Monthly Archives - January 2011

Translation Services: Foreignising or domesticating?

Translation services make up a wide and interesting area of the language services industry. One of its academic branches is translation theory, dealing with how a text should be approached and what underlies the translation process.

http://www.planetveritas.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/planet-veritas-logo2.jpg A leading translation theorist is the American Lawrence Venuti, who in his book ‘The Translator’s Invisibility’ presents an interesting argument. He writes that when we read prose fiction in translation, we – and most book reviewers – appreciate the fact that the text reads fluently, as if it was not a translation. In addition, in novels we are usually more interested in its content rather than stylistic features. By doing this, we leave out the set of cultural values brought by the original language. This brings in a new element to the discussion: are these culturally adapted texts accurate translations? What should be the focus of translation services? It depends on your perspective.

This approach promotes both the invisibility of the translation, because we do not want the text to read as such – as well as as the translator (hence the book’s title), because fluency is considered of paramount importance. Venuti blames translators themselves, as well as publishing houses, and underlying economic values for this attitude. However, since the majority of us are readers, I think it is easier to look at things from our perspective. So, this attitude is called domestication by Venuti, which involves adjusting the text to the expectations and values of the target-language readership, not exposing them to as much foreign content as in the original. As always with translation services, the consideration of the target audience is vital, but what does Venuti propose?

He advocates a completely different approach: foreignization. This involves bringing the readership closer to the author, his/her language and cultural specifications, rather than the other way round. This is not only difficult to achieve for the translator, but also raises potential issues for the target audience. Would you appreciate a text that sometimes does not read very easily, if no one has warned you what they are aiming at? So, this means that we, as readers, would need to be educated – and educate ourselves – to a new way of translating and therefore to a new way of reading… but how difficult would that be? Please share your views on domestication and foreignising – we would love to know your stance on this issue!

If you would like more information about this and other issues in translation, please visit our translation services page.Translation is a wide and interesting field. One of its branches is translation theory, dealing with how a text should be approached and what underlies the translation process.

A leading translation theorist is the American Lawrence Venuti, who in his book ‘The Translator’s Invisibility’ presents an interesting argument. He writes that when we read prose fiction in a translation, we – and most book reviewers – appreciate the fact that the text reads fluently, as if it was not a translation. In addition, in novels we are usually more interested in its content rather than stylistic features. By doing this, we leave out the set of cultural values brought by the original language.

This approach promotes both the invisibility of the translation, because we do not want the text to read as such – as well as of the translator (hence the title), because fluency is considered of paramount importance. Venuti blames translators themselves, as well as publishing houses, and underlying economic values for this attitude. However since the majority of us are readers, I think is easier to look at things from our perspective. So, this attitude is called domestication by Venuti, which involves adjusting the text to the expectations and values of the target-language readership, not exposing them to any foreign original content.

Venuti proposes a completely different approach: foreignization. This involves bringing the readership closer to the author, his/her language and cultural specifications, rather than the other way round. This is not only difficult to achieve for the translator, but also raises potential issues for the target audience. Would you appreciate a text that sometimes does not read very easily, if no one has warned you what they are aiming at? So, this means that we, as readers, would need to be educated – and educate ourselves – to a new way of translating and therefore to a new way of reading… but how difficult would that be?

CHIARA VECCHI

Tourism & Business Translation Services

The International Tourism Trade Fair, Fitur, recently took place in Madrid. After the “Word Travel Market”, which takes place in London in November, Fitur is the world’s second most important international fair for travel and tourism. What support can business translation services provide to this hugely influential sector?

"Tourism
Thousands of tourism professionals, companies and providers of tourism services (hotels, travel agents, tour operators, government bodies..) from the entire international tourism industry, representing over 170 different countries and regions, meet to show off their best holiday ideas, discuss the state of the sector and new trends. Travel and tourism is the main source of income for many countries, such as Egypt, Greece, Spain, Malaysia and Thailand, and many island nations, such as The Bahamas, Fiji, Maldives, Philippines, where tourism and travel activities have become a vital driving force in creating economic growth and employment in the country.

According to the advance release of the World Tourism Barometer, presented for the occasion of the Madrid fair, by The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), in 2010 there have been 935 million international tourist arrivals worldwide, representing an increase of 7 percent compared to 2009 (the year in which global tourism fell 4 percent due to the economic crisis). In 2011, growth is expected to continue at an average rate of 4-5%. The travel and tourism industry generates about 9% of total GDP and around 235 million jobs in the worldwide economy, which represents 8% of global employment and is becoming one of the largest and most dynamic industries in today’s global economy.

When looking at tourism as a confluence of cultures and languages, the business translation services industry becomes an obvious and important tool, as well as a directly connected sector. The translator, therefore, as a mediator between languages and cultures, plays a key role in the achievement of effective communication and understanding with tourists. The translation of tourist texts, such as tourist guides, brochures, restaurant menus, tourist accommodation catalogues, advertisements and promotional posters, means that tourists can communicate in, learn about, and get closer to the country they visit. Business translation services are therefore vital to the hospitality and tourist industries.

The quality of these translations directly affects the image of a country abroad, and the ‘brand’ of the country, which occupies an important place in tourism marketing and advertising campaigns. Thus, translation must be attractive, direct, appropriate and well expressed, since any error in translation can lead to disinterested potential tourists. With this in mind, all tourist texts should be professionally translated to attract future tourists, and contribute to the growth of this important sector. However, there is undoubtedly more work to be done. How do you think translation and interpreting services can further support the industries of travel and tourism?

At Planet Veritas, we provide professional travel and tourism translations, guaranteed by our qualified and experienced linguists, who are specialists in this field. For more information about this topic, please get in contact with us, or visit the business translation services section of our website.The International Tourism Trade Fair, Fitur, recently took place in Madrid from the 19th to 23rd January. After the “Word Travel Market”, which is celebrated on November in London, Fitur is the world’s second most important international fair for travel and tourism.

Thousands of tourism professionals, companies and providers of tourism services (hotels, travel agents, tour operators, government bodies..) from the entire international tourism industry, representing over 170 different countries and regions, meet to show off their best holiday ideas, discuss the state of the sector and new trends. Travel and tourism is the main source of income for many countries, such as Egypt, Greece, Spain, Malaysia and Thailand, and many island nations, such as The Bahamas, Fiji, Maldives, Philippines, where tourism and travel activities have become a vital driving force in creating economic growth and employment in the country.

According to the advance release of the World Tourism Barometer, presented for the occasion of the Madrid fair, by The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), in 2010 there have been 935 million international tourist arrivals worldwide, representing an increase of 7 percent compared to 2009 (the year in which global tourism fell 4 percent due to the economic crisis). In 2011, growth is expected to continue at an average rate of 4-5%. The travel and tourism industry generates about 9% of total GDP and around 235 million jobs in the worldwide economy, which represents 8% of global employment and is becoming one of the largest and most dynamic industries in today’s global economy.

When looking at tourism as a confluence of cultures and languages, the translation industry becomes an obvious and important tool, as well as a directly connected sector. The translator, therefore, as a mediator between languages and cultures, plays a key role in the achievement of effective communication and understanding with these tourists.

The commercial translation of texts such as tourist guides, brochures, restaurant menus, tourist accommodation catalogues, advertisements and promotional posters, means that tourists can communicate in, learn about, and get closer to the country they visit.

The quality of these translations directly affects the image of a country abroad, and the ‘brand’ of the country, which occupies an important place in tourism marketing and advertising campaigns. Thus, translation must be attractive, direct, appropriate and well expressed, since any error in translation can lead to disinterested potential tourists.

With that in mind, all tourist texts should be professionally translated to attract future tourists, and contribute to the growth of this important sector. At Planet Veritas, we provide professional travel and tourism translations, guaranteed by our qualified and experienced linguists, who are specialists in this field. Do any of your have any tips for aspiring translators who want to break into this area?

How do you sign…?

Sometimes when we think about languages in general, we might be likely to miss out Sign Language, and especially British Sign Language (BSL). Just to give you an idea, BSL was recognized as a minority language in Britain in 2003 and it is spoken as a first language by between 30,000 and 70,000 people in the UK. Even if it is not spoken, you can still find regional variations and even ways of signing that exist only in a specific area, in the same way that the Mancunian accent differs from the Geordie one. However, the way sentences are constructed in BSL doesn’t have anything to do with the English language.

Until recently, I believed that American Sign Language and BSL were the same because both Britain and the US are English-speaking countries (although I am aware of the differences between American and British English). False! Actually, a friend who has been studying BSL for quite a long time told me that American and British Sign Languages are very different from each other.

Since BSL is a proper language, there are certifications that you can study for, as well as you would do for English, French, German and so on. In addition, you could become an interpreter or a CWS. BSL interpreters have their own body – the Association of Sign Language Interpreters – which provides further training as well as information to those who wish to become qualified interpreters. On the other hand, CWSs are Communication Support Workers. They mainly work in education, schools, colleges and universities, supporting Deaf learners to communicate with their teachers and other learners. They also have their own body, the Association of Communication Support Workers.

And finally, would you like to try a few words in BSL? There are several websites where you can find words signed, here is a nice one I have found. Enjoy it!

http://www.britishsignlanguage.com/wordgroups/

CHIARA VECCHI

Ofsted reports poor language teaching in UK

Ofsted, the Office for Standards in Education, has criticised the standard of language learning in British schools, referring to language lessons in secondary schools as “weak”. It reported that many pupils had few opportunities to use the language they were learning, and that teachers were often reluctant to use the language they were teaching, meaning that students “were not taught how to respond to everyday requests”.

Language learning stopped being compulsory in 2004, and uptake of language classes has fallen sharply as a result. National Union of Teachers (NUT) general secretary Christine Blower commented that the decision to make modern languages optional was “mistaken”. Steps have been taken recently in an attempt to revive modern languages in Britain, and primary schools are now teaching the foundation stages of modern languages, in an effort to prepare children for secondary school. Although Ofsted found that primary schools were succeeding in this role, and encouraging an enjoyment of languages, the fact remains that only 44% of British GCSE students studied a language in 2010. This is frankly shocking, especially considering the role that globalisation is going to have in the future – languages have never been so important.

Planet Veritas believes that we have to encourage a love of languages, and has committed itself to doing so. Planet Veritas has given talks to students as part of its work with Go Wales, and helps graduates to get on the career ladder by offering internship programmes.

LAUREN WEBB
Ofsted, the Office for Standards in Education, has criticised the standard of language learning in British schools, referring to language lessons in secondary schools as “weak”. It reported that many pupils had few opportunities to use the language they were learning, and that teachers were often reluctant to use the language they were teaching, meaning that students “were not taught how to respond to everyday requests”.

Language learning stopped being compulsory in 2004, and uptake of language classes has fallen sharply as a result.National Union of Teachers (NUT) general secretary Christine Blower commented that the decision to make modern languages optional was “mistaken”. Steps have been taken recently in an attempt to revive modern languages in Britain, and primary schools are now teaching the foundation stages of modern languages, in an effort to prepare children for secondary school. Although Ofsted found that primary schools were succeeding in this role, and encouraging an enjoyment of languages, the fact remains that only 44% of British GCSE students studied a language in 2010. This is frankly shocking, especially considering the role that globalisation is going to have in the future – languages have never been so important.

Planet Veritas believes that we have to encourage a love of languages, and has committed itself to doing so. Planet Veritas has given talks to students as part of its work with Go Wales, and helps graduates to get on the career ladder by offering internship programmes.

LAUREN WEBB

Want to learn a foreign language? Move abroad!

If you really want to learn a language, the best thing you can do is move to the country that speaks it. At least, this is what my personal experience has showed me.

You can take plenty of language courses, which will undoubtedly be useful in improving your level. But if you really want a fluent command of a language, it does not matter how well you know each of the grammar rules, verb conjugations and big lists of vocabulary, it will never be enough. Learning a language is not just a matter of theory – it takes lots of practice.

This is something that I took some time to realize. I couldn’t say how many English courses I took in Spain, how many hours I spent in studying the language, in front of books, huge lists of vocabulary, grammar rules and verb conjugations. I especially remember studying phrasal verbs, those endless lists that we had to memorize for the exam, forgetting them in the next few days … But what was the point of studying all these phrasal verbs, if we did not know how to use them?. My exam marks were always high, as my memory is quite good, and I was able to memorize all the words needed to “fill the gaps” of the exam’s typical exercises and get a good grade. But when it came down to it, my level of English left much to be desired, a fact that I realized during my first trip to an English speaking country. This is something I have been trying to solve since I moved abroad, and my English has actually started to improve.

You will acquire a true understanding of the language and learn the real meanings of words and expressions, not to mention the enlightening, enriching and culturally eye-opening experiences you’ll enjoy. But this only works when you’re surrounded by people who speak that language, being completely immersed in their culture, in an environment where it’s essential for communication. Not from a lecture. You may be able to study, and even get a masters in a language… you can almost touch perfection … but never live the language.

Living abroad, not one day passes without learning something new, and almost without realizing it! Far away from language programs and classes, learning through direct contact with the language. And best of all: for free, what more could you want? This method is much better than spending hours in front of a book… isn’t it?

So, if you are really determined to learn a language well, my advice is to dare to go live in that country! Although at the beginning it may be difficult to adapt to a new place, I don’t think you’ll regret it.

ESTRELLA RUIZ

“You can say you to me”

The other day, I was talking to a friend who has just returned to the U.K. after living in Vienna for twenty years. “I had to leave,” he said. “People were starting to address me as Sie rather than Du.” He was partly joking, of course, but I knew exactly what he meant.

Planet Veritas knows that getting things like level of formality correct are vital in interpreting.interpreting, getting the level of formality right is paramount.

On the other hand, literary translators and film subtitlers working into English must dread those moments in a novel or screenplay when the issue comes up between two characters. It’s hard enough to explain to English-speaking audiences, but how can you possibly make it sound natural in a dialogue?

Have you ever come across this issue when interpreting or providing professional translation services? What methods did you employ to make it sound natural?

If you would like more information about our translation or interpreting services, please let us know.

The other day, I was talking to a friend who has just returned to the U.K. after living in Vienna for twenty years. “I had to leave,” he said. “People were starting to address me as Sie rather than Du.” He was partly joking, of course, but I knew exactly what he meant.

For English students of German, French, Spanish, Russian, Italian, …. or any other language which uses different forms of address to imply varying degrees of familiarity, this seems to be one of the issues which cause them the most consternation and anguish. Even native speakers can find themselves in a social minefield guarded by all sorts of arcane rules: It’s up to the older person to suggest progressing to a less formal way of addressing each other (usually over a drink) … unless one of the people involved is either a woman, or higher up in the hierarchy. Neither does being on first-name terms with somebody necessarily resolve the question of how to address them. To make matters worse, many people who like to think of themselves as hip, trendy and cosmopolitan increasingly feel like my friend and me. I remember being really chuffed when I turned sixteen and our teachers had to start using “Sie” as a token of respect – nowadays it just makes me feel old.

I wouldn’t want to speak for any other languages, but in German the safest bet is still to use the polite form when in doubt. It’s better to insult somebody by being unnecessarily formal, rather than by assuming a degree of intimacy the other person feels uncomfortable with. And it’s far less embarrassing for that person to say, “Wir können uns ruhig duzen” (“Why don’t we use the familiar form of address?”), rather than the other way around.

As if this wasn’t complicated enough already, it confronts translators with all sorts of additional problems. Working from an English source text, we have to decide whether the all-purpose “you” is formal or informal (or whether it is in fact an impersonal pronoun, which should be translated as man, on, se …) – and whether an informal usage in the original needs to be localised for the target culture by changing it to something more formal. This is particularly relevant in advertising and marketing, where everything depends on getting the tone right. Ikea, for instance, seems to have decided to ignore the social rules which prevail in the host country, and to rely on rugged Scandinavian charm instead. So all the signs in its German shops address everybody from the 19-year-old student shopping for his first studio flat to the pensioner buying net curtains as “Du” – which I personally like (see above) but I know many people find it quite irritating.

On the other hand, literary translators and film subtitlers working into English must dread those moments in a novel or screenplay when the issue comes up between two characters. It’s hard enough to explain to English-speaking audiences, but how can you possibly make it sound natural in a dialogue?

SILKE LÜHRMANN

Technical Translation Services: Machines are Stupid

Actually, they are not. Watching a translation engine at work, reconsidering translation choices within split seconds as more information becomes available, is impressive. If only I could think that fast! Why is machine translation viewed in a negative light by linguists?

http://www.planetveritas.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/planet-veritas-logo2.jpg To take the example of technical translation services, machines can think fast but they can’t think like humans, that’s why they make such bad translators. Human communication isn’t just governed by syntactic and semantic principles but also by empathy and intuition. Individual language users have quirks which a translation engine may not recognise. After all, it has only been programmed to process input by matching it against a database of words, collocations and standard expressions stored in its memory.

Professional technical translators don’t just consider the text in front of them but also the conditions of its production and reception. Why was it written, and why is it being translated? What kind of audience is it intended for? With technical translation services, this is often other industry professionals. Will readers of the translation need a little extra help in order to understand it? What is the author trying to say? Is s/he making that clear enough or is there a chance the meaning might be misunderstood? Is any of it humorous? If so, how can I make sure the joke doesn’t get lost in translation? (Machines don’t have a sense of humour. The only joke they know is the one about malfunctioning at the most inopportune moment.) Which aspect of the text is more important: single words or the overall sense? The idea is – usually, though by no means always – to aim for “dynamic” rather than “formal equivalence” by creating not a literal translation but a text which has a similar effect on its readership as the original source text. In the case of technical translation services, although the sense does need to be transmitted, the use of the equivalent terms in the target language is essential.

In other words: By entrusting even short and simple messages to a translation engine, you are likely to suffer shipwreck. (Pardon – you didn’t get that last bit? “Schiffbruch erleiden” is a colloquial German expression denoting failure to achieve a desired result. “You are bound to come to grief” would have been a better, though less faithful translation – the kind of translation a human being might have come up with.) In fact, the shorter a message, the less context for the translator to work with – so it’s all the more vital that not a single word is misunderstood. “Mir wurde die Handtasche gestohlen” means “My purse has been stolen”. Google Translate renders it as: “I have stolen the handbag.” Good luck telling that to a police officer! Although this type of issue is uncommon when it comes to technical translation services, such subtleties always need to be recognised and adapted to the target language and audience. What do you think about machine translation? Do you have a different view? Please share your opinions and experience with us!

How can we help you get your message across? Get in touch with us or have a look at our technical translation services page.Actually, they are not. Watching a translation engine at work, reconsidering translation choices within split seconds as more information becomes available, is impressive. If only I could think that fast!

BUT. Machines can think fast but they can’t think like humans, that’s why they make such bad translators. Human communication isn’t just governed by syntactic and semantic principles but also by empathy and intuition. Individual language users have quirks which a translation engine may not recognise. After all, it has only been programmed to process input by matching it against a database of words, collocations and standard expressions stored in its memory.

Professional translators don’t just consider the text in front of them but also the conditions of its production and reception. Why was it written, and why is it being translated? What kind of audience is it intended for? Will readers of the translation need a little extra help in order to understand it? What is the author trying to say? Is s/he making that clear enough or is there a chance the meaning might be misunderstood? Is any of it humorous? If so, how can I make sure the joke doesn’t get lost in translation? (Machines don’t have a sense of humour. The only joke they know is the one about malfunctioning at the most inopportune moment.) Which aspect of the text is more important: single words or the overall sense? And so on. The idea is – usually, though by no means always – to aim for “dynamic” rather than “formal equivalence” by creating not a literal translation but a text which has a similar effect on its readership as the original source text.

In other words: By entrusting even short and simple messages to a translation engine, you are likely to suffer shipwreck. (Pardon – you didn’t get that last bit? “Schiffbruch erleiden” is a colloquial German expression denoting failure to achieve a desired result. “You are bound to come to grief” would have been a better, though less faithful translation – the kind of translation a human being might have come up with.) In fact, the shorter a message, the less context for the translator to work with – so it’s all the more vital that not a single word is misunderstood. “Mir wurde die Handtasche gestohlen” means “My purse has been stolen”. Google Translate renders it as: “I have stolen the handbag.” Good luck telling that to a police officer!

SILKE LÜHRMANN

U.S. University Releases 2011 Banished Words list

Lake Superior State University recently released their 36th annual ‘List of Words Banished from the Queen’s English for Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness’ for 2011. As is clear from the name, the list is a protest against the over- and misuse of popular buzzwords, and can be found here:

One of my most hated words (‘fail’ as a noun, in case you were wondering) made the list, but surprisingly only came in at number 3. The winner of the grand prize was ‘viral’ as in ‘the video went viral’, and not its traditional (some may say correct) usage, and I found myself agreeing with most of the list items. However, as it is an American list, some of the words and phrases passed me by entirely. But it got me wondering whether there were any similar lists in other countries, does anybody know of any? In this age of social networking these annoying words are proliferating, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there was one for each language!

So does your language have a similar list, and what were your most-hated words of 2010?

LAUREN WEBB
Lake Superior State University recently released their 36th annual ‘List of Words Banished from the Queen’s English for Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness’ for 2011. As is clear from the name, the list is a protest against the over- and misuse of popular buzzwords, and can be found here:

One of my most hated words (‘fail’ as a noun, in case you were wondering) made the list, but surprisingly only came in at number 3. The winner of the grand prize was ‘viral’ as in ‘the video went viral’, and not its traditional (some may say correct) usage, and I found myself agreeing with most of the list items. However, as it is an American list, some of the words and phrases passed me by entirely. But it got me wondering whether there were any similar lists in other countries, does anybody know of any? In this age of social networking these annoying words are proliferating, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there was one for each language!

So does your language have a similar list, and what were your most-hated words of 2010?

LAUREN WEBB

New Year’s Resolutions

General and technical translations from Planet VeritasSo what’s yours? You are going to quit smoking; lose twenty pounds; go to the gym every day; stop watching reruns of CSI and finish George Steiner’s After Babel instead; meet all your deadlines, and finish those tricky technical translations; not max out your credit card ever again; never lose your temper with your young children or aging parents; cheat neither on your partner nor your tax return; run a marathon; learn three new languages and become a super hero – right?

Well, here’s mine: In between moaning and bitching about heavy workloads and impossible deadlines, I am occasionally going to spare a thought for the translators of yesteryear … say, around 1990. Just imagine: They didn’t have Google. Let me repeat this so it sinks in: They did not have Google.

I don’t know about you (actually, I can hazard a pretty good guess) – but when I’m given a text on an unfamiliar topic, I often start by quite randomly googling terms and phrases just to see if my search throws up anything useful: a thread from an online translation forum perhaps, or a multilingual website which covers similar material. Even after I’ve looked a word up in one of my dictionaries, I usually do a Google search to make sure it’s actually being used – who would ever trust a dictionary, after all? Next, I’ll tap various online resources and if I still have open questions, I might post them in a discussion forum myself, or send an SOS e-mail to some of my translator friends.

Of course, as I’ve said before, the internet can be a mixed blessing because it allows bad translations to proliferate and you have to use your own judgment to filter those out (not to mention all the distractions it provides). But it most definitely is a blessing, especially when it comes to technical translations, and I really wouldn’t want to work without having all this information at my fingertips.

Still, life wasn’t all bad in the pre-digital age. Here is a description of the daily routine of Hunayn Ibn Ishāq, one of the caliph’s star translators at the House of Wisdom in ninth-century Baghdad, who also insisted on being paid by the weight of his output – in gold. May he be an inspiration to us all: ‘We are shown Hunayn, after his ride every day, going to the baths. There he would lie at his ease while the attendants poured water over him. On emerging from the bath he put on a bedgown, drank a cup of wine, ate a biscuit and lay down to rest – sometimes falling asleep. The siesta over, he burned perfumes to fumigate his person and ordered his dinner. This generally consisted of a large fat fowl and a cake of bread. He would sup the gravy and eat up the fowl and the bread. Then he resumed his sleep and on awaking drank four pints of old wine, to which he added Syrian apples or quinces, if he felt the desire for fresh fruits.’

What do you think? Personally, I think this sounds like a fairly good arrangement.

If you would like any further information about our technical translations, please contact us.

So what’s yours? You are going to quit smoking; lose twenty pounds; go to the gym every day; stop watching reruns of CSI and finish George Steiner’s After Babel instead; meet all your deadlines; not max out your credit card ever again; never lose your temper with your young children or aging parents; cheat neither on your partner nor your tax return; run a marathon; learn three new languages and become a super hero – right?

Well, here’s mine: In between moaning and bitching about heavy workloads and impossible deadlines, I am occasionally going to spare a thought for the translators of yesteryear … say, around 1990. Just imagine: They didn’t have Google. Let me repeat this so it sinks in: They did not have Google.

I don’t know about you (actually, I can hazard a pretty good guess) – but when I’m given a text on an unfamiliar topic, I often start by quite randomly googling terms and phrases just to see if my search throws up anything useful: a thread from an online translation forum perhaps, or a multilingual website which covers similar material. Even after I’ve looked a word up in one of my dictionaries, I usually do a Google search to make sure it’s actually being used – who would ever trust a dictionary, after all? Next, I’ll tap various online resources and if I still have open questions, I might post them in a discussion forum myself, or send an SOS e-mail to some of my translator friends.

Of course, as I’ve said before, the internet can be a mixed blessing because it allows bad translations to proliferate and you have to use your own judgment to filter those out (not to mention all the distractions it provides). But it most definitely is a blessing and I really wouldn’t want to work without having all this information at my fingertips.

Still, life wasn’t all bad in the pre-digital age. Here is a description of the daily routine of Hunayn Ibn Ishāq, one of the caliph’s star translators at the House of Wisdom in ninth-century Baghdad, who also insisted on being paid by the weight of his output – in gold. May he be an inspiration to us all: ‘We are shown Hunayn, after his ride every day, going to the baths. There he would lie at his ease while the attendants poured water over him. On emerging from the bath he put on a bedgown, drank a cup of wine, ate a biscuit and lay down to rest – sometimes falling asleep. The siesta over, he burned perfumes to fumigate his person and ordered his dinner. This generally consisted of a large fat fowl and a cake of bread. He would sup the gravy and eat up the fowl and the bread. Then he resumed his sleep and on awaking drank four pints of old wine to which he added Syrian apples or quinces, if he felt the desire for fresh fruits.’

Translation Services: Going Crackers

The festive season is just over and most of us will have enjoyed sharing a cracker while gathered around the Christmas table, looked for the paper crown and maybe moaned about the useless presents found inside. Although this is very familiar to most people in the UK (and now even to me), the first time I heard people talking about crackers I was a bit confused. In British minds, a cracker resembles more or less this:

Whereas for us Italians ‘i cracker’ are something completely different:

I think you would probably call them biscuits for cheese. In Italy, British crackers simply do not exist, and I first discovered them when I came to the UK.

So, what does this tell us? That knowing a language is not enough, there are several aspects surrounding it and one of these is cultural awareness. You need to know not only the language of a country, but also its culture. As an example, English is spoken both in Ireland and Australia, but this does not make those cultures the same. Cultural knowledge is essential in providing the very best translation services, as has been discussed before.

What can you do to increase your cultural awareness and ability to provide accurate and relevant translation services? Well, first of all, try to visit that country. I had been studying English for years when I first came to the UK, and I did not have the faintest idea about what crackers, scones (and clotted cream since I was in Devon), and so on were. Secondly, be curious! Don’t just pass by what you see and hear, but try to understand what it is and why it is. Thirdly, you can also get to know the culture of a country from a distance: read local newspapers to find out what is going on there (and maybe make some notes as I suggested in another article), and what are popular topics for small talk while waiting for the bus to come. Also, you can watch television programmes in that language and find out what TV series are (or were) popular. The first time I came here Monty Python did not mean anything at all to me!

On the other hand, we should also understand people from other countries who sometimes behave in what we would call ‘a strange way’, because they follow their customs and stick to their dress code. This knowledge is vital for both interpreting and translation services, as it determines the relationships you can have with clients.

And now… do you have any funny stories about cultural awareness epiphanies you want to share with us? Here is another one from me, just before leaving: a friend of mine was once praising pineapple as the best toppings for pizza. I just made sure she knew that in Italy pineapple on pizza would be seen as culinary heresy, whereas she thought that we had invented it… Maybe I had just saved her from the anger of an outraged restaurant owner!

To find out how Planet Veritas can be of service to you, have a look at our translation services page.

Can Esperanto aid language acquisition?

Ever heard of Esperanto? Neither have a lot of people, but it has been suggested that it may be a useful tool in developing language learning skills.

Esperanto is a constructed language, and is the only one to have native speakers. It was devised by L. L. Zamenhof as a means of achieving international understanding and breaking down barriers between communities. The word Esperanto is derived from the pseudonym (Doktoro Esperanto, meaning Dr. Hopeful) which Zamenhof used in the publication of his Unua Libro in 1887. The book set out the grammatical rules and roots of vocabulary, along with some examples of the language in use.

With its simple grammatical rules, lack of irregular verbs, and relatively easy pronunciation, a thorough knowledge of Esperanto can be gained much more quickly than other languages (four times faster, according to some Esperantists), and can therefore act as a building block for language learners. A positive for would-be Esperanto students is that there are not a great deal of slangwords or idioms – after all, the language was created to ease international understanding, not make it more difficult!

However, as a constructed language Esperanto has been criticised as being too heavily based on Indo-European languages, and is more difficult to learn for speakers of other types of languages. Of course, that is not to say that it is impossible, and many people who don’t speak Indo-European languages can speak Esperanto.

What do you think? Do we have any Esperantist readers? If so, we’d love to hear your opinion on this.

LAUREN WEBB