot skip to the end of the conversation and do that first, because the end has not happened yet. You cannot go think for an hour. You do not have the time to lovingly craft and polish each line like a fine precious stone. Interpretation is down and dirty. You are not blowing glass. You are in the sandbox.
This is one of the key differences between someone who identifies as a “translator” and someone who identifies as an “interpreter,” I believe. The translator works in nuance, sometimes spending days revisiting and fine-tuning a single sentence or even a single word. The interpreter pays attention to nuance but deals in the meat of the issue. Often there must be instant turnaround of the type a translator is not used to providing and may be quite bad at (“Usually I would go back to my desk, think about this, and email you!”). The interpreter must grasp the meat of the issue right away and deal with that first. When you deal in real time this way, sometimes tiny pieces are lost. This would eat away at my soul and mind as a translator but is something I have to resign myself to in interpretation or I will go crazy. Likewise, I have had occasion to supervise the translation work of someone who primarily identifies as an interpreter, and found that his translations did not capture nuances that a translation (as opposed to real-time interpretation) is able to capture and should capture. (I should note that I do not believe he is necessarily representative of interpreters as a whole; I think it spoke more to his individual, personal attitude being the type of attitude which did not go well with translation.)
The interpreter, too, must have a much larger vocabulary than is strictly necessary in a translator. The translator is free to look up any and every word she doesn’t know or doesn’t feel 100% comfortable with and that’s fine, but the interpreter must not be constantly looking up things in a dictionary. Perhaps the translator can in this way extract things which are more precise, but the interpreter will have more core knowledge.
I found while interpreting for Mr. Amano that this time pressure was both a curse and an unexpected spur to creativity. The time pressure made it more difficult to bend my intellect to the issues in a disciplined, thorough way – but the terror and necessity of it caused the kind of sudden solutions, the organic creativity, that can only happen in a situation with time pressure. Under the gun you come up with ideas that otherwise might never occur to you.
For translation you have to be able to write; for interpretation you have to be able to talk.
There are a couple of ways in which this is true. An excellent translator must be excellent at writing; depending on the type of translator, proficiency may be required in many types of writing: technical, literary, expository, and/or dialogue writing. But a translator is seldom required to be a good public speaker. On the flip side, an interpreter may not need those writing skills, but an interpreter must have the ability to speak to people, and to speak to crowds. Obviously not every interpretation gig will involve crowds, but it will come up (it certainly came up in my gig – not only did I have to speak in front of a crowd, but I had to speak in front of a crowd of fervent Amano fans!). Interpreting for Mr. Amano was much different than translation, because my output was spoken words from my own mouth, rather than text that someone would later read. This allowed me to say things in a way that I would not translate because it wouldn’t be appropriate to written form, but writing also has advantages over speech in some ways, so the mental approach has to be different depending on what your output is.
It’s also true that interpretation may often involve speaking in multiple languages – in other words, within one conversation a Japanese-English interpreter may have to switch between interpreting Japanese-to-English to Person A and English-to-Japanese to Person B. Suddenly not only must the interpreter be comfortable speaking, but she must be comfortable speaking in both languages. Some translators also go in both directions, but not always. I have occasion to write business emails in Japanese sometimes, but for practical purposes I’m strictly a Japanese-to-English translator at this point in my life, and don’t usually go the other way around. Interpreters generally don’t get to specialize in that way. Since I’m a translator and seldom get the opportunity to really hold long conversations in Japanese and although I speak Japanese, I feel much less comfortable holding sustained time-pressured conversations in it in front of strangers than I would feel doing the same thing in my native language of English. I don’t have to constantly speak smooth Japanese to translate well. But interpretation is different.
In the case of Mr. Amano’s Q&A panels, I was very fortunate to be paired up with a coworker who is a native speaker of Japanese. He, like me, is a translator by profession. But he had done some interpreting before and suggested that we handle things this way: when an audience member asked a question in English, he would interpret that question for Mr. Amano in Japanese. Then when Mr. Amano answered the question in Japanese, I would interpret it for the audience in English. This turned out to be a fabulous way to do things because each of us got to do the brunt of our speaking in our native language, making things faster, more comfortable for the listeners in both languages, smoother in general, and much easier and more comfortable for the two of us. (Plus, because there were two of us, we could help each other out with our respective tasks when necessary.)
Translation and interpretation subject you to different kinds of strain. The physical and mental endurance/exhaustion factors are a bit different across the two activities. I had a horrible time in my second Q&A panel because for the last forty-five minutes of it, I had to go to the bathroom. A translator isn’t subjected to this stress unless she’s in the thick of some brilliant idea she doesn’t want to lose – if my concentration suffers because of physical needs as I translate (and those physical needs can be very different from those encountered in interpretation), I can usually get up, take care of them, and come back. Not so with interpretation. Physical conditions in interpretation have to be endured until the opportunity arises to cope with them, and when you’re unprepared for how to deal with them they can cause added stress that makes it difficult to think calmly and rationally.
In the area of mental strain, which is highly individualistic and so will probably be different for other people, I found differences as well. There is a lot of mental fatigue in translation, because you’re performing the same highly-mentally-tasking activity for hours at a time. For me this is fatigue is a slow drain, like walking around all day. But when I’m interpreting, it’s a large fast drain, like sprinting. There’s more on-your-feet thinking. Your memory gets more of a workout: you have to stretch yourself to remember all the linguistic stuff, yes, but also to remember all the research you’ve done on the relevant people/topics, and more importantly everything that’s been said and is being said. Statements can be long and sometimes meander many places before there’s a break for you to begin repeating them in the other language. Holding all that stuff in your head until you can regurgitate it while at the same time figuring out how to regurgitate it in the target language stretches memory and intellect both at once. One of those two things may give. After the first panel with Mr. Amano I quickly learned to bring more paper and take more notes, jotting down key words as soon as the sentence began to jog my memory in case the sentence’s end was a long way off.
But translation and interpretation are BOTH about research.
Yep. I’ve said many times that translation is all about research, and I think interpretation is the same way. Before I went to meet and interpret for Mr. Amano, I visited his website, printed out Japanese Wikipedia’s entire article about him, and went through and listed the names of the main characters in all the Final Fantasy games in both English and Japanese. All of it was useful. Familiarizing yourself with the person and the relevant topics to the extent possible is key. Since this was a last-minute gig I didn’t get a chance to do much more than Wikipedia, but every little bit helps. In particular, I remember Mr. Amano talked about a work of his called “New York Salad” which I never would have understood or been able to cope with if I hadn’t already known the work existed. Plus, both the client and his agent were immediately set at ease when we met because I had done this basic research, and that’s important as well. Apparently Mr. Amano once got stuck with an interpreter who didn’t know anything about his work, didn’t know who Picasso was, and had never heard of Final Fantasy!
Sunday, November 05, 2006
Well, I wasn’t going to mention it, but since it’s a hot topic on translation lists, here is a link to Catherine Tate's recent comedy sketch about an interpreter. Yes, it’s supposed to be humorous, but I have to point out that the sketch refers to a translator but is actually about an interpreter, that there is probably no interpreter who can work with so many different languages simultaneously, and that an interpreter needs much more than just a certificate (especially a TOEFL certificate!) in order to be successful at his or her job. And I won’t even mention the characterizations of the different nationalities and languages!
For more on interpretation and translation, see the next post, which will be by a guest blogger.
Thursday, November 02, 2006
It has long been common – and necessary – to have interpreters at business meetings or similar events when people from more than one country attend, but with the increase in intercultural relationships, interpreters are also needed at multi-ethnic weddings and other family gatherings. This article also mentions the translation of letters exchanged after flings, and the possibility of interpreters needed on dates between two people from different cultures.
I personally probably wouldn’t want to be an interpreter on a date (although it could be an unusual experience!), but I have met someone who interpreted at an event that occurred some months after a date: the birth of a child!
It’s great to see people being educated about what translators and interpreters do, and how we can be useful in any stage of life, including romance.