What about B?

I got a question from a reader (thank you for asking, made me very happy and inspired a new post!)
Do you think that if you make a few mistakes during an entrance exam in your B language you will be turned away? 
My reader writes: I’m confused because I was under the impression that a B language is something you already have “perfect command” of, according to AIIC. Yet language enhancement classes is something that is often talked about in interpreting circles? That indicates to me that schools do accept students with B languages that are “less than perfect.” 

Continue reading

Advertisements

In Translation – Saskia Holmkvist

Communication

Communication (Photo credit: P Shanks)

Last week I took my students to see a video installation by Saskia Holmkvist, a Swedish artist who has done a series of works on role distribution and power (no it’s not Saskia on the picture). One of her installations, called In Translation, deals with different roles in interpreting. In the installation, Saskia interviews two interpreters with their clients’ present. It is a Norwegian public service interpreter and Latvia’s former president’s interpreter. The interviews are short and deal with interpreting techniques and different issues in interpreting.

The installations are interesting from many different perspectives, though. First of all, the clients’ reactions when they were put outside the conversation. The minority language speaker in the first interview seems to completely disconnect from the communicative event, after a couple of minutes he is more interested in the camera than in the interview. I cannot help to speculate whether it reflects his earlier experiences of different interpreted communicative events, where at different occasions he may very well have been (unintentional or not) disconnected from the communicative event, and if he is used to it, he has also learned to deal with it. Another factor is also of course the asymmetric distribution of power in these types of interpreted events. This client hardly has any comments on his interpreter’s performance either. All this is absolutely not to say that the interpreter is not good, on the contrary, the interpreter comes through as very professional and impartial.

In the second interview the client has a completely different role, but now we’re talking about Latvia’s former president and his personal interpreter. This client is not waiting silently on the side. When he realizes that he is not part of the communicative event he jumps in with comments and statements. He will not silently sit beside the communication, even if his perspective is the users and he does not have any experience as interpreter, he still has many views on interpreting. His most interesting comment is probably the last one – something like; “The interpreter should not reflect on what I say, even if she doesn’t understand she should know I always have a goal with what I’m saying”. The relationship between this interpreter and this client is far from impartial, and she also says it,  when she represents Latvia (through her president) she wants Latvia to look good. Body language and spatial placement also shows that there is a more symmetric relationship between interpreter and client.

If the video installation comes anywhere near you it is definitely worth watching. There is more information here in Norwegian.

Europeiska flerspråkighetsbloggdagen #babel2012

Dagen till ära tänkte jag blogga på mitt modersmål, ärans och hjältarnas språk. Europeiska flerspråkighetsdagen är ett initiativ som en del av Europeiska internetveckan och samordnas av Antonia MochanEuonym Här kan man anmäla sig.  Och här finns förresten en lista över de bloggar som deltar, Interpreting Diaries bland andra.

När jag bloggar på engelska så brukar jag alltid ursäkta min dåliga stavning (och korrektur läsning) med att det inte är mitt modersmål. Men nu får jag stå mitt kast! En annan ursäkt använder jag när jag undervisar och skriver på tavlan, när jag stavat mig fram till något i still med “simultantok”, säger jag bara glatt: “Jag är ju tolk, inte översättare. Jag är expert på att artikulera inte att stava”. Men allt det där räcker naturligtvis bara till en viss gräns, så nu står jag här med min tvättade hals.

Men egentligen var det ju inte denna brasklapp jag ville skriva om på flerspråkighetsbloggdagen. Jag tänkte istället skriva om vad som driver mig som tolk. Varför vill jag vara tolk och varför behövs tolkar?

I går höll jag en lektion i tolketik och behov av tolk i olika situationer. Vi diskuterade två artiklar: “Minoriteter i ett “hvitt retsvesen” av Arild Kjerschow och “Møter med innvandrerpasienter og norske leger” av  Bjerknes, Thor Rasmus, Lyngdal, Svein Børre, Bang, Anne. Bägge artiklarna belyser problem för grupper som inte behärskar landets språk i möte med olika samhällsfunktioner. Men i vissa stycken blir jag mörkrädd när jag läser den. I artikeln om möten mellan invandrarpatienter och norska läkare tar författarna upp många olika aspekter på detta möte och understryker hur viktigt det är att se bakom orden och försöka förstå den kulturbakgrund som patienter kommer ifrån. Men trots detta nämndes knappt tolkning i denna 14 sidor långa artikel. Ingenting om hur tolkning kan vara avgörande för just den kulturförståelsen. Kjerschow avslöjar för oss att den norska lagen ger domstolen rätt att besluta om tolk inte behövs efter att man bedömt den tilltalades språkkunskaper. Eller i situatioer där domaren behärskar språket. Ingenstans i lagen står det dock något om hur dessa bedömningar görs. Vem avgör om den tilltalade talar tillräckligt bra norska eller om domaren talar ett annat språk tillräckligt bra.

I en trist krönika av Johnson i går skriver han om en resa till södra Kivu i östra Kongo. Han berättar om svårigheten att kommunicera via tolk med lokalbefolkningen och avslutar med orden “An interpreter was necessary in those parts. I needed mine. I wish I hadn’t”. Ganska dystert för tolkar med andra ord.

Trots gårdagens ganska nedslående läsning är jag ändå övertygad om att det går att göra skillnad som tolk och jag gör skillnad. Det är just det som är så fascinerande med att vara tolk – jag märker att mitt arbete ofta spelar roll. Som den gången när jag följde med en vän till läkaren för att tolka och läkaren efter besöket spontant sa att: “Det var bra att ni var med, Madame, för jag inser nu att jag inte förstått riktigt allt vad patienten sa tidigare”. Och tolkar behövs för att göra just den skillnaden.

All tolkning fungerar inte och alla uppdrag är inte lika livsavgörande, men det kan bero på så många olika saker, och inte enbart på att tolkning som fenomen eller att tolken inte fungerar. Alla de som fungerar som tolkar, är inte nödvändigtvis utbildade, eller kanske ens kan så många främmande språk. Och i vissa situationer kan valet till och med vara att inte kommunicera alls eller att kommunicera via tolk även om det inte fungerar som det skulle önska.

Precis som i alla yrken krävs förutsättningar för att tolkningen ska fungera. Tolken bör kunna de språk som ska tolkas (jag har varit i rätten och hört rättens ordförande säga, men du talar ju ändå språk X då förstår du väl språk Y också), tolken bör vara utbildad till tolk, jag tror inte någon tycker att en ingenjör kan fungera som läkare även om ingenjören är nog så högutbildad, men en tolkanvändare jag talat med sa att ibland kunde man ju använda lokalvårdaren som tolk eftersom den personen var högutbildad i sitt hemland (den kommentaren är enormt sorglig ur många perspektiv för övrigt). Och tolken bör också ha haft möjlighet att förbereda sitt arbete och ha möjlighet att arbeta under någorlunda vettiga arbetsvillkor.

Det låter ju som jag slår in öppna dörrar när jag radar upp dessa grundläggande villkor, men alla tolkar har exempel på just motsatsen. Och inte bara tolkar. Johnsons krönika talar ju just om detta fast ur ett (ganska negativt) brukarperspektiv. Men när vi vänder på steken och tolkar får rätt förutsättningar, så är tolkarna navet i flerspråkighet. En majoritet av både världens och Europas befolkningar är två- eller flerspråkiga. Flerspråkighet är faktiskt normen. Tyvärr talar vi ju ändå inte alltid samma språk, även om vi talar fler än ett. Själva EU tas ofta som exempel på ett mångspråkigt projekt som inte skulle fungera utan tolkning och översättning, men betydligt fler projekt än vi tror skulle stå sig ganska slätt. I en väldigt rolig nyutkommen bok, Found in Translation, beskriver Nataly Kelly och Jost Zetzsche hur tolkning och översättning får hjulen att går runt, läs den!

Och vill ni sedan fördjupa er i flerspråkighet kan jag rekommendera Centrum för tvåspråkighetsforskning på Stockholms universitet som är en ledande institution för forskning om två- och flerspråkighet i världen. Där pågår enormt många intressanta projekt, som tillexempel det om polyglotter (vad är det som gör att vissa människor talar 12 språk flytande, medan vi andra kämpar på med att lära oss ett), eller det om hur barn som adopterats väldigt tidigt och inte minns sitt första modersmål överhuvudtaget ändå har kvar rester av det språk som de kanske bara hörde som nyfödda.

Ja, detta var mitt bidrag till flerspråkighetsbloggdagen. Inte så flerspråkigt inlägg kanske, men förhoppningsvis inspirerande ändå. Om ni kom hela vägen hit, särskrivningar och stavfel till trots!

Language enhancement

C-3PO

When you start an interpreting course one of the first things you that may strike you is how the language you thought you knew just fades away. Interpreting is an extremely complex exercise and your language skills have to be extremely solid. Whether we grew up bilingually or learnt languages later, most of us who are (or were) accepted into an interpreting program probably has the equivalent to a C2 level (mother tongue or near-native level according to the Council of Europe). But let’s face it, when we embark on our first consecutive – it feels like we just learnt our first words in that language.

So, although you are a skilled linguist, you will have to work on enhancing your language skills, and probably also the elusive concept of ‘culture générale’. But how do you do it? Since we’re not C3PO we cannot just add another hard drive or software, we just have to do it the good old way. And you probably already know it, but here’s a repetition.

First of all, listen, read, eat and sleep your language. You may have to do this both with your foreign language and your mother tongue. Unfortunately, there is now way around it – you need to listen to radio, read newspapers, listen to the news, both in your mother tongue and in your foreign language and with all the technical aid today this is not too hard. Log on to iTunes and see which pods suit you. I like NPR (the American National Public Radio), BBC, TV5 Monde, RFI (Radio France Internationale) just to mention a few. Many newspapers also have their own pod casts. And if you subscribe to different news apps you will get short flashes in you mobile.

When I brain stormed with my students someone also said “set your mobile, Facebook or web browser to your foreign language”. Translation is a good exercise too, when you translate shorter, idiomatic texts you get a feeling for expressions, idioms, prepositions and so forth. Attention to prepositions cannot be stressed enough, prepositions are probably one of the most difficult areas of language and preposition use has an unfortunate tendency to break down in stressful situations like interpreting. If you’re unsure about language in use, corpora is a good thing, in many multilingual text corpora, current texts are collected in order to compare language in use. Another way of mastering language in use as professor Harris pointed out in the comments is to learn poems or song lyrics by heart. As dull as it may seem it is a wonderful way of learning expressions and idiomatic language use.

Finally, and unfortunately, there is probably no way round vocabulary swotting. Flash cards is a good strategy here and one of my students mentioned Anki. I have not tried it – in my time we used cardboard and felt pen, but time changes :-). For my part I also joined an amateur theater group in English in order to immerse myself as much as I could without leaving Sweden. There are many other opportunities like that via Internet now, and thanks to different local groups you may also find opportunities to meet people IRL.

What’s your best language enhancement strategy? And do spare me of the pillow method, I’m far from sure it’s the best method.

Update: Just to be very clear – an interpreting course will enhance your language skills, but it is NOT a language course. All the basic language learning, including living and working abroad, will have to be done before the course. Otherwise there is little chance you will survive until your last exam.

What’s my contribution to the GDP?

Monday and Tuesday I participated in the compulsory Theory of Science course. All PhD students at my university have to take the course and produce a paper on a topic related to Theory of Science and their own topic. I like the course and I like Theory of Science. We were discussing the book the “The New Production of Knowledge” by Helga Nowotny, Camille Limoges, Simon Schwartzman, Martin Trow and Peter Scott. The authors claim that there are two modes of acquiring knowledge, the first one is the one going on in the traditional institutions among academics not interdisciplinary and only achievable for a few. The second mode is the one that has moved out of universities with research teams that are interdisciplinary and that also consists of people both with and without academic background. These teams are loosely set together to answer specific questions under a limited period of time.
Personally, I did not like the division into two modes (first of all because the authors made it sound as the OLD used-out mode and the NEW fresh appropriate mode), I would prefer to see it as a continuum, there are research going on at the university, and that research can be both within a single discipline and interdisciplinary, it can have a time limit or it can be very long term. And then there is research going on outside the university in different constellations.
But the most problematic issue for me here is what this tells us about funding. A lot of the important basic research goes on at universities, and most of that research may not be so very “salable” when it comes to getting funding. It’s more attractive to fund a a mode 2 team where you can commission the team to research a particular issue you are interested in (which may be a highly important issue of course such as climate change nowadays) for a set period of time.
I once interpreted Linda Buck (Nobel prize laureate for medicine in 2004), it was a public lecture so I’m not breaking any secrecy here. Her work on the olfactory system was very much unsexy basic research that was hard to get funding for and that didn’t interest many people. She spent many years looking into mouse brains to see how the odors are detected in the nose and interpreted in the brain. She did not say it, but I guess she more than once got the question: “And what’s the good use of that?”. And then something happened and her research has allowed for the DNA-mapping of the olfactory system and she has discovered how the odour travels into the brain and apparently this can open all sorts of doors for the medicine industry. But what if she had been in a mode 2 team? And after four years of studying mouse brain nothing interesting had come up, no answers ready. Of course I do believe that we need both mode 1 and mode 2 research, my problem is that I do not want research to be done only in mode 2.
I mean honestly, what’s my contribution to the GDP? I do not find cures to diseases, I do not stop the climate change, I do not invent new renewable energy sources, I do not even come up with new economic models to make more money. So where is my right to existence in a research world dominated by market economy? I’m not alone in this dilemma, many researchers within Humanities struggle with the same questions. But nevertheless our science is important science too. We all contribute to a better understanding of the world around us, an understanding of those who came before us and documentation to those who will follow. Our community needs us, so we need to be part of the funding too, even if we are not producing immediate results in short term projects. Rome was not built in a day.

Update Jan 21st: I just noticed that the Overworked Translator had a blog post touching this topic, I like to believe that I’m more of a winner than a whiner, although I admit that this post touches upon whining.