All the Acronyms: ITI CPD in the UEA JPC

UEA was frequently observed in my day (doesn’t that make me sound old!) to stand for the University of Endless Acronyms, so it was a fitting venue for a CPD day with the ITI EARG (East Anglia Regional Group) on Saturday 7 February. It was very strange to find myself back in a seminar room in the James Platt Centre a good 12 years after graduating for the second time! (That makes me feel even older…)

Norfolk Terrace UEA by N Chadwick

Following introductions, Dr Joanna Drugan gave a talk on ‘What happens to your translations when you have handed them back to the client or the agency?’. This was based on her extensive research on applied translation in a real world context. Jo asked us about our expectations and experience of what happens when a translation is handed over to an agency or direct client, and also whether we ask about these things when we take on a new client. The subsequent discussion illustrated that there are considerable differences in approach, and that many of us were making assumptions or unsure what actually happens to our texts. Those people who had previously worked in-house at translation agencies were able to give us a valuable insight into the way they work, for example in terms of the different levels of checking, depending on what the client has paid for and the level of trust in any given freelancer. Some agencies use an approach called “linguistic validation” where the text is then translated back into the source language to see if it still conveys the original ideas, while others carry out “proofchecking” which involves project managers looking for number errors, typos etc even if they don’t know the languages involved.

Quality in Professional Translation, Dr Joanna Drugan, Bloomsbury Academic, 2013

Jo’s book, the result of ten years’ research.

Other issues raised: what about direct clients who don’t speak the target language? Do they just take translations on trust? What happens when a translator and proofreader disagree? Who has the final say? Do translators get to see the text after proofreading and before publication/handing over to the end client? Agencies and end clients often observe that translators improve the source text (ST) by picking up on errors that have previously been missed, ambiguities etc.

Then there is a lack of shared understanding of the meanings of and differences between editing, revising and proofreading – using differing terminology can result in a job being far more work than originally expected, for example. Does a client edit/revise/proofread a TL language text in isolation or with reference to the SL? A frequent approach is known as “sampling”. This involves detailed checking of a section of text and using that as a basis to decide how much scrutiny the rest will need. Problems can arise if changes are made and then not communicated to the translator. Where changes may be justified, it would be useful to know for professional development. Where unjustified – do we want our name attached to the end result?

Then there is  the impact of international translation standards – these may be very cumbersome making it impractical/inefficient to be compliant for every job. Not everything relevant to quality is actually quantifiable. Sometimes standards lead to a focus on the wrong aspects, as we see (often to our cost) with other watchdogs, such as Ofsted, which often end up “counting what can be counted, not what counts”. Mari says this is a cliché in data circles, but it’s certainly worth flagging up.

Direct clients may not engage with quality – they may consider that they have outsourced translation to an expert and leave it up to us. Agencies sometimes make assumptions on a client’s behalf about the level of service/quality/checking they require.

Jo’s take-home points were: technology is changing approaches in many ways, not just machine translation and its pre- or post-editing. We should not assume that any quality control will be carried out and this has implications for ownership, responsibility and potential for reputational damage. *

We then adjourned for an excellent lunch at the Sainsbury Centre (it has a fantastic climbing tree outside it, maybe we could use that to get the boys there while we look at art…!) before returning for an afternoon of more informal discussions. The first topic was the perennial issue of negotiation and rates. Are there legitimate reasons to give an agency or client a discount? If so, what are they? Are volume discounts OK because a bigger project means less admin, or do they mean that we are doing more work for less money and potentially losing other projects by turning clients down? Some people prefer to offer a discount on smaller projects because it means losing out on less. Others offer a discount for a longer timescale as it allows time to take on other jobs at the same time.

It was pointed out that low rates mean working more to make a living, resulting in a lack of time for CPD or funding for CAT tools, professional memberships etc. This argument might not go down so well with direct clients, who are interested in quality – somebody else might do the job cheaper, but will they do it well?

Several people said that they charge extra for PDFs and other non-editable formats. This sometimes results in the file magically turning up in a different format after all… Similarly, there was discussion of higher charges for evening/weekend work and rush jobs.

When it came to raising rates with agencies, it was noted that this might result in a freelancer being dropped down the order in a database, but that doesn’t necessarily equal losing out. You might end up getting more money for less work. Not being VAT registered can make a difference when working for agencies in countries where nationals have to register. They might then afford a higher rate if they aren’t paying VAT on top.

Tips for raising rates: quote higher prices to new clients. Keep applying to new agencies so a few lost ones make less difference. Send out a service presentation of what you offer rather than a CV. Drop bad payers. Build rapport with clients/PMs. Find other networks as a source of work, e.g. web designers who can then suggest you to their clients as they build them a new website.

The other topic was literary versus commercial translation and specialisations. I found myself explaining (my understanding of) how the literary translation world is different from commercial translation, how to find out about translation rights, approach publishers etc. Other areas of specialisation discussed were song translations – something maybe done less commonly these days, (last year’s ITD conference touched on opera translation though) – tourism and green energy/ the environment.

Tips for building up a specialisation: go to trade fairs in the subject area, read trade publications, concentrate on areas you’re already familiar with, learn as you go, do pro bono work for charities etc to gain experience, Translators Without Borders, research. Mention to existing agencies that you would like to move into a new area so that they add that to their databases. Consider doing short courses or diplomas in the subject area. Another suggestion was that where specific terminology is hard to find, it can be worth writing to senior academics in the field who are often happy to help.

UEA roundabout by N Chadwick

Woah, what’s happened here? That’s changed!

And of course, after a hard day’s talking, some of us repaired to the pub for drinks, dinner and socialising. There we collided with a large wedding party and established that cycling is faster than the number 25 bus…  All in all, it was an enjoyable and rewarding day, and further proof, if any were needed, that Norwich is the centre of the translation universe. Many thanks to the organisers, and here’s to the next one!

If you have any tips to add to those I’ve got here, do share them in the comments.

* For further reading, see: Dr Joanna Dugan, Quality In Professional Translation, Assessment and Improvement,  Bloomsbury Academic, 2013.

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Claude in the City: A Rollerskating, Beret-Wearing Accidental Hero

Claude in the City, written and illustrated by Alex T. Smith (Hodder Children’s, 2011), was one of fils cadet‘s birthday presents. It took quite a while to get round to reading it, but fortunately, now he loves it. Perhaps it’s best to let the author’s words introduce Claude and his friends:

Claude in the City, Alex T. Smith“Claude is a dog.

Claude is a small dog.

Claude is a small plump dog.

Claude is a small, plump dog who wears a beret and a lovely red jumper.

Claude lives in a house with Mr and Mrs Shinyshoes.

Claude also lives with his best friend, Sir Bobblysock. Sir Bobblysock is both a sock and quite bobbly.”

There is a real charm to this little series with its quirky illustrations and storylines and a rather Parisian air. (Yes, quirky can be code for irritating, but here it works!) This installment is a story in two parts, or possibly two separate stories. In Part I, Claude takes a trip to the city, where he visits a museum and inadvertently foils a major art robbery. In Part II, Sir Bobblysock gets poorly so Claude rushes him to hospital by rollerskate making “woo woo!” noises. There, he is mistaken for a doctor and once again saves the day by correctly diagnosing the mystery illness afflicting all the patients. There are plenty of silly names (Dr Ivan Achinbum, for example) and a lightly flippant tone that makes it fun to read aloud. It’s also ideal for early readers as it’s chapter book sized but without a daunting number of words per page – perfect for fils cadet, whose attention span is out of whack with his reading ability! The humour is nicely pitched to keep them hooked and there’s plenty to spot in the pictures too, which are all done in black, white and red but crammed with detail.

We’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for the rest of the series.

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To See the Moon So Clearly

My colleague Ian Appleby sent me a copy of his and Simon Geoghegan’s translation of To See the Moon So Clearly by Gai Sever a shamefully long time ago. Sadly, both boys are too inclined to suspicion of new books and authors for either of them to have let me read the stories to them, so what follows are my own impressions only.

For an extract from the title story, see here.

Gai Sever is a philologist by inclination and training, specialising in Horace, Martial, Petronius and the Nine Lyric Poets. He has worked as a web designer and programmer, and also in the publishing industry. He currently manages a small publishing house dealing with new translations of classical works, among them Virgil, Persius, Martial, and Homer. He finds recreation in writing fiction in Russian, and translating from English. Among his publications are two fantasy collections, one science fiction collection, and translations of works by Jerome K. Jerome and Arthur Conan Doyle. At the moment, he is translating Isaac Asimov’s “The End of Eternity”.

The book is a collection of three stories, which in turn form part of a cycle of five novelettes. They have an enchanting, whimsical quality which I enjoyed, and Ian’s translation draws on the English fairytale tradition while preserving a Russian flavour.

In some respects, I found the stories a little disjointed, both in terms of lacking a connection with each other, and because the reader is launched straight into three very distinct worlds without introduction. Perhaps you need to read the entire cycle to really get to grips with them. But then again, perhaps that’s also in keeping with the fairytale nature. Certainly the stories have greater depth than fairytales, and are worth reading as an adult too. They pull you in without the “Hey? What? That doesn’t make sense!” element and prompt you to think about what lies beneath.

I really hope to persuade the boys to read them, and if I do, I’ll let you know what they think. Apart from anything else, there’s a certain Tree Fu Tom-ishness to the story about the wood sprite that ought to appeal.

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The Foundling’s War

After The Foundling Boy by Michel Déon, I was very much looking forward to following up the adventures of Jean as he grew up, so I was very pleased to be sent a copy of The Foundling’s War (also translated by Julian Evans) for review by publisher Gallic Press . It’s taken a while to get round to it, for which many apologies, but here it is.

In the aftermath of French defeat in July 1940, twenty-year-old Jean Arnaud and his ally, the charming conman Palfy, are hiding out at a brothel in Clermont-Ferrand, having narrowly escaped a firing squad. At a military parade, Jean falls for a beautiful stranger, Claude, who will help him forget his adolescent heartbreak but bring far more serious troubles of her own.

Having safely reached occupied Paris, the friends mingle with art smugglers and forgers, social climbers, showbiz starlets, bluffers, swindlers and profiteers, French and German, as Jean learns to make his way in a world of murky allegiances. But beyond the social whirl, the war cannot stay away forever…

A very murky world it is too. It’s a story of survival in difficult times, compromises, dubious decisions and shady dealings. There are collaborators and conscripts, people exploited and hurt, while others seem to smile through and float over the top of the quagmire. I found it rather unsettling, to be honest. Whether or not it is an accurate portrayal of the French experience of WW2 I couldn’t say, but it seemed to lack depth compared to, say, Suite Française. OK, so it’s not dealing explicitly with the treatment of French Jews, but there are people living in commandeered Jewish apartments in an arrangement apparently considered beneficial for both sides. Maybe these deals were hatched. I don’t know. But it jarred.

There is still a lot to like about the book and the writing, and a lot of it was just as entertaining as its predecessor. It is good on human relationships, and the affair between Jean and Claude is painfully touching, but for me it was a rather disappointing sequel. Perhaps it was that the charm wore thin, or perhaps just that it was out of place with the subject matter, but it didn’t grab me in the same way.

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Die Herrlichkeit des Lebens by Michael Kampfmüller

One of the pile of new books I got for Christmas was Michael Kampfmüller’s Die Herrlichkeit des Lebens, inspired by a glowing review in New Books in German a few years back. It sums the book up much better than I ever could, so I’ll link to it here.

I really appreciated the beautiful writing of this book. Although it is under 250 pages, it is a slow, meditative read. It gives a human perspective on politics and economics of Weimar Germany. The 1920s was a really bad time to move to Berlin in many ways! When, for example, Franz’s parents send him a cheque in Reichsmarks, he is furious because it has lost a third of its value by the time it arrives. It is also intriguing to see Kafka as a real person rather than through the prism of his writing. Even in the story it is how he is defined by himself and others – a writer, who earns a living in insurance, yet who isn’t writing. Not at first anyway. Here,  though, he is a man – ill, in love, dying – while Dora Diamant is a young woman whose touching relationship with Franz comes at the beginning of her adult life, rather than its end.

I found this book interesting from a literary point of view, and touching as a general reader. I’m glad to see that it’s due out in English in March from Haus, translated by Anthea Bell.

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And the 2015 Marsh Award for Children’s Literature in Translation Goes to…

The Marsh Award for Children’s Literature in Translation 2015 was presented yesterday evening at the English Speaking Union in London. It was particularly exciting for me to be invited to the presentation because this time round I knew two people on the shortlist, Chantal Wright (Anton and Piranha), who was my MA colleague at UEA, and Laura Watkinson (The Letter for the King). I also found myself sitting next to another shortlisted translator, Adriana Hunter (My Brother Simple).

For full details of the shortlisted books and comments from the judges see:

The award was presented by author, translator and all-round literary giant Kevin Crossley-Holland, who spoke amusingly about his introduction to translating bawdy Anglo-Saxon riddles, and passionately about the need to boost the number of children’s books from other languages coming into English. Preaching to the converted, yes, but with an eye to his words being reprinted by Books for Keeps (as Daniel Hahn’s speech was two years ago) and hence reaching the audience who really need to hear. As President of the School Library Association, he also held out the hope of an issue of their Riveting Reads journal being devoted to books in translation,  which would be marvellous.

The Adventures of Shola by Bernardo Atxaga, tr. Margaret Jull Costa (Pushkin Children's Books)After this, without further ado, the winner was announced: Margaret Jull Costa for The Adventures of Shola, by Basque author Bernardo Atxaga, illustrated by Mikel Valverde and published by Pushkin Children’s Books. (Pushkin, incidentally,  had three titles on a shortlist of six, which says a lot about the strength of their new children’s list.) According to the judges’ description, the book is:

‘A very satisfying collection of stories, great for reading aloud with a translation which successfully portrays the delightful characters. Each story is very accessible and full of humour, even for older readers, whilst also containing real philosophical moments. A book which truly comes alive with great sound effects throughout.’

Margaret then read from her translation, which was indeed very funny. I look forward enormously to introducing the boys to the opinionated yet lovable Shola – a small dog with big ideas.

Then there was more wine, more canapés and more socialising… It was a wonderful evening and anything that boosts the profile of international children’s books in the UK can only be a good thing. Many thanks to the organisers and here’s to be the next award having an even stronger field to choose from.

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Twerking Lizards, Wizards and Creative Writing: Translators in Schools 2

Back in the summer I wrote about the Translators in Schools training I’ve been doing, so after that it was a case of going off to work out my own workshop with a mentor and another translator, and then just the minor matter of going into school and delivering it. But I did that this morning, and not only survived but enjoyed it…

When I first heard about Translation Nation and other projects of that sort at ITD 2 years ago, my head began to buzz with ideas of doing something of that sort at Cavell. Then came the training, during all of which time I was hoping that the workshop could be something to celebrate fighting off Michael Gove and his academising minions. Sadly, that wasn’t to be (see past blog posts ad nauseam) but after a very hard year, I wanted to do something fun and positive at the school.

Kurz Nach Sechs Kommt die Echs by Nadia Budde

So what did we do? Well, after discussing what translation is, why we do it etc, and a warm-up exercise where they were given scrambled-up English sentences to unjumble, year 6 translated Nadia Budde’s Kurz Nach Sechs Kommt die Echs from German into English. Our session ran either side of the morning break, so in the first part we used glossaries to create a rough version of the text with each pair of children working on two lines. They soon saw that German and English have very different word orders so it was back to the skills from the jigsaw sentences to create something that made sense. They then read what they had done out to each other so that everybody had got the whole story.

welsh lost in translation roadsign funny

Photo by John Bullas (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) . Click through for the story!

After break, we got back to thinking about translation by looking at examples of where it goes wrong due to over reliance on machines, or a lack of human proofreaders. As well as making them laugh, this led us up to thinking about what to do next with our story from the morning so far. The children then split into four groups, each taking a different approach to the story. One group focused on polishing up the rough version into a prose story, another group tried to make it rhyme – oh yes, I forgot to mention that this is a rhyming text. They were given “permission” to be pretty free with the text and, yes, some of them went pretty far off piste, inserting toilet jokes, wizards (to rhyme with lizard, obviously) and a lot of twerking (to rhyme with working). Then two more groups took the illustrations as their starting point. One table each took a picture and used it to inspire a piece of their own creative writing, and another did storyboarding – what happened next, for example. I was particularly impressed by one boy who managed to combine storyboarding AND a rhyming text.

More chinglish

Photo by dcmaster (CC BY-NC 2.0) All our translations were much better than this!

Finally, they came back together on the carpet and those who wanted to from each group read out what they had written or shared their pictures. They all seemed to enjoy themselves, to produce some really creative writing, and  to be proud of what they had done. I could see how the writing fitted in with the work on synonyms, connectives etc displayed on the walls, and the teachers were keen to keep their work to follow up on it, and use the images as writing prompts again.

It’s marvellous to see what the children come up with once their imaginations are fired and it was a really encouraging morning for me. I feel confident that this workshop could work with other schools too and that by stepping slightly out of my introverted translation comfort zone I can add new strings to my bow as well as inspiring (hopefully) a love of language in the next generation.

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