Off topic: ABCs of travelling

Both Musings from an overworked Translator and Thoughts on Translation have had this list. I thought it would be fun to go through as well. It was really a trip down memory lane. Here we go:

Age you went on your first international trip: If you don’t count when I was six and took the 24-hour-cruise to Helsinki (doesn’t really count as an international trip in Stockholm, it’s like Belgians going to Luxemburg), it was when I was 11 and went with my mother and godmother on a road-trip to Norway (strangely enough THAT was considered abroad). First time outside Scandinavia was at 12 when I went to Paris. English-speaking country was not until I was in my twenties, same thing for first time outside Europe.

Best foreign beer you’ve had and where: Belgian of course, in Belgium. Almost any Belgian beer monastery beer is the best. I don’t like Kriek (the Cherry one) and I don’t like when they mix it with syrup (yes they do!). But Duvel is great, as is Leffe, and Grimbergen, and Chimay and… The sad thing about discovering Belgian beer is that it’s totally impossible afterwards to just “have a beer”.

Cuisine (favorite): Oh, difficult – probably French and Belgian (No, they’re not the same), but I really like Italian too, and nothing compares to the Swedish fermented herring (surströmming).

Destinations-favorite, least favorite and why: Favorite destination I don’t think I can choose between London, Paris and Chicago. Granada in Spain was absolutely fantastic too. And Bergen in Norway is wonderful. I have recently discovered Tunisia which is also a definite favorite. Least favorite – although there are other parts of Egypt that I really like, Kairo was a bit too much for me, the mass of people, the poverty, the chaos – very hard to find the charm there.

Event you experienced abroad that made you say “wow”: The carnival in Stavelot, Belgium, where I was recruited onto one of the teams was so much fun. And flying a helicopter over the Grand Canyon was extraordinary. The Perigord is sometimes so beautiful it hurts. But I had an almost religious experience looking at a black stone beneath the Forum Romanum.

Favorite mode of transportation: Train! It’s so sad that trains in so many countries are being less and less cared for by politicians and infra-structure actions. And it’s so great in areas where the train really works well like France. One of my best experiences of a train ride was with Southern Rose and her family on the night train from Paris to Venice.

Greatest feeling while traveling: I like arriving more than traveling.

Hottest place you’ve ever been: Everything that is above 25 Celsius is hot for me, so to me I have been to too many hot places. But I guess it must be Singapore or Bangkok. Probably Singapore in July and I don’t think that’s their hottest period. But Nevada was pretty hot too as I remember.

Incredible service you’ve experienced and where: Bali. The friendliness and service level was amazing without being ridiculous. My most recent best service experience though was the hotel Klosterhagen in Bergen where I ended up unannounced at 1 a.m. due to a misunderstanding with my usual place. Otherwise my experience of service is usually that it is something that hotels, airlines and others brag about to justify their exorbitant prices, but which seldom are delivered because the people they hire are probably paid too little to really care.

Journey that took the longest: Stockholm to Rome when I was 14, it was over 36 hours on the train. The journey that was mentally the longest was probably returning from a skiing holiday when the cables were stolen from part of the railway tracks (yes I know, it sounds like the wild west) and the train was 6 hours delayed. When we arrived in Lille at three in the morning the car park where we had our car was locked. At 5.30 am we were finally driving home (another hour and a half). Considering we started at lunchtime the day before it was a very long trip from the French Alps to Belgium.

Keepsake from your travels: Only photos. Of course I bring stuff back from time to time, but nothing particular, or nothing that I collect. But I try to bring back food stuff that I cannot get at home.

Let-down sight-why and where: I was in Leningrad (St Petersburg during the Soviet-era) when I was 15. Although it was amazing in many ways, I cannot say that that trip stuck as a particularly beautiful or pleasant. The Hermitage was sadly worn down and everything and everyone looked dirty and tired.

Moment when you fell in love with travel: I think it came gradually. I don’t think I’ve ever seen myself as a traveler, but as I fill out this list I realize that I have travelled a lot. There are many places I haven’t been to, though.

Obsession-what are you obsessed with taking pictures of while traveling?: There are many horses in photos from my travels 🙂

Passport stamps- how many and from where?: When I was a kid you got stamps for Europe as well, now you don’t any more so for every new passport I get fewer and fewer as most of my traveling goes on inside Europe. In my current one it’s the US, Canada, Thailand, Egypt and Tunisia

Quirkiest attraction you’ve visited and where: It’s not really an attraction but Madonna Inn in California was definitely different.

Recommended sight, event or experience: The stars in the desert. I cannot think of many things that beats that.

Splurge-something you have no problem forking over money for while traveling: Books. Photo books if I cannot read the language of the country in question. But I always come back with books.

Touristy thing you’ve done: Oh, everything, like going on the tourist buses, throwing coins in Fontana di Trevi, caressed all sorts of statues with the hope to come back to that place. I mean if you are a tourist…

Unforgettable travel memory: Many. But having a cup of tea in a store as big as a shoe box in the bazar in Luxor is probably one of them, or looking out over the Lagoa Verde and Lagoa Azul from a horse back, and diving in Bali on our honeymoon.

Visas-how many and for where?: US, Canada and Egypt. No residence permits only tourist visas. It’s my third time around with a Belgien ID-card though.

Wine-best glass of wine while traveling and where?: I would lie if I said I’m a wine connoisseur. I can tell a really bad wine from a drinkable one, but that’s about it. Just as for beer, you get spoilt after living in France, and it’s harder after that to just “have a glass of wine”. But the best glass wine is probably the one you have with your friends.

eXcellent view and from where?: Here I would have loved to say from Kebnekaise, highest mountain in Sweden, but when I made it to the top it was wrapped in a heavy fog. So I literally (and luckily) only saw the back of my friend in front of me. Otherwise I like towers: Sears tower, Tour Montparnasse, Eiffel Tower , London Eye. And the view of Mt Blanc from Geneva is also worth mentioning. It looks just as on the Toblerone chocolate.

Years spent traveling: I have no idea. Shorter holiday trip every year since I was 12. I have only lived abroad in France (18 months) and Belgium (total of five years in different periods). I have been to longer trips/courses to England and the States. But since I started traveling for work as well, I have lost track completely. Although I can say that I have never backpacked neither on inter-rail in Europe or on a trip to Asia. My backpacking experience limits itself to hikes in the Swedish mountains.

Zealous sports fans and where: Surely baseball in the States. Just imagine that you don’t know when the game will end. Or, in theory you know, but how long it will take to get those innings… The only time I went (years ago in Washington DC), “luckily” it started raining and the game had to be postponed. As you can imagine sports is not my favorite pastime. Well, except for riding then.

I’ll add the three letters of the Swedish alphabet.

Återvänder gärna till (I’d like to return to): Fort White, Florida; Charlottesville, Virginia; Stavelot, Belgium; and France of course.

Än så länge har jag inte besökt (I haven’t been to these places yet): Australia (I should be ashamed of myself since I have one of my best friends have lived there for 20 years), South Africa, Botswana… (so many places south of Sahara I’d like to go to), and South America, another continent I haven’t been to (!), Israel, Greece, Turkey and lots of other places of course.

Öar jag tycker om (Islands I like): Gotland (one of the most charming islands I know), Azores (well worth visiting), anywhere in the Swedish archipelago, and Bali of course.

Merry Christmas and all the best for the new year

Merry Christmas to those of you who celebrate that. To all of you I would like to wish the best for the new year. I hope this will be a year filled with continued discussions via blogs, facebook, twitter and all the other platforms. I am looking forward to more #IntJC and other interesting discussions. I also hope that it will be a year of many occasions to connect outside the virtual world. Personally, I will work hard on my thesis, try to be a little bit more regular with my posts and commitments. Right now though, I will disconnect and spend well deserved time with my loved ones. See you next year.

Versatile Blogger Award


Life Overseas, Voice Link and Boots in the Booth passed the Versatile Blogger Award to me. Thank you so much! Sorry I was slow to take up the baton. But here we go.

In case you have missed the Versatile Blogger Award the rules go like this:

1. Thank the award-giver and link back to them in your post – Well that’s done already.

2. Share 7 things about yourself.

Seven things about myself that are not generally known to my blog readers I guess.

• The first is my favourite, people are usually so surprised that they don’t really hear what I say when I say this: My first professional training was horse logging. I also worked both with heavy horses and warm blood for a few years before changing careers.

• Two. I have said this before, but I would like to tell you anyway. I was born and raised monolingual. I have learned my languages in school. Languages and interpreting are of course closely linked, but it is well worth repeating that bilinguals are not born interpreters and interpreters are not necessarily born bilingual.

• Three. I’m a dog AND cat person (and horse), so the poor critters have to share the same roof at my place (well, horses usually get their own accommodation).

• Four. Don’t invite me for potluck, I really don’t like it, I’m useless at finding out something to make and be compared to other’s cooking talents. My cooking talents are nil, I don’t like to cook and I’m not particularly interested in home styling either. That said – Please invite me! I love to be invited home to people who set wonderful tables and excel in cooking. And I’m just as happy if you just invite me over for pizza take-out or a bag of crisps. I also really like having people over, but often opt for the easiest possible cooking, think stew or cheese and wine.

• Five. I like to be nicely dressed, but find shopping for clothes rather boring. I do not see the charm of walking from shop to shop just browsing. I hate to spend time looking at myself in a fitting room mirror. I bored after five minutes at a website with clothes. Put me in a book shop though (bot virtual and IRL) – chances are I will spend hours there and exit financially broke, but rich in stories. Last time at Waterstone’s my husband had to pull me out after two hours.

• Six. I have a near perfect sense of direction. I probably have a pathfinder somewhere among my ancestors. I cannot point out North intuitively, but put me anywhere and I will be able to navigate safely, works on sea too (at least inside skerries).

• Seven. I’ve always wished I was as well organized as this interpreter. Truth is – I’m the total opposite. Before you think I’m completely unreliable I have to say that I’m always early to meetings, and I’m always prepared. My colleagues often compliment me for being so organized. But that’s not the whole story. I have countless stories of forgotten shoes, clothes, computer chargers, books I was reading – basically everything that is not crucial for the mission. To flatter myself I explain it with – “it’s only the mission that counts”. But I’m afraid there’s more to it…

3. Pass this award along to 15 recently discovered blogs you enjoy reading.
Wow, 15! I’m afraid it’s not going to be only those I discovered recently, and considering I’m fairly late here, some of you risk already having received the award, but here we go:
1) 2Interpreters – Promising blog of two young interpreters graduating from interpreting school in Heidelberg
2) Daniel Greene – American Sign Language interpreter, lots of interesting posts.
3) Le Tolk – Jonathan, who also blogs in Dutch (does that count as two?)
4) Francois Grosjean’s blog – Two professors in my list. This is the first one. Interesting posts about bilingualism.
5) Language and Intercultural studies at Herriot Watts University – I think more schools should have blogs. There is Don de Lenguas too of course. I cannot think of anyone else but please challenge me!
6) Maria Cristina de la Vega‘s musings – Great woman and with lot’s of interesting interviews with other interpreters.
7) Mox! – Funniest in the interpreting/translation blogosphere (some competition from Boots in the Booth though :-). Now with book!
8) The Booth inhabitant – Young, ambitions interpreting student, mostly in Spanish :-S.
9) Tolmacka who blogs in Slovenian, but also luckily sometimes in English
10) Swedish Tess – We need some Nordic representation here too.
11) Tony Rosado – new interpreter in the blogosphere, nice! And not only interpreter.
12) I really enjoy reading professor Harris reflections.
13) I don’t read German, but I just love Caroline’s doodles.
14) I read Tiina’s blog too seldom (another Nordic, by the way), very well-expressed thoughts in French.
15) And Lionel, the Liaison Interpreter, who started the #IntJC, not a new acquaintance but very suitable for the award. Also blogs in French look at his pictures!

OK. Now on to my fourth and last task:

4. Contact your chosen bloggers to let them know about the award.
I’m sure it will take a while. Writing this post as innocent as it may look took ages! But it was very nice to go through my blogroll again, and yes, I will update the blogroll on this page as well.


I hope I am a conscious competent

Did you read this great post by the Interpreter Diaries? It sent me right down memory lane. I will share some secrets with you from my early days as a budding interpreter, and follow the four stages of learning that Interpreter Diaries uses so wisely.

1. Unconscious Incompetence
I hope you understand that I’m really sharing a confidence here, so don’t tell anyone. The first time I actually saw simultaneous interpreting live was when a friend’s husband was kind enough to show me his job. I had been curious of course, that’s how he ended up telling me that I could visit him one day at his work. There was a dummy booth (i.e. a silent booth, one that the delegates cannot tune into) in the meeting and the head of the team agreed that I could sit there and try for myself. And did I try! I was so good at this, actually I didn’t find it very hard to interpret from English into Swedish or into French or from French into English or anything really! Piece of cake! I am embarrassed to this day that I even told my friend’s husband that it wasn’t difficult at all, not even into foreign languages. He’d probably heard about the four stages of learning, because he never held that against me, instead he encouraged me to go into interpreting school, which I did.

2. Conscious Incompetence
And I surely hit the wall – with a supersonic bang! It’s like one of my students recently told me: “Now I know exactly what interpreting is and why I cannot do it”. It taught me a lot of humility too. In the beginning I struggled to understand what it was I was expected to do. I was a very eager learner, but I had some difficulty understanding exactly what I was expected to learn though. I mean, of course I understood learning symbols for note taking or doing consecutive exercises. But what was all this about “gist” and “sense” and how did you actually know that you had transferred that “meaning”, and why were my teachers never satisfied. Today, I see the same confusion in my students’ eyes, and I begin to understand exactly how difficult it is to teach it too, not just to learn it. (By the way I LOVE the fact that English has one word for teach and one word for learn.) . For me it was somewhere between the end of interpreting school and the first years of experience that I went from the feeling of constant incompetence to some competence.

3. Conscious Competence
It is so hard when you think you master “it” and your teachers keep telling you: “It takes at least five years to become a professional interpreter”. I mean you graduate from interpreting school, you even pass a freelance test for some important institution, and your older colleagues will still go round telling you that in a few years’ time you may be mature. On top of that there are days when you stumble out of your interpreting job, be it a booth, in court or a medical appointment and feel – incompetent. But it is also somewhere at this point when you realize what you need to do and how to do it. When I graduated from interpreting school, I continued to do consecutive exercises with a friend regularly for over a year. My bag when going to meetings weighed tons, because when I started lap-tops and electronic dictionaries were unheard of (well – at least, way too expensive). “I see you’re still using crutches” one of my older colleagues kindly commented when I unpacked dictionary after dictionary.

4. Unconscious Competence
I’m not sure any professional interpreter would tell you they master their skill to perfection. Or if they do, you should be suspicious. On lucky days it’s tangible, you’ve got flow, interpreting is really like that second nature. Anything uttered can be clad into another language’s shape. But then again, we work with new topics, new languages, new contexts, new speakers, and then you’re back again to the third stage. This is also part of the expert nature (you know the expertise approach I have been talking about here for instance). The deliberate practice part of the expert personality challenges you to go back and evaluate and refine your performance, constantly. Another important part of this (maybe only for me in my researcher hat), is the implicit, or tacit, knowledge. This is comparable to an excellent rider who just “has it” in his or hers hands, seat and legs. You just “know”, without necessarily knowing what exactly it is you know or how to verbalize it.

So, I do agree with Interpreter Diaries on the four steps, and hopefully today, I think I have developed into at least step 3 and on some days maybe even step 4.

So what have I been up to

I realize I’ve been very silent the past couple of weeks. I don’t lack ideas, just time. Here’s a short overview of what I’ve been up to. I will try to get back on track on the blog as well.

First of all, I’ve finished my Interpreting Theory course at the University of Bergen. My studetnts have completed their compulsory work and are now doing their exam paper. I had some really interesting term papers and I’m looking forward to reading the exam papers. Way to go! You’re doing a great job guys, I’m so proud of you!

I gave my second and last class on terminology for the conference interpreting students at TöI in Stockholm. There too I was happy to see that students are serious about what they do.

Second, I was part of the organizing committee for the Text-Process-Text conference in Stockholm. The conference topic was process research in interpreting and translation studies and it was a huge success. At the conference we also officially handed over this volume to Birgitta Englund Dimitrova for her birthday.

Directly after that conference I co-organised AIIC Nordic countries’ regional meeting. We were very happy that Miriam Shlesinger agreed to stay for our regional meeting, she gave a talk that was very appreciated by the interpreters present. Personally, I think I have to make a mental note that it can be very burdensome to organize two conferences one after the other even if you are only a co-organizer.

I have also had the opportunity to interpret a few days and also meet The Interpreter Diaries IRL.

So now you know a little about what I’ve been up to during my silence. What have you been up to during November? For interpreters and teachers, one of the busiest months!

Being a travelling interpreter, mom, spouse and friend

The interpreter diaries commented in my post about what we talk about in the booth. She said that as a mother she often discussed issues around managing your life as mother and interpreter with colleagues who had a similar situation. I said then that it is an issue that deserves a post of its own, so here we go.

I started off as an interpreter 18 months before my first child was born. So clearly being a mother and an interpreter has been very intertwined for me. I interpreted (locally) two days before I went into labour and I started again when my daughter was three months old. When she was five months we went on our first assignment abroad.

Interpreting and free-lancing is a great job when you have children. I have been able to be at home with them for all their holidays. I spend eight weeks of summer holiday, two for Christmas, one in November, one in February and two over Easter – every year. On the other hand it’s horrible. I have lost count of the number of birthdays, school performances, medical appointments and sick days I have missed. For my son’s birthday this year I participated over skype. You feel utterly horrible when your child has a fever and you have to rely on relatives, au-pair girls or at best that your husband does not have an important meeting or is travelling as well. I felt horrible this morning when I had to take my daughter to the emergency room as she had hurt herself and she quite naturally comments: It’s a good thing it didn’t happen on Wednesday when you were away.

The same thing goes for spouse and friend. You need to have a patient partner who is secure in his own role and you need to have good friends who don’t mind waiting. You are the best spouse and friend when you’re not on mission. Long nice lunches with the girls, dinner’s ready for hubby and children are already done with homework and other tasks. Lot’s of time to fix things and hold everything together. On the other hand, when you’re away, you’re simply not there. Hubby becomes the sole provider of dinner, homework support, sick days, parent-teacher meetings and your friends can wait for weeks without a phone call. Now, I’m naturally very bad at remembering birthdays, anniversaries and other important dates, but travelling does not help things.

So, how do you make it happen? Well, first of all rigorous planning and equal amount of flexibility. You have to plan everything minutely and be totally open for all the plans to fail when a child is ill or a flight is cancelled. Secondly, good support around you. My parents passed away early so I have not been able to count on them for support (and maybe that’s not too bad, I hear my colleagues say that they put a burden on their parents they don’t feel comfortable with), but since my second child was six months and the first 18 months I’ve had very nice au-pair girls. Although, having an au-pair girl (or boy) is like having a distant relative living with you. You develop a very close relationship, but it’s still someone working for you. Tricky – but of the ten au-pair girls who has stayed with us over the years I have only had two who resigned early, another two decided to stay for an extra six months. Nowadays, the children are bigger and they prefer taking care of themselves when we’re not around, so far it works out well with homework and so forth. But I also have friends and neighbours who are absolutely great and who come running to our support when things just don’t work out. Like when I was in Spain for 10 days and my husband had a minor catastrophe at work and had to work 12 hour days and week-end. Dear, wonderful Mitt Belgien came every morning at seven to give the children breakfast and see them off to school and came back in the evening to help with homework and put them to bed.

Interestingly enough, the children dislike my travelling more as they get older. When they were very young travelling was sort of something natural and part of what mummy did, but as they grow older I guess they start seeing how other families function and maybe they also get better at putting words on feelings. Maybe they need you in another way when they are older. I have a colleague who once took a term off to support her 13-year-old. Unfortunately for me, they also go to a school where many of the mothers are stay at home mums, so I guess I struggle in headwind there. But as my supervisor once said encouragingly: “You are really being a role model for your girls”. And in case you wonder – Yes, it’s worth every minute of it and all the planning, and all the bad consience. The job is extremely rewarding and I very much like the fact that I can be there for the children so much more than I would have been able to as an employee, although I would probably have a higher “being there on birthdays”-score.

Day 15 – My goals as an interpreter

Goals are interesting. In the expertise approach in psychology (the one that says that skilled performers deal with their task in the same way regardless of their field of expertise, i.e. a tennis player has the same mental way of preparing him/herself as a chess player), goals are part of the success. The fact that you have clear and pronounced goals and also that you define each part objective on your way to the BIG goal.

But what goals can you define as an interpreter. Do you have a goal for your career? Or for each interpreting? Do you have goals to learn new languages? Pass accreditation tests? Get new clients? And are these goals part of improving your interpreting skills or your career?

Personally my goals were fairly worldly as I started out, the main problem was to get enough days of work as a young interpreter fresh out of interpreting school. So my goal back then was simply to get 5 days of work per month, every day over 5 was bonus. This also went hand in hand with being professional i.e. the goal of being up to date in my languages, well prepared when arriving to meetings and a good colleague (word travels quickly if you are unpleasant to work with).

In the beginning I had to struggle with less serious agencies too, so one of the goals was to not take work where working conditions were poor or where I was not qualified. More than once I have arrived at a meeting only to discover that the language combinations were completely wrong, colleagues unqualified or missing, or that there was no booth although we had agreed on that.

So there are goals on different levels: short term; long term; interpreting wise; language wise; customer related; and related to professionalism. A person that has described this very well is Gun-Viol Vik-Tuovinen in her PhD on interpreting on different levels of competence. Her PhD exists only in Swedish, but she has several articles in English.

And my personal goals then? Well, for every meeting it is as one of my colleagues so elegantly put it: “I want to understand and to be understood, that’s the only thing that matters”. And the strive to understand goes hand in hand with being well prepared, know your languages and so forth. “Were you a good interpreter today?”, my husband asks when I get home in the evening. And the days when I can answer “yes” are the days when I reached my goals. (Maybe I should add a saving clause here saying that the fact that I’m not satisfied with my interpreting is not necessarily the same thing as your clients or colleagues being dissatisfied, you are your own harshest judge.)

And the long-term goals? First of all I love my job, I love research too, and I would really like to combine the two. Most interpreting researchers do actually. Interpreting is too much fun to just let go. So, to stay on the market is an important long-term goal. My second long term goal is to continuously improve. I want to feel that I get better every time or every year. And thirdly, I want to learn a new interpreting language. I have been striving with Dutch for years, very extensively but still. And getting a language up to interpreting level is not something that is done in five minutes with Berlitz. You can read Interpreter Diaries’ very enlightening post on that here. Considering my PhD, my struggle with Dutch will continue to be extensive for a couple of years still but then…

This post is part of a list, 30 days of interpreting. You can view the whole list here.