A Special Challenge for Political Interpreters: America’s 45th President

6 03 2017

Professional language interpreters of political leaders face numerous obstacles to accuracy. Among those: the speaker’s voice or accent, his or her attitude, missed words, misheard words, misconstrued logic of the speaker’s thoughts. When every sentence must be quickly or even simultaneously translated, the interpreter must – like lightning – 1) understand what is being said, 2) convert it, and 3) deliver it.

A prestigious job, certainly, but an extreme challenge under any circumstances.

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Add to this picture a leader like the new American President, whose speech contains multiple idiosyncrasies, and the problems are not merely technical, but can become ethical. As French translator Berengere Viennot wrote in the French edition of Slate, if she translates what he is actually saying, French listeners may not understand him; however, if she edits and smoothes his language then she misrepresents him as “an ordinary politician who speaks properly.”

An interpreter’s job requires acting; the interpreter must “become” that person whose words they are translating. Vile ideas, ugly words, offensive arguments … these are not the interpreter’s to soften or exclude. It is incumbent upon interpreters to expressively communicate all of the ideas their subject speaks, as well as every emotion, nuance, and tonal element that can possibly be conveyed.

So translating low-minded comments and vulgar words is all part of the job, although slang, sarcasm, and innuendo are notoriously difficult to find equivalents for. What’s troubling in the 45th American President’s talk is more fundamental. Good interpreters attempt to get into the minds of the politicians they are translating, because if they can understand their subjects’ ways of thinking, the interpreters can more fluently anticipate and comprehend the speakers’ ideas. But finding integrated ideas at the core of the 45th President’s mind has proven difficult so far.

From the point of view of many professionals, Donald Trump’s ramblings often just don’t contain clear meanings. Agness Kaku, based in Tokyo, told the Washington Post that within Trump’s remarks the subject is very easy to keep track of: “it’s about him, it’s about the enemy.” But the actual point of his sentences is hard to track. “It just drifts,” she said. “You end up having to guess as a translator, which isn’t very good.”

And who takes the blame for incoherent translations that might have relied on some guessing?

“Trump gives me outbreaks of sweat,” his German translator said, according to a Tweet by journalist Laura Schneider. “He is so contradictory that people think the translator talks rubbish.”

There have been many tense moments and high stakes in the history of political interpreting, and it seems there may be an increased number in the near future. But on the other hand, in your world, for your interpreting needs, Skrivanek offers some of the best professionals in the industry, and we are ready for any challenge.

J. McShulskis





Germany’s Dedication to Data Privacy

6 02 2017

Germany is working toward being the most secure digital data site in the world. But as the world’s citizens knit together in networks that aren’t confined within geopolitical borders, the governments of individual countries with strong values face complex legal and trade-related issues when trying to assert them.

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A serious emphasis on privacy is embedded in German law, and even more deeply ingrained in German culture. The 1949 German constitution created after WWII forbids spying on German citizens, and challenges to the fierce protection of privacy tend to spark quick, wary references to the past. The Federal Data Protection Act was established in 1990, and has continued to be strengthened since then.

Digital Society, in Berlin, is a group of 35 industry specialists (such as copyright lawyers, cryptography professors and journalists) formed in 2010 to keep the public educated about data privacy issues, and to propose legislation to the German parliament. “In Germany,” said Markus Beckedahl, one of Digital Society’s founders, “privacy is a civil right, and in the United States, it’s an option.” Edward Snowden’s 2013 revelations about the US data collection of German citizens’ phone conversations by the NSA dominated German media for a while, and damaged German-American relations.

But pressures from the EU and international giants like Google and Amazon, push data-sharing agreements that prioritize corporate profits and consumer convenience, as well as fears, such as that of terrorism. Many countries are building policy around such concerns, but Germany would like to avoid capitulation to compromised security standards, even as it retains leadership as an economic power.

A recent survey by auditor KPMG and the German digital trade association, Bitkom, shows that 83% of German companies expect their cloud provider to retain its data centers in Germany, while 74% want them to at least be located somewhere in the EU. This is not a perspective that supports such strategies as the EU plan to create the Digital Single Market (DSM), which would be a unified EU digital market that eliminates regulatory barriers for online services and goods.

Nor does this attitude embrace the EU-US Privacy Shield agreement that went into effect in July of 2016. That agreement gives companies the legal right to transfer data from the EU to the US, but with required US Department of Commerce reviews. Resistance continues, however, although one compromise that seems to be effective as practiced by companies such as Microsoft, is to assign “data trustees” within Germany, no matter where the data is physically stored or what levels of encryption it has undergone.

Awareness of this highly sensitive issue is important to keep in mind when dealing with German clients, maintaining respect for boundaries you may not be accustomed to dealing with. Skrivanek Group is well acquainted with all the relevant subtleties of the German culture and language, as well as the country’s laws, including the new and volatile area of cyber-law.

 J. McShulskis

 

 





New Markets in an Ancient Land – Localizing in Persian

15 12 2016

Nearly 80 million people inhabit Iran, the second largest country in the Middle East, and years of trade restrictions have limited that enormous consumer population’s connection to international products. Businesses in the west hoped for an explosion of trade after the nuclear-program-related trade sanctions of 2012 were lifted shiraz-1481595_1280in early 2016, but that has not yet happened. Apparently, logistical and diplomatic work remains to be done to secure trust and compromises about policies, the current resistance arising more from the government of the U.S., than that of Europe or Iran.

 

In spite of the hitches, Persian localization is accessible, and much more approachable than it was ten years ago, before some large-scale localization work was done by mega-companies such as Google and Microsoft. The frontier has been softened by the development of new, effective tools for translation into Persian, larger software glossaries, an increased number of available language and subject matter experts, and the like.

There are three modern strains of Persian, Iran’s being called by both Persian and Farsi. Since the Muslim conquest of Persia in 651 AD, the word “Farsi” began to be used in documents, because the word “pars” – for “Persian” – contains a “p” and Arabic does not provide a corresponding character or sound. That term “Farsi” was officially adopted to describe the Persian language by English nations in 1935, for political reasons, and it is often used in the west, but Persian refers more accurately to the language of Iran versus the Persian of Islamic/Arabic influences.* The two other modern strains of Persian are Dari, spoken in Afghanistan, and Tajiki, of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, the latter of which uses the Cyrillic alphabet; but speakers of all three Persian variations can understand each other without significant obstacles.

Obstacles to localization, on the other hand, abound, for many of the usual reasons: religion, culture, consumer history, limited native on-site expertise, and unusual language features. Consider the simple fact that Persian reads from right to left, and therefore a customer reading advertising text who comes upon the left-to-right reading name of a European or American company has to switch directions when reaching the English interruption. Directional processes affected by the placement of tabs and action buttons must also be considered. The entire orientation of a page is going to be different.

Since the ninth century, Arabic has influenced Persian – the scripts are quite close, for example – but there are still notable differences that will show up as errors in translation software that is checking for Arabic alphabet accuracy. For example, Perso-Arabic individual letters have up to four different, slightly altered forms, depending on their location within the word, and therefore the automatic joining of letters (when prefixes are involved, for instance) is not always desirable. Because computer programs are set up to join the letters of distinct words in a cursive string, a nonprinting character called ZWNJ (zero-width non-joiner) must be used to override automatic joining and ensure breaks where they need to be.

There is passionate national feeling for Persian in Iran – it is an ancient language that has been evolving in a country with a seven thousand-year-old architectural presence on the planet. English is spoken more commonly than it once was in Iran, and it has a presence in major Iranian cities, but that presence is still a limited one. Even young consumers, who may be fluent in English, prefer localized websites. It’s a country where per capita income has been for the most part steadily rising for decades until the trade sanctions of 2012. Now that those have been lifted, there seems to be every reason to hope that the Iranian consumer market will soon be a strong one.

As one of the top fifty language service providers in the world, Skrivanek has extensive experience localizing all types of content for the Iranian market, and we are happy to discuss your needs any time.

 J. McShulskis

 

* “Persian NOT Farsi,” by Shapour Suren-Pahlav, 2007, Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies, http://www.cais-soas.com/CAIS/Languages/persian_not_farsi.htm





The Beauty and Challenge of “Untranslatable” Words

19 10 2016

Every language is a psychological portrait of a culture. Thus the tricky nature of localization from any language to another: exactly what is being implied or missed in the word choices made during translation? Expert language professionals and native speakers are essential to nuanced accuracy.

definition-390785_1920But even professional translators face the challenge of finding equivalents for words that capture a concept in one language, but are not available in a succinct form in another. Idioms and slang reach into the crevices between more conventional ideas, but there are also well-established words that reflect more deeply rooted, unique aspects of the cultures that generated them.

As autumn carries us toward the end of another year, let’s look, for example, at a few words that convey experiences of the human mind in states of transition.

“Saudade” is a Portuguese word that poet/translator Carolyn Forche says describes “a vague and persistent desire for something that cannot be, a time other than the present time, a turning toward the past or future, a sadness and yearning beyond sorrow, the pain which whispers through every happiness.” And yet the book of Portuguese poems by Claribel Alegria that Forche translated, “Saudade”, was entitled “Sorrow” in English. There was apparently no closer, efficient English equivalent than a word that paints only a single aspect of the complex Portuguese word.

The Japanese word, “aware” means “the bittersweetness of a brief and fading moment of transcendent beauty.”*

“Fernweh” is a German word that captures the peculiar sensation of homesickness for a place you have never actually been.

The Korean word, “Won”, refers to the unwillingness of an individual to relinquish an illusion they have.

Vladimir Nabakov defines the Russian word “toska” this way: “No single word in English renders all the shades of toska. At its deepest and most painful, it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause. At less morbid levels it is a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning. In particular cases it may be the desire for somebody or something specific, nostalgia, love-sickness. At the lowest level it grades into ennui, boredom.”

“Lítost” is a Czech word for a state of agony caused by the sudden awareness of one’s own misery.

Discovering these words that pin down rich psychological phenomena, it seems clear that the human translator is indispensable to the process of carrying complex meanings accurately from one culture to another. Skrivanek specializes in sophisticated translation of the most difficult texts and language combinations, and when necessary, we call on subject matter experts for clarification of obscure concepts. Carefully selected translation teams provide the kind of multi-faceted talent and experience capable of resolving even the most troubling language questions.

Please share with us the “untranslatable” words – from English or any other language – that you have come across!

J. McShulskis

*Anjana Iyer, 30 Untranslatable Words from Other Languages (illustrations)

 

 

 





Thinking Global from the Beginning

11 10 2016

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European “Eunicorns” have a globalization advantage: out of necessity, they globalize much earlier than successful North American startup companies. Markets in France, Spain, Sweden and other European countries are so much smaller than the English-speaking block, that entrepreneurs think beyond their own borders from day one. Then, when expansion to new markets is the best next step, their mindsets are flexible, translation resources in place, and geographical scalability already prepared for.

But why should a start-up in North America, the UK or Australia think beyond the enormous English-speaking market until much further down the road? For one thing, two-thirds of their customers lie outside that market, by some estimates. And since investors like to see long-term thinking, the question of where a company will be selling in five or ten years is immediately relevant.

An additional advantage is that some potential markets are also less competitive than those an English-speaking company may be most accustomed to selling to, because of fewer similar products. As an example, Arabic markets are often neglected by English-speaking companies, and yet they account for nearly 5% of the world’s internet users*. An early move to localize for such a market could be strategically brilliant.

Thinking globally before you “have to” could save not only money, but protect you from failed efforts and wasted time when you do start to move in that direction. If from the start you are planning with a global market in mind, you will use concepts, logos, and branding, that are simple and direct, and therefore easy to localize. Knowing and working from the essence of what your product offers your customers, you can choose keywords and phrases that don’t have to be abandoned later because they are only relevant to, for instance, an American audience.

Another important localization piece that can be provided for early on: any software you use should be able to support international character sets (Unicode), with user-visible text and images separate from executable code, and a capacity for text expansion.

For an American or UK start-up with limited localization resources, one safe, lower budget way to initiate global readiness could be to localize from American to UK English (or vice versa). Of course the languages are so close as to be interchangeable, to a large extent. It is easy to find UK variations that are accepted and understood by Americans, or Australian phrasing that does not deter purchases by UK buyers.

But the differences that do exist – spelling, phrasing, humor, cultural references — can be addressed and resolved. An internal structure for doing so can be developed within your company, including the development of a working relationship with a strong LSP such as Skrivanek. Then the interface for more complex localization will be in place, the process practiced and the glitches worked out.

J. McShulskis

*internetworldstats.com

 





Advancing Skrivanek’s Proofreading Expertise

3 10 2016

Committed to continuous professional development of its language service team members, Skrivanek offered specialized training for its proofreaders this year. Led by Dr. Tomas Svoboda, PhD, these sessions were held at the Institute of Translation Sciences at the Faculty of Arts, Charles University in Prague.

Proofreading is a mandatory componentspeakers-414560_1920
of translation, according to EN 15038 European standard and the ISO 17100 standard, which specifically delineate allthe required steps of the translation process. These include translation, check (revision by the translator), revision (proofreader), review (if required), proofreading (another proofreader, if included in the order), and final verification (by the project manager).

At Skrivanek, close attention is paid to these standards, but nuanced understanding of content is equally important at every stage, including proofreading, and this was a major topic dealt with in the training. Dr. Svoboda is a translator, interpreter, proofreader, editor, and an instructor of foreign languages and translation seminar teacher at Charles University, and he brought a rich perspective to his participants.

Issues unique to proofreading provided material for the bulk of the training, with Dr. Svoboda suggesting special strategy ideas, from the use of automated translation tools, to methods of focus on the material. High-level refinements that are critical to precision were analyzed, including controversial linguistic phenomena and differences in typographic requirements in different languages (such as apostrophes, accents, numbers, dates, quotation marks, etc.).

One of the most interesting discussions concerned the importance of deeply understanding the purpose of a document before undertaking its translation. Is the text for internal use, legislation, marketing? The style and level of quality are dictated by the purpose, and therefore thorough understanding is necessary in order to offer the correct final product at the appropriate price.

Fundamental project processes were thoroughly discussed as well; for instance, the essential preliminary step of gathering from the client as much background information as possible. This includes related reference materials, specific internal conventions and terminology that are used in the document(s), translation memory for use with CAT tools, and other supporting materials. Skrivanek’s policies emphasize client involvement at every stage of the translation process, in order to ensure the highest possible level of clarity and quality, and this training of our proofreaders strengthens our ability to accomplish this goal at that key step in QA.

Only 3% of all proofreading candidates that apply to Skrivanek are able to pass through our demanding selection process. It was these top-notch proofreaders who attained even higher levels of skill through our 2016 Prague training.

 J. McShulskis

 

 





Is the Spanish of Argentina the Sexiest?

9 06 2016

6427241251_5dd2239c6e_b-kopie.jpgThe failure of European Spanish as a one-size-fits-all language for every Spanish-speaking country in the world is illustrated by a trend in the publishing industry. Independent Spanish publishers are seeking markets beyond Europe, in both the U.S. and Latin America, since financial recovery in Spain has been slow. Interestingly both the Spanish language used and the illustrations have had to be altered in order for children to identify with the tales.

From its European birthplace, the Spanish language has traveled and taken root as a dominant language in nearly twenty other countries. And as is always the case with vibrant languages adopted in varied environments, time, oceans, and myriad human influences have ensured that European Spanish evolved in different ways than did its cousins in Latin America and elsewhere.

Spaniards can speak with Mexicans or Argentines quite easily, but their languages are different enough to create moments of confusion. Different enough, too, to create philosophical arguments over which variation of Spanish is the most beautiful, the most pure, the sexiest. And as home to the Real Academia Espanola, which regulates the language, Madrid boasts the Spanish often considered ‘most important.’

From the marketing perspective, the variations are enough to cause disconnects between a company and its customers. A word or idiom incorrectly used, for instance, can be inaccurate at best, and offensive in the worst cases. “Coger” is a good example of the extreme: in Spain it means to “grab” or “take,” as in lunch or buses, but in most Latin American countries it is a crass way of referring to sexual intercourse. “Okay” as an affirmation is “vale” in Spain, and “bien” or “okay” in Latin America. The word “camión” means “truck” in Argentina and “bus” in Mexico. And the gap created by incorrect words frequently becomes a gap in trust.

In addition to vocabulary differences, there are a few notable pronunciation variations, including:

* In some parts of Latin America, the‘s’ at the end of words is sometimes ‘eaten’, most frequently with plural nouns, or for instance in the slang version of Buenos Aires.

* ‘C’ has a pronunciation like ‘s’ through most of Latin America, and often like ‘th’ in Europe.

* In Spain, the double ‘l’ is close to the ‘y’, but in the Buenos Aires region, it’s more like ‘sh’ or ‘zh’.

Grammatical differences include different frequency of the use of the three past tense forms, and a preference in Europe for the use of ‘vosotros’ when addressing a group as ‘you’, versus ‘ustedes’.

Whether it’s advertising or a child’s story, language is an intimate tool that can connect straight to the heart – but you have to get the details right. Skrivanek Group has over two decades of experience translating Latin American to European Spanish and vice versa, and from either one into dozens of other languages.

J. McShulskis