Sunday, April 22, 2012

Diplomatic Interpreters

It's a rule on this blog not to digress about Professional Interpreting. However, a highly topical photo has come my way which is so outstandingly clear, instructive and symbolic that I feel I must share it with you.

A fair amount has been written about diplomatic interpreting, and much more remains to be written. For one classic that's still in print, see References below. But I must stick to this photo.

It shows British Prime Minister David Cameron in formal conversation with Chinese Communist Party official Li Changchun at 10 Downing Street last week. If you've been following the news, you know at least one hot topic that must have been on the agenda; anyway it's in the article referenced. The ladies on either side are of course the interpreters. Though they both look Chinese, the one on Cameron's side must in fact be British. We know this because it's a long-standing convention in formal diplomatic interpreting that each side brings its own interpreter, usually of its own nationality. This has advantages:
* Confidence and confidentiality: each side feels it can trust its interpreter to work in its best interest and not divulge confidential information
* Each interpreter can monitor the translation of the other interpreter and warn of any discrepancies
* The division of work between two interpreters provides some relief if the meeting is prolonged.
Each interpreter translates only when her own side is speaking, therefore the interpretation is one way. The interpreters in the photo are seated in the standard position, next to but slightly behind the speakers. There they can hear and be heard well without seeming intrusive. They are dressed formally, with a culture difference showing perhaps in the more severe style of the Chinese interpreter.

Apart from the importance of the occasion, there's something that tells us in a flash that they're Expert Interpreters: the notepads at the ready. The modus operandi is consecutive interpreting, so the interpreters take notes to aid their recall of what is said. Note-taking forms part of the training of Expert Interpreters. There's no equipment besides notepads and pens; it's a form of interpreting that's remained unaffected by technology.

An experienced interpreter at the United Nations in New York once told me he found this kind of work more interesting even than interpreting at high-profile conferences like the UN Assembly. Because in the Assembly, the heads of state or government make propaganda speeches that are often just blah-blah; but it's in tête-à-tête meetings like these that one feels the really important negotiations are taking place.

Adrienne Mong. China's political scandal embroils Britain. Behind the Wall, CBC News, 2012. For the article, click here.

Ruth A. Roland. Interpreters as Diplomats: A Diplomatic History of the Role of Interpreters in World Politics. Introduction by Jean Delisle, who had the good idea of republishing this book that had almost been forgotten. Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 1999. There's a review of it here.

An excellent photo by Leon Neal / AFP - Getty Images

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Blogger has thrown a spanner in the works

Blogger has thrown a spanner in the works as far as I'm concerned. You probably don't see it if you're a reader, but behind the scenes they've redesigned the interface.

Their view is that they're "introducing the completely new, streamlined blogging experience that makes it easier for you to find what you need and focus on writing great blog posts."

My view is, why can't the software people let well alone instead of constantly forcing us users through a new learning curve? I'm very happy with my Windows XP, thank you, at least until Microsoft withdraws support in 2014. And I was very happy with the previous version of Blogger.

I'll be back when I've learnt to navigate round this "streamlined blogging experience."

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Computer Geek/Geek Computri (continued)

Continued from the previous post, which please read first.

"The Computer Geek/Geek Computri was entirely written by Magda and Albana, two 10-year-old girls of immigrant Albanian parents in London. It tells the story of Jordan, a boy obsessed with gaming on his computer, and how he becomes sucked into a dangerous adventure in a virtual world before his eventual rescue by his grandmother. The girls explained that the inspiration for the story came from films, television programmes and computer games. Having composed the story in English, their stronger language, they faced the challenge of translating it into their weaker one, as Magda explains: ‘For the English one, we have so many ideas, but this is harder!'
Having used dual language books extensively to learn to read with their mothers, the girls are familiar with their specific conventions and they have worked closely from the English text to produce the Albanian one. Working together from their own linguistic resources, without the use of dictionaries the girls have access to most of the basic vocabulary they need for their story in Albanian."
By virtue of their method of learning Albanian, the girls are therefore Native and not Natural Translators. That's to say, although they haven't had any intentional training as translators, they've learnt by osmosis some of the conventions of translating. Furthermore, they've each built up an internal bilingual lexicon.
"The process of translation is negotiated between two children whose language skills are closely matched. The main approach to the task is to take a clause at a time from the English text and discuss it, phrase by phrase, word by word. Some words lead to lengthy exchanges as they attempt to find a shade of meaning or the correct grammatical form, before a whole sentence can fall into place. As a sentence is completed, one of them repeats it as the other transcribes.
A typical example of negotiation occurs at the very beginning of the recording. Starting where the English text says, ‘While he was talking to his Grandma’, Magda starts with a word-for-word approach, taking while and translating it as nderkohë.
Albana agrees with her choice of word: 'Oh yeah, we did that in Albanian class.'
Magda then realises that this approach is not appropriate: 'We need to do the rest because it won’t make sense.'
Then she has second thoughts about the word nderkohë and they discuss options:
Magda: 'Nderkohë . . . It doesn’t make sense.'
Albana: 'What about, like this: kur ishe, cfarë? [he was, what to put?].
Magda: 'I don’t know it’s not, it’s nderkohë. While . . . while . . . I keep thinking mbasi [maybe] but it’s not.'
Magda: 'That’s after.'
Albana: 'kur ishte . . . uhm.'"
[Later,] She [Magda] goes on to explain that the great debate over the use of nderkohë revolved round a shade of meaning:
'It’s like meanwhile. But we were trying to find while. And we couldn’t think of anything, so we just kept thinking.'
Magda explains that using that word required them to change the structure of the Albanian sentence: 'We used the word nderkohë but we changed the sentence a little bit in Albanian. So it could make sense.'
In a further [metatranslational] reflection on the process of translation, Magda notes that in contrast to the long negotiation involved in translating one word:
'Just sometimes we just read like, I don’t know, a whole, if it’s like a small paragraph, we read it all and it just comes in your head, you just know it . . . . And then you just have to change it around. You know all the main things, it just comes in your head, but then you add, like, more
words and things.'
But mostly she finds longer passages more difficult: 'But then, like long ones, you just, you do it sentence by sentence, but . . . I don’t know for long ones, it’s harder.'
And so on.

It occurs to me that what we're witnessing here is think-aloud, but with a significant advantage for research over the classic think-aloud method; and the advantage is bestowed by the circumstance that this is a collaborative translation and the collaboration is between equals. Think-aloud (verbalised on-the-job introspection) has proven to be a valuable instrument for investigating translators' mental processes, but it has its drawbacks. For one thing, Ss have to be instructed to verbalise their thoughts aloud, because it's not normal for translators to do this as they work. Therefore it continually interrupts the normal thought processes. It's also subject to self-censorship in the investigated-investigator relationship. Whereas the collaborative method makes it natural to verbalise, and the collaboration between equals makes self-censorship less likely.

This paper is therefore of great interest for its story of a working friendship, for its revelations of the translating process and for its methodology.

On the pros and cons of think-aloud, see:
K. A. Ericsson and M.C. Fox. Thinking aloud is not a form of introspection but a qualitatively different methodology: Reply to Schooler (2011). Psychological Bulletin, Vol. 137, No. 2, March 2011, pp. 351-354. For an abstract, click here.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Computer Geek / Geek Computri

An inspiring new research report has just arrived from the UK about two schoolchildren translators. It's by Raymonde Sneddon, a researcher at the University of East London and a schoolteacher with more than 30 years of experience (see photo). The full reference is below.

The first part describes the surprising status and situation of multilingualism in English schools:
"London is the most multilingual city in the world, with over 230 languages... spoken by the children in its schools... it is not uncommon for individual primary schools to have 40 different languages spoken, with secondary schools having many more. In spite of the long history of migration, the English education system is profoundly ambivalent about its pupils’ bilingualism It is only fairly recently that the language skills of young children of migrant origin have begun to be considered as a resource rather than a problem and the benefits of bilingualism recognised. The curriculum remains resolutely monolingual and monocultural and while there is some teaching of community languages in both primary and secondary schools, this is very limited and frequently held after hours. Bilingual education is not currently available in mainstream schools. Many children lose active use of the language of their families once they start school, as a result of lack of status and recognition of the language and lack of opportunity for learning it."
However, the part that concerns this blog is the case study of how two girls, Magda and Albana, born in England to Albanian immigrant parents, used translation. Their mothers wanted them to maintain a link with their families' culture by learning and using Albanian. Note that this is not a case of language brokering. The motivation was cultural, and not practical daily needs.
"Both girls spoke only Albanian when they started in the nursery, but rapidly became dominant in English, causing their parents anxiety as their use of Albanian declined. The study revealed the strategies used by the mothers and their daughters. The women taught the Albanian letter-sound correspondence and the girls decoded text carefully... They then re-read the text more fluently for understanding, asking and answering questions and negotiating meanings with their mothers (whose knowledge of English was still developing). They used the English text to verify meanings. Their knowledge of the whole context of the story, as well as the illustrations, helped them to understand when a word was unfamiliar in both languages. They retold the stories in their own words in both languages."
At this early stage, therefore, the girls were already translating by 'aligning' two texts mentally and retelling the stories in both languages.

Thus the girls' main tool for language learning was dual language books. These are children's books that present the material aligned in two languages, typically on facing pages. There's nothing new in this format of course; what's new is the application to children's needs and so-called heritage languages, especially in the UK.

A further important development was to turn the children from readers into writers by getting them to compose dual language books themselves by means of translating.
"For students who are fairly fluent in their heritage language, Cummins [Jim Cummins, an authority on bilingual education] specifically recommends the, ‘creation of student-authored dual language books by means of translation from the initial language of writing to L2’ (Cummins 1999, 589). Such a strategy offers pupils an opportunity to explore and analyse the similarities and differences between their languages; working with different syntactic structures and the very different range of meanings that equivalent words have in different languages can develop metalinguistic skills and critical literacy. Students involved in such activities have reported the benefit to their English language skills, and this is very much what has been noted regarding the children in the present study using translation to teach themselves to write in Albanian."
Actually Albana and Magda went through an intermediate stage in which they composed bilingual holiday diaries. But
"By the time they were in Year 5, aged 10, Magda and Albana were keen to follow the success of their holiday books by writing together a work of fiction. Their teacher provided time for them to work collaboratively. This provided me, as the researcher, with an opportunity to follow their progress."
The "work of fiction" turned out to be a story called The Computer Geek / Geek computri.

To be continued.

Dual language books for children are by no means only to be found in the UK. Here in Valencia there's a trilingual series in Valencian, Spanish and Arabic, beautifully illustrated (see References). Why Arabic? Doubtless for the many North African immigrants in the Valencia region.

Raymonde Sneddon. Telling the story of the Computer Geek: children becoming authors and translators. Language and Education, pp. 1-16, 2012. My thanks to the author for so promptly providing me with a full copy. To link to an abstract, click here.

Jim Cummins. Biliteracy, empowerment, and transformative pedagogy. In J. V. Tinajero and R. A. DeVillar (eds.), The Power of Two Languages: 2000, New York, McGraw-Hill, 1999, pp. 9–19. Click here for the text.

Anna Molins. Joha i l'home de la ciutat / juhaa warajul al-madiynah / Yoha y el hombre de la ciudad. (Minaret series, 2.) Arabic translation by Tànit Assaf Muntané. Illustrated by Lluïsa Jover. Valencia: Tandem, 2005. There are several others in the series.

Source: University of Waikato