Language Attrition

I was reading an article by Céline Graciet about language attrition the other day and it made me think back to when I was living in Spain and Portugal.

Many things that characterised her year studying in Brighton rang true for my year in Lisbon particularly, where I knew just one English person with whom I actually spoke Portuguese. Whilst I have not had the experience that Céline does of living for such extended periods of time in another country I did find that I would have difficulty bringing to mind certain English phrases or words when asked. When I returned to England the first few weeks were splattered with moments when the only truly suitable phrase that would come to mind to describe something would be in Spanish or Portuguese.

Now I have the opposite problem. I am living back in England, after a year living in Spain, waiting to commence an MA in Translation and Interpreting, and trying my hardest to recuperate my Portuguese (unfortunately after a year in Spain my Portuguese has suffered), maintain and improve my Spanish, and also improve my English (as highlighted by Céline, the dangers of not keeping up with the evolution of your own language) and I have, by spending so much time concentrating on the development of my foreign language knowledge, inadvertently sometimes forgotten about my own).

I have also realised that my Portuguese sometimes pollutes my Spanish. I was translating an article for HEDON Boiling Point magazine about Natural Draft Gasifier Water Heaters, and asked a ex-translator colleague and friend of mine to proof read it for me (it was English to Spanish). He picked up on a couple of times where I had inserted Portuguese structures onto Spanish verbs.

I have various methods to try to combat these issues: I try to keep in contact with friends in various countries, make more here in London, read on-line newspapers whilst simultaneously making glossaries of new words and phrases, watch on-line news programmes, but is this enough?

I would like to think that there is some way to have it all, but I don’t think there is. I do believe that as time goes on, I will improve from experience, having read more, spent more times in all relevant countries, known more people, but it still seems like a daunting yet exciting task. I agree with Céline in that practice is paramount and would add that so is dedication and motivation. Here’s to the future!


Improved Energy – Neologisms

One of the volunteer projects I have been working on these past couple of months has been translating magazine articles for HEDON – Boiling Point magazine. The articles are to be translated into Spanish from English, something which I would never accept as paid work, but given the extra time I have whilst volunteering, and the amazing proof reading kindly offered by my friend and mentor Alex Sanchez, it is something that I find to be a valuable and interesting learning experience.

This is not least because I have a particular interest in renewable and improved energies. The course which I am slowly drawing to a close is very technical and based on the “traditional” renewable energies – wind farms, solar energy, the use of biomass and so on. The Boiling Point magazine focuses more on improved renewable energies for rural households, and so are more focused on improved stoves/heating appliances to reduce smoke exposure and subsequent illnesses. This therefore gives me insight into a distinct aspect of renewable energies.

One of the difficulties I have found translating such material are the number of neologisms, or maybe more precisely, the number of new terminology for products. One such example is the “Off fire reboiling pot”. This has been interesting, as sometimes you can find “translations” on the internet that you disagree with, sometimes not at all. For this article I was translating the Helpline, which referred to another article which appears in the same edition. I was therefore stuck with a dilemma. Firstly I spoke with my contact at the magazine, and asked her to inform me when the other article had been returned translated. Unfortunately this has still not come to pass, and so for now, the translation stands as Olla Re-Ebullición sin Fuego. I decided on this as it seemed to be the most reasonable translation, as the pot refers to a cooking pot that you can take off the heat once the water boils yet the food keeps cooking, therefore reducing the time that it is necessary to be burning fuels, and therefore costing money and contaminating the air.

Another example was a article I translated about a Natural Draft Gasifier Water Heater. This article presented me with distinct issues. I did find various “translations” for this product, but none of them on their own seemed to fit quite right, for their order or the words used. Finally I settled on Gasificador calentador de agua de tiro natural. Whilst I am still not convinced it is perfect, it flowed a lot better than other ideas that were very heavily weighted with “de”, such as calentador de agua de gasificación de tiro natural. Very ungainly.

And so the task of translating becomes an ever increasingly tangled web. Does anyone have any suggestions as to how best approach such difficulties? Whatever comment or suggestion is always welcome.

CAT Tools and Machine Translation

Being new to translation, one thing that I am really trying to get my head around is the subject of CAT tools and MT. Some of the most heated discussions to be found on translating websites and blogs it seems to me centre around CAT tools. Being very inexperienced in the field, I have decided to download Wordfast and see if I can get to grips with that and see how it works.

The difficult thing about the subject is that I can see the merits of both sides of the argument. I can see that they should increase productivity if used correctly, but can also see that using them to go over fuzzy matches can take just as long if not longer, as you have to check so carefully what has been done correctly.

The worst effort of machine translation I can recall was the information booklet for a four star hotel in a town in Spain where I was living this year. My boss showed it to me for a giggle one day. The grammar did not agree, the hotel team was translated as “human equipment”, machines were personified. It certainly brightened up our day, but you have to ask the question of why a four star hotel could not spend a small sum just getting it right. Any human being with a decent sprinkling of English knowledge could have improved such a translation 100%.

However, I do not believe that CAT tools, if used properly, should produce such poor quality work. I will try Wordfast and see how I get on in understanding it.

I would love people’s educated opinions. I am trying to get some experience with them before starting my MA in Translating and Interpreting in September because, although it is one of the subjects offered on the course, there are other topics that I feel may be more useful if I can “self-train” in this department. Advice on this level is also very welcomed.

Starting out

I finally have a blog. Now all that needs to be done is to start writing in it. I wanted to have read some things to be able to make some intelligent comments about, yet, although I have still had very little “paid” work, I still find myself so busy that anything I read I get dragged off to do something else, with any ideas for a well structured, thorough post slowly forgotten.

However, I am not trying to be negative. I have only just started up as a freelance translator and interpreter, and whilst I have a long way to go, there are signs that not only have I chosen the right path, but also that work will come my way. I have had two strokes of luck so far, one in which I came to land an interpreting job instead of another individual because the recruitment consultant’s sister has the same name as me. It’s a funny world.

Starting at something new can be frustrating, but a very worthwhile challenge. At every hurdle I am confronted with how much there is to learn. This is a very exciting prospect, and I cannot wait to embark upon my Translation and Intepreting Masters in September.

My aim with this blog is to voice thoughts as a progress through this learning progress, and hopefully meet some people along the way. I hope you will join me on my journey.