Tag Archives: writer

Translation Myths —Putting bilingualism to the test

As translators, we often are asked to do terminology research, as if translation involved only the word-for-word exchange of specialized terms. But this is a myth to discuss some other time. Let’s talk about bilingualism.

Bilingualism is the ability to speak in two languages. Knowing a few phrases in German while your native language is English or Italian does not count; you have to be able to express yourself freely and richly in two languages. Many European citizens have done this since childhood: growing up in a geography inhabited by multiple languages and dialects makes learning more than one mother tongue unavoidable. From my conversations with people from different European extractions, being a polyglot or multilingual speaker is the norm.

Some colleagues of mine tend to pooh-pooh Americans in general because they seem disinclined and disinterested in learning other languages, but this is an incorrect perception as well as a sweeping generalization. Because language learning is highly dependent on geography, we can’t blame a guy in Idaho who never cared to study or speak Croatian, especially if the number of Croatian residents in Idaho is small.

But then, you will say that that is not excuse! You know many monolingual Americans in New York, Los Angeles or Chicago who are surrounded by thousands of Latinos, Chinese or Russian-speaking folks yet they never cared to learn those languages. Point taken. But let’s discuss an often neglected characteristic of bilingualism: orality or the distinct activity of expressing oneself verbally in more than one language. Translation is writing in a foreign language with the flair, style, vocabulary knowledge and grammar capabilities belonging to that foreign language. Being bilingual has nothing to do with having the ability to write in a foreign language properly, or to write in it at all. Let me demonstrate.

I am a bilingual person because I can freely express myself in both English and Spanish. Here’s a small proof: explaining my bilingualism

Before you click on the YouTube link, can you easily “see” or “read” how bilingual I am? Of course not. Why not? Because they are spoken words. And the way we all speak words is far different from the way we commit them to paper. If you were to meet me at a coffeeshop to tell me about your latest vacation adventure in The Poconos (NY),  your speech would be full of ums, ahs, ohs, what-did-I-says and other filler expressions. Because the content is so illustrative, emotional and personally colorful, and because the communication is instantaneous (ergo, I am listening as you are speaking), we don’t need full stops, commas, semicolons or paragraphs, none of those structural strictures. It all makes sense, right?

Then why do you insist on calling me a bilingual translator? Why are your job postings inviting submissions from native Spanish/Chinese/Dari/Pashto speakers to work as translators, when you know full well that it’s apples and oranges? Translators write; interpreters and bilingual individuals speak.

Speaking of writing, how difficult is it for you or your staff to compose a sensible sentence to say what you really mean? If you want an interpreter for a call center or for tech support, say so, don’t ask for a translator. If you want a bilingual who can translate your documents, software, etc., use the word TRANSLATOR. Repeat after me: translators translate and write.

American businesspeople pride themselves in being pragmatic, direct, sensible and in delivering for the bottom line. That’s why I’m speaking to you in your pragmatic and direct and sensible language: call us for what we are and what we do. When in doubt, speak to us first. Thank you.

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Filed under Bilingual staff, Bilingualism vs. Translation, Misinformation on interpreter role, Misinformation on translator role, Writing skills

Be a resource to others

Who doesn’t like a helping hand?

I recently spent 10-12 minutes reading a thread in the Freelance Writers LinkedIn group about networking. Some posters mentioned how difficult it is to network if they’re new in the field, or shy or introvert. Others offered sensible advice on what to do and what to expect. This reading exercise motivated me to give something of myself to this motley group of writers, the basis of which is the headline of today’s post: Be a source to others.

Some of my thoughts from my LinkedIn contribution are summarized thus:

Wow, I like this thread! I belong to a close cousin profession: I am a translator, so I write translations for a living…full time! Ruth, Erin & Lori, I agree 100% with your approach to networking, since I can relate to some of the things you do (except for the lip gloss convo, ha). One cannot be a member of every trade group or association related to one’s profession, of course, as it quickly becomes expensive in terms of money and time commitment. I truly and genuinely believe in giving first, in sharing what I know, in offering something extra, in paying forward.

When I started my career as a translator, back in 1991 in New York City, I knew nobody. I went to my first meeting of translators nervous and insecure, being one of the youngest in the group of experienced linguists. Being an introvert, I usually think I won’t get to network much, but I am a naturally good listener. So I observed, I learned. Over time, I meshed in.

One of the best tips I can pass along is this: be and become a resource to others, without any interest or expectation. If I meet someone who does something completely unrelated to my line of work –a chemist or a lawyer, for example– I steer the conversation towards something that is interesting to THEM: I ask questions (I am inherently inquisitive without being nosy). I show them that I find something interesting or fascinating in what they do, it comes naturally to me. That attitude bears fruit sooner or later for me.

We won’t make friends or contacts with everyone we meet. But that person with whom we didn’t click may know a third person who could find us interesting and useful. As for social networking, I am very active in LinkedIn groups but I don’t believe in Twitter that much. LinkedIn is a more professional, gentle approach that is suitable for me (I have made some new clients thanks to it!), but Twitter seems more aggressive and potentially annoying, not different from 6 p.m. telemarketing in calls.

The original thread can be found here on LinkedIn.

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Filed under Marketing, Networking, Public Relations, Writing skills

Translators are writers

It’s that simple. Writing is an essential part of the translation process. By the way, how many steps does the translation process involve? Academics from the translationsphere have come up with different workflows, but I would like to offer my own in plain English:

  1. Reflexive reading of the original
  2. Writing of the first draft
  3. Polishing the first draft into a final copy (composition)
  4. Spell-checking
  5. Reflexive reading of the translation

Now, these are visible steps. There are many more steps going on inside the mind for each of the above. I’ll focus on writing.

I have been reading Daniel Cassany’s book titled La cocina de la escritura, an excellent treatise on the art and discipline of writing.  In chapter 3, Accionar máquinas, Cassany explores strategies to overcome writer’s block. It occurred to me that we hit a block because we assume that we have to write something finished. A writer doesn’t produce a publish-ready copy; he goes through drafts.

A translation is never finished. Writing is even more complicated all of a sudden. Then again, for the sake of deadlines, a more or less finished draft of the translation is delivered.

To avoid digressing and losing my readers here, let me ask you: What do you think happens when you write? Say, an email, a note to your spouse, a holiday card to a relative. If your first thought is ‘to communicate something’, you got it half right. It’s a half answer because communication is the means to an end. If you want me to deliver a package to a client containing television parts and you send me an email telling me so, the purpose of the email is not to communicate, but to direct me to do something. Not to order, command or mandate. To direct, to guide me, if you will, to do or achieve something. That email has a functional purpose. This applies to other forms of functional texts, such as procedures, handbooks, quick start guides, installation guides, building plans, etc.

Let’s slow down when it comes to writing and translating. When we write, we are not just assembling words together, stitching them up to ‘communicate’. We are not slaves of the words, quite the contrary. We command the words, we can slow them down to think about them. No wonder many translators forget about their role as writers.

What I would like to leave you with is this: writing involves condensing ideas, sometimes, very complex ideas, into words that should make sense to the reader. Translation is not that different.

 

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Filed under Spanish technical writing, Translation, Translation as writing, Word formation