Friday, September 28, 2012

Chambers Thesaurus, 4th Edition

I just got a copy of the new fourth edition of the Chambers Thesaurus and I can say that this is definitely a keeper. It has over 1100 pages of fantastic information and it is the kind of reference book that you just want to spend time skimming. Here are some of the things I like about this thesaurus.

It explains synonym nuances, so you understand the difference between, well, “difference” and “dissimilarity”, “diversity”, “variety”, “distinction”, “unlikeness”, “contrast”, “discrepancy”, and “divergence”. This will be especially helpful to people who are learning English as a foreign language, I think. When I taught English as a foreign language, I noticed how common it was for people to simply use synonyms they found in a thesaurus without actually understanding these nuances. But of course even native speakers need this sort of information.

The book also includes idioms, so you can find ways of varying them (“once in a while” or “sail through” or “a sticky situation”). People tend to overuse clich├ęs, so being able to look them up in a thesaurus is really helpful.

The Chambers thesaurus also says if a term is technical, old-fashioned, formal, or colloquial, which is essential information when writing or translating. I have found that university students often get confused about formal versus informal language, so I will recommend that they check this thesaurus to get advice.

Another helpful feature is that the thesaurus gives extra information. “Carriage” doesn’t just give synonyms but also offers a list of forty different types of carriage, which can be especially helpful for writers or translators who need just the right kind of carriage in their text. Similarly, “zodiac” also gives the signs of the zodiac and their symbols, and you can learn which “rhetorical devices” exist.

The thesaurus also has quotations. For example, Harper Lee’s “The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience” illustrates “conscience” very well, but it is also a quotation worth knowing.

One of the most entertaining parts is the “word lover’s gallimaufry”, which has over 50 pages of lists and explanations. What’s the difference between a flexitarian and a pescatarian? How can you express disbelief (“what a load of cobblers!” or “pull the other one!”)? What terms might an estate agent or a gamer use? What are some global English words you can use to spice up your language usage (“bergie” or “pom”)? What do you call someone who collects cigar bands and who is a “vecturist”? What are some types of extreme sports (“tombstoning” and “zorbing” are among them)? This section is fascinating and amusing.

Since the Chambers thesaurus is so big, it covers a lot of territory. That means the book takes up quite a bit of space on the shelf, but I think it’s worth it.

In short, this thesaurus (or “lexicon”, “dictionary”, “wordbook”, “vocabulary”, “repository”, or “wordfinder”) is really practical (and “valuable” and “worthwhile”). It is definitely the thesaurus I’ll be using from now on, and the one I’ll recommend to my students and my fellow writers, editors, and translators.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Word Nerds and Scrabble

I can’t help it – as a word-lover, I’m a big fan of Scrabble. Travel Scrabble accompanies me on many trips and I regularly play Scrabble online with my mother, who lives 4000 miles away.

Scrabble and Bananagrams are favorite games to play with some of my other word nerd friends. And I play Alfapet (also now called Scrabble), the Swedish version of the game too.

It’s not just that it’s a fun game. It also helps teach me new words and keep other words fresh in my mind. So it’s beneficial and relaxing and enjoyable all at once.

So when my partner showed me this video with tips for how to improve at Scrabble, I had to watch.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Revising and Editing for Translators

It can happen that we translators sometimes have to work with editors. But before we get to that stage, we have to edit ourselves. Brian Mossop’s book Revising and Editing for Translators is about what it means for a translator to be a proofreader and/or editor him- or herself, and the book explains it all in an easily understood and interesting way.

Sometimes translators hire other translators and have to check their work before the customer gets it, and sometimes a translator is employed by a company to proofread someone else’s translation. But despite translators proofreading our own work (we should do that anyway, but I know not everyone does) before sending it to the customer, we do not know always how to work with someone else’s texts.

Mossop discuss why a proofreader may be needed (there may be errors in the text, for example, or text style is not appropriate for the subject) and the types of proofreaders/editors available (subject-matter reviewers, copy editors, etc.) and various types of proofreading (scanning, spot-checking, etc.). Then he explains what it means to look for and fix typographical errors, grammatical mistakes, idiomatic errors, typos, punctuation mistakes, logic errors, factual errors, problems with the structure, among other things, and how to think about how a writer/translator uses language and style, and how readers influence a text (their background, for example, and why they read the text).

Mossop also provides issues to consider (such as when and where a translation is to be read or what errors a particular translator usually makes), and he gives advice on how to work with the translator whose texts you are proofreading (it is important to explain why changes are being made, rather than simply pointing out that they are necessary, so that the translator learns). So there is useful information in this book, although much of what he discusses is not actually that specific to translation.

The book also includes exercises, questions for discussion, suggestions for further reading and a glossary, so it is particularly suitable for students and new translators. But it is also worth reading for advanced translators. It contains information that is useful for both translators who are proofreading texts translated by others but also for translators who want to be better at editing their own texts.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

New Academic Year

As the new academic year gets closer, I start thinking about who the new students will be and how it will be best to teach them. I try to improve my teaching style and techniques each year and to adapt how I teach specific material.

Besides making some of the obvious changes, such as changing which texts I’ll be using and how I’ll approach them and what activities and assignments each class will contain, this year I’m also working on encouraging my students to be more active about their learning processes.

Usually, I ask my students at the beginning of the semester to think about their roles as students and classmates. In other words, I ask them what their contributions to class should be, how they should behave, how they should treat one another, how they should work on their assignments, and so on. (It generally takes a while for them to start coming up with responses to my questions, but once they start, they can’t stop. Come to class, listen respectfully when others speak, take notes, do the homework, use correct grammar, come see the teacher to discuss work, and so on.)

I also ask them to discuss what my role as a teacher is. This often surprises them, because they don’t generally consider the fact that I also have responsibilities. I find it quite helpful for us all to remember that we all have duties towards each other and towards the course, and to spell out what those duties are.

Then, at the end of the semester, I remind them of what we discussed and ask if we met all our responsibilities. Students generally are very pleased to realize how much they actually have accomplished over the course of the term. Also, it is a reminder that they are active members of a joint project (i.e. the course) and that they can contribute towards making the class a success.

This year, I’ve decided to add to this by asking them to write down several goals for themselves. These goals will be seen by no one but themselves but they will revisit them a few times over the course of the semester in order to insure that they are actively taking charge of their learning and their lives.

What changes are you making for this academic year?

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Market Research

This list of journals that accept literary translations is definitely worth looking at, since it provides plenty of potential markets.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Shoot the Puppy

Even if you have a particular language as your mother tongue, there are always words and phrases that you do not know. I am an American-English-speaking person but I live in England and it sometimes happens that my partner, friends or students use British English words and phrases that I cannot understand. It can certainly feel a little weird sometimes that I don’t know common English words, even though it’s my native language. And if I translate into British English, which I do often, I must know those. For those who translate from English, it’s also key to understand such expressions.

But I’ve got a book that can help us. A friend gave it to me for my birthday in 2010; sadly, she got ill and passed away soon after that, which is probably why I’ve taken so long to write about it. The book is called Shoot the Puppy and it’s by Tony Thorne, who works at King's College London and writes about slang, among other things. He is described as a slang detective, who does research on and explains many interesting English phrases.

Many people know the word moonlighting, which means you have another job at night (i.e. when the moon is shining), for example, but how many understand the word sunlighting? Well, it means you have another job one day a week. If you moonlight or sunlight, you can do so by sitting next to Nellie; that means to learn on the job by watching what others do. We have to knife-and-fork it. What? We’ll use a knife and fork to what? That means we have to deal with a problem one piece at a time. Aye, aye, Shepherd’s pie! Yes, I'll do what you want and thereby knife-and-fork situation.

You may have prochtoheliosis, a problem we can try to knife-and-fork. What is it that you have? Helios is the Greek word for sun and proktos means rectum, so someone who has prochtoheliosis thinks the sun shines from his or her rectum, and that he or she is the most important person in the world. Such a person may also be luxorexic, which means that he or she enjoys the finer things in life and always wants to pamper him- or herself. Thorne’s book contains many words and phrases and gives examples of how to use them.

He also includes information on how the term came to be and on similar phrases. There is a glossary as well. The book is funny and interesting but also useful. Come on, shoot the puppy – dare to do the unthinkable – and buy Tony Thorne’s book.