Coffee and CPD with the ITI

CPD event – ITI Virtual Coffee Morning

Today I attended my first ever coffee morning, a virtual one organised by the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI). I was asked by Ann Brooks, the ITI’s Professional Development Officer, if, as a new ITI Board member, I’d join the panel for the event.

I accepted the invitation, not realising that this would pose two major challenges…

First, Ann asked me to send her a photo of my office. Cue frantic dumping of piles of papers from my desk into a cardboard box (to join the many other boxes in the “keep, throw, think about” decluttering pile).

Second, Ann told me that the coffee morning included a quiz based on the ITI Bulletin. I assumed this would refer to the latest issue of the Bulletin but when I watched last week’s coffee morning to get an idea of the format, I saw that the questions were drawn from issues dating back two, three or more years. Cue frantic skim-reading of past issues of the Bulletin, realising as I went what a fascinating range of interests ITI members have, and how broad and varied our profession is. To be honest, I already knew that (ITI’s Scottish network, Scotnet, also produces a great newsletter with fantastic articles, which always astonish me with their range and scope). But it’s good to be reminded from time to time. Cue new resolution: in future, read the Bulletin as soon as it arrives, and take time to savour the contents.

Anyway, the result is that I now have a reasonably clean and tidy desk (let’s hope it stays that way), on which sits a pile of ITI Bulletins with interesting-looking articles bookmarked to read in more relaxed circumstances with a nice cup of… tea.

Words for a pandemic

Don’t worry, I don’t plan to write many posts about the COVID-19 crisis, but I thought I’d take a look at the words we’re using to discuss it.

By the end of 2020 we’ll no doubt find coronavirus-related words topping dictionaries‘ ”word of the year“ lists. Words and phrases like unprecedented, lockdown, co-morbidity, underlying conditions, respirator or social distancing come to mind, as well as new words like zoombombing. There’s talk also of “coronial” to describe babies born in 2020, but let’s hope that one doesn’t take off. The word already exists (as I’ve just found out) and means “of or relating to a coroner”.

Coping with the pandemic: a word that might help

One word that I’d include in my own words of the year is ”resilience”. Merriam Webster defines resilience as “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change”, Collins as “the ability to recover strength, spirits, good humor, etc. quickly; buoyancy”. So resilience is a desirable quality. It provides a sort of buffer that helps us absorb the shocks we’re experiencing and prevents them from damaging us to our very core. That applies to us as individuals and to society as a whole. And it certainly applies to the economy.

The 2008 financial crisis led to an increased focus on banks’ resilience to economic/financial shocks. In 2020, businesses of all sizes (including tiny translation, editing and interpreting businesses) will need to be resilient to somehow keep ticking over and get back into gear when the coronavirus crisis eases off.

What about you? Are there words being used to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic that set your teeth on edge or that give you a sense of hope, optimism and strength?

And how do you build and nurture resilience?

Hello again (and I still think we’d be better off in Europe)

I had a nice surprise the other day, but a surprise that made me feel a bit sheepish. I discovered that Luke Spear had included my blog in his list of “75+ of the best translation, language and linguistics blogs to follow” – even though my last post dates from 26 June 2016. Oh dear.

Anyway, being included in Luke’s list acted like a kick in the bahookie and I’ve decided to revive this poor old blog, which I’ve badly neglected.

To start with, I’ll pick up from that post of 26 June 2016 to say that I still think leaving the European Union is a disaster for the UK. Especially during these times of coronavirus, when it would surely be beneficial to pool our resources with those of other European countries and provide each other with mutual help. And just think of the number of Europeans working and putting themselves at risk in UK hospitals, care homes and other key services.

I realise this isn’t the time to rake up old divisions but I do wonder, if we were to conduct a poll now, how many people would still choose Brexit.

EU referendum: why I want to remain

First of all, apologies for posting something political, especially after an absence of more than a year (which I’ll explain in a later post). But I very much want the UK to stay in Europe, and have only recently realised just how bereft I’d feel if we left. I can’t get out on the streets to campaign in the EU referendum as I’m not living in the UK right now. So a blog post (plus tweets) seemed the best option to set out my feelings.

My life since my early twenties has been influenced by Europe. I’ve lived in France, Italy (for more than 20 years), and am now living and working Germany. In these countries I enjoy voting rights and access to public services, just like we offer to EU incomers to the UK.

My husband is Italian, my children Scottish-British-Italian, and I have the most wonderful Italian in-laws you could wish for.

My translator colleagues are a gloriously mixed bunch of nationalities (Scotnetters, I love you!).

The EU: good for business

Over 90% of my clients are based in the EU. I can bid for (and even win!) contracts with European Union institutions and with public sector organisations in EU member states. I am currently working in Germany as an in-house translator-editor for an EU institution.

When I moved back to Scotland from Italy in 2002, I took part in EU-funded business start-up workshops here in Glasgow that profoundly influenced my whole approach to my work and from which I’m still benefitting. And through which I made some lasting friendships (Refreshers, I love you too!).

My city, Glasgow, has benefited hugely from European funding and projects, whether for employment and development projects or for profile-raising initiatives like the “European Capital of Culture” in 1990.

The UK: good for Europe

The European Union is by no means perfect. It needs a lot of work. I believe the UK can help make it better, and counterbalance the worrying tendencies that have emerged recently in some Member States – but it can only do so from within.

I’m deeply proud to be British and Scottish. And I’m proud to be European too. Europe is part of who I am and what I do. I want us to remain as members of the European Union and to work to make it better and fairer.

Your thoughts and comments, as always, are very welcome!

In Vogue: shades of grey, parenting and fitness for busy people

I was looking through Vogue magazine last night, the British version, and a couple of articles caught my eye: one on “over-programmed” children whose days are packed with so many activities that they’re “over-stimulated, over-pressured, stressed right out”; one on personalised fitness for busy people showing a drawing of a man using a cycling machine while working at his desk, a trainer at his back urging him on; and one entitled “Shades of Grey”.

All topics of interest to Vogue readers, especially with “Fifty Shades of Grey” opening in cinemas this month. Except that the issue I was leafing through dates from November 1989, and the “shades of grey” refer to the colour of unbleached babies’ nappies “free from the [highly toxic] dioxins that are a by-product of the chlorine bleaching process”. The film being reviewed that month was “When Harry Met Sally”. I wonder which will better stand the test of time…

Plus ça change

Fashion may have changed since 1989 (those shoulders!). But 25 years on, we’re still concerned about children being rushed from one after-school activity to another by over-anxious or over-competitive parents. Some of us are so worried about our sedentary lifestyles that we’ve installed standing or treadmill desks. And dioxins are still a health concern (these two articles provide more information: Tampons and Asbestos, Dioxin, & Toxic Shock Syndrome and Dioxins and their effects on human health).

Context, context, context

From a language perspective, I wonder when, if ever, we’ll again be able to use the expression “shades of grey” to represent subtle distinctions, without triggering any sexual connotations. A reminder, if one were needed, of the importance of context and connotation in writing, translations included. That’s one area where human translators beat machine translation hands-down.

The fitness article also had a couple of language/technology nuggets in the description of one trainer’s relationship with his clients: “I gradually become as indispensable as a car-phone or a word-processor” (my italics). Remember when word processing was all that most of did on our computers (those of us who had a computer, that is, back in 1989)? To the extent that we used the term “word processor” to describe not just the application but the device itself. And I wonder who uses car phones now?

A note for fashionistas

The models featured on the  fashion pages of the November 1989 edition of Vogue included Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington, while the cover had Tatjana Patiz. Good to see that they’re still going strong.

Other posts you might like

Get off your butt

New York fashion treat

Taking care of dem bones

By Marian Dougan

The Internet. The end of English as we know it? (2)

Did you watch the “English 3.0” video examining the question: is the Internet having a detrimental effect on English and on “standards”? Here are my thoughts on the question.

Social media = online conversation

Much of the “bad writing” we see online is really just a form of conversation. People writing on Facebook, Twitter and other social sites are chatting with friends and family. They didn’t write so much before social media arrived, and they certainly weren’t published. Their spelling and grammar, if shaky now, were probably just as shaky before they started posting on social sites. Rather than cause a decline, the Internet has simply made spelling mistakes and misplaced apostrophes visible, and to lots more people.

Texts, tweets and… post-cards

There’s nothing inherently bad about text- or Twitter-speak. Texts and tweets are inventive and fun and, in the case of tweets, the discipline of conveying your thoughts in 140 characters is surely a good exercise in concision.

In the early 20th century, before telephones were commonplace and with 4 or more postal deliveries a day, people used post-cards to send short messages. You could send a card in the morning arranging to meet a friend later that same day – the equivalent of today’s text message. Post-cards were great for quick, impromptu communication – and most likely contained plenty of abbreviations, spelling mistakes and grammar errors. Just like texts.

In her “Txting is for people who can’t spell, write? Wrong” post for The Guardian newspaper’s Mind Your Language blog, Caroline Tagg gives the following example, taken from a post-card written in 1907: “I arrived all right about 4 oclock hope you are all right grand wether”. That could easily be a text from 2014, don’t you think?

The important thing is to know when text-speak is appropriate and when it’s not, and when it’s OK for your writing to contain the odd wrongly spelled word. In other words, to know which form of language to use in which situation. We all switch from formal to informal speech and writing (using our “posh” voice when we’re on the phone to business contacts, for example). Maybe we should give young people the credit for knowing how to do that, too.

“Children love language, writing and wordplay”

According to Fiona McPherson, the lexicographer featured in Joe Gibson’s film, there’s no evidence that children’s formal writing has been adversely affected by “social-speak”. Caroline Tagg’s blog post reaches a similar conclusion:

Children are probably writing more than ever before, and they are doing so freely and through their own choice, developing their writing skills through play

For some heartening examples of great writing by children and young people, also check out Elli Narewska’s Guardian post: “Here is the news: children love language, writing and wordplay“.

Lastly, let’s not forget that most of what’s written in social media sites is ephemeral. Tweets and Facebook up-dates may well still be lurking on the web years from now, but they represent a fleeting moment. They aren’t meant to be set in stone. Who’ll be reading those posts 10 years from now? Will it matter if they contain spelling mistakes?

Other posts you might like

Serendipity and the scents of war 

A translation sin of omission

Punctuation botheration (as resolved by Victor Borge)

By Marian Dougan

Polish: the world’s most loved – and Scotland’s first “other” – language

The French translators’ organisation (the Société française des traducteurs, or SFT) recently asked me to write an article about the Scots language, the inspiration being Scotland’s independence referendum on 18 September 2014. The article – beautifully translated by Géraldine Chantegrel – will be published in the December 2014 issue of Traduire, the SFT journal. See below for details of how to buy this issue, subscribe or read back issues.

During my research for the article, I discovered from the Scottish Census (2011) results that Polish (along with Urdu and Punjabi) is one of the top 3 languages – other than English, Scots or Gaelic – used at home by people living in Scotland. 54,186 people, over 10% of Scotland’s population of 5,118,223, have Polish as their household language.

Polish: the world’s most loved language

Polish is also the world’s most loved language, according to the Language World Cup 2014 organised by the language portal. English (which came first in 2013) was in second place this year, with Italian in third.

While I don’t for one second doubt the lovableness of the Polish language, I wonder if the two results are related. Could Polish’s World Cup victory be a reflection of the national pride (and homesickness, surely) felt by the many Polish people who have left their country since it joined the European Union back in 2004? Could this be a case of absence making Polish hearts grow ever fonder of their language?

What do you think, readers? What’s your favourite language, and why? Comments from Polish readers particularly welcome!

How to buy Traduire

To buy the December 2014 or other issues of Traduire, you need to create an account (but you don’t need to be a member of the SFT to do so). Each issue costs €25; an annual subscription (2 issues per year) costs €30 for SFT members and €40 for non-members. Past issues of Traduire (with 2-year embargo – so this year’s issues won’t be available until 2016) are free to read on the portal.

Other posts you might like

“Dreich”: Scots, the Scots… or Scottish weather?

Lingua franca: English vs Latin

Commas: fascinating facts (and a Stop Press)

by Marian Dougan

Casting a clear light on good writing: the TORCH rule

Helicopter shining beam of light


Italian journalist and author Beppe Severgnini has come up with a rule for good writing. It’s the PORCO rule: Pensa, Organizza, Rigurgita, Correggi, Ometti (Ponder, Organise, Regurgitate, Correct, Omit).

I’m not mad about the PORCO rule because:

a) “Porco” is Italian for pig. Not the cute kind of pig you see in a film like Babe (for which the Italian would be maiale), more a filthy swine sort of pig. The Italian “vecchio porco” equates to “dirty old man”. ‘Nuff said.

b) Regurgitate = spewing up words all over the page or screen. Again, ’nuff said.

c) “PORCO” lacks affordance. That is, the word and its connotations don’t suggest what it’s for. Where’s the link between smelly swine, dirty old men and good writing? Or maybe I’m missing something?

d) Good writing is lean, concise and elegant. Not words you usually associate with pigs – even the cute ones. They tend to be flabby.

e) “Omitting” isn’t necessarily a good thing. Editing and excising, fine. But simply omitting can be a sin (as the Catholic Church and Labour Party leader Ed Milliband both know).

All of that said, here’s my TORCH rule to cast a clear light on good writing:

Think: about what you want to say. Marshall your ideas. Let them rest a bit.

Organise: your thoughts. Jot down a summary, your main headings. Or even just think them out in your head.

Restate: your (by now beautifully ordered) thoughts in written form.

Correct, Clarify and Clean up: Run a spell-check. Read through your text and clarify any words, phrases or sentences that might confuse your readers. Do a “find and replace” on things like double spaces between words (or after full stops!), spaces followed by a punctuation mark, etc.

Hone: sharpen, whittle and fine-tune your (preferably printed out, if you’re working on a computer) text to make it more incisive.

That’s it. Do you have any additional tips for clear and concise writing? Let us know in the comments!

Photo courtesy of Brian Digital

Other translation and writing posts you might like:

Oxford commas

The Gettysburg Address: lessons for writers (and translators!)

Smart quote marks for smart writing

By Marian Dougan

The Internet. The end of English as we know it?

“English 3.0”, a 20-minute video by documentary film-maker Joe Gilbert, “explores how the internet has influenced the way we communicate today and whether the changes witnessed have had a positive effect on the language”. It features interviews with Tom Chatfield (author and cultural commentator), David Crystal (author and linguist), Robert McCrum (associate editor of The Observer), Fiona McPherson (lexicographer) and Prof. Simon Horobin (author and academic).

Take a look and let us know what you think: has the Internet been good or bad for English? Do “ROFL”, “C U L8R”, “amazeballs” (no doubt out of fashion by now…) and all the rest mean that the language is in terminal decline?

Other posts you might like:

Apostrophes: everything you ever wanted to know, just about.

Nouning and verbing: an ask too far?

Life’s a beach? Great! But please, not on LinkedIn…

By Marian Dougan

Future-proofing the translation profession: watch the videos, take the survey

Back in July, the Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIOL), the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) and the European Commission’s Directorate General for Translation (DGT) organised a joint event entitled “Future-proofing the profession: Equipping the next generation of translators“.

The event posed the following questions:

Are translators being trained to meet the future expectations of work providers and users of translation services?

Are they equipped with the skills they need to deal intelligently with technological change?

What part can academic institutions, professional bodies and international organisations play in preparing new and current practitioners for the challenges facing the profession?

I attended the event and to my mind it completely missed the very important question of basic employability/self-employability skills – a lack of which is a problem for all school- and university-leavers, not just translators. But no less important for that. My own question would have been:

As a work-experience provider, I find language graduates lack employability skills (marketing, business, targeted social media, web-savviness, IT (even MS Office!)) for employment/self-employment. Who, if anyone, is addressing this gap?

The ITI addresses some of these training issues in its Setting Up as a Freelance Translator course. At a more basic level, I think schools and universities should be providing young people with a sort of tool-kit or “leavers’ pack” telling them what skills they need to enter the world of work as it is today and, most important, where to obtain them (including information on grants and training available from government agencies, local authorities and organisations such as the Prince’s Trust).

Watch the videos and take the survey

You can watch the videos of the “Future-proofing the profession presentations”. And, if you’ve got 5-10 minutes to spare and ideas to share, you can take the follow-up survey (you don’t need to have attended the event to do so). I think today (2 October) is the deadline, unless it’s been extended.

If you do have ideas on how best to equip translators for the future, don’t forget to share them here in the comments too!

Other posts you might like:

Translation Studies MSc: a student’s perspective

Life’s a beach? Great! But please, not on LinkedIn…

101 things a translator needs to know but doesn’t necessarily think to ask

By Marian Dougan