Like many people who have had a love affair with words all their lives, I cannot imagine a professional career that did not include language as one of its major components. As a teenager, I envisioned that my future would include lots of reading, writing, dance, and travel. However, in addition to that I was always fascinated with the type of science that helped to solve crimes. It was not uncommon to see me enjoying mysteries, and investigative genres both in print and on film. Although I enjoy a good “who-done-it.” I quickly dismissed years ago any notions of being an investigator or forensic scientists. Much like Moriarty was Holmes’ nemesis, math and science appear to be mine. I have quickly come to realize that I have no aptitude for numbers, figures, or formulas; neither do I have the stomach for bodily fluids and gory scenes.
Despite all of this, something happened to me recently that turned everything on its head. No, I did not just wake up with an unexplained gift like John Travolta’s character in Phenomenon, nor did I suddenly develop a strong constitution. What I did do however is discover something I never knew existed. I made this discovery while watching one of the many forensic and investigative shows on Netflix. This show called Forensic Files Collection told the story of an actual case where a women was murdered by someone who had been writing threatening and harassing letters to her. After having the letters analyzed, a linguist was able to identify unique linguistic patterns that only a few people in the world manifest in their writing. One such pattern is a rhetorical device called ironic repetition. This is when the same verb is used twice in two consecutive sentences with a change in context. For example, in one of the killer’s letters he wrote, “she wanted to break it off, so I broke her neck.” Additionally, the killer used contractions for negative verbs in his writings but he didn’t use contractions for positive verbs. This is odd because most people either don’t use them at all or they use both negative and positive contractions. These two anomalies along with the use of photogrammetry: a science that makes measurements from photographs by using two dimensional photographs to create a three dimensional image, helped convict the killer who turned out to be the victim’s husband.
I have always been aware that there are individuals who work as handwriting analyst or those that could identify where a person is from through their accents and word choice, but never did I fathom that these combined with other unique skills could be used as crime fighting tools. What is the name of this discovery? Forensic Linguistics! It falls under the umbrella of applied linguistics, which is simply the application of linguistic knowledge to forensic content. This content could be in the form of linguistic evidence in a criminal investigation, the language of written law at trial during judicial proceedings or for when one is called to interpret contracts. I am still in the early stages of learning all about this field and its possible applications. Nevertheless, there is no doubt in my mind that in the not so distant future, I will be presenting myself as a doctoral candidate to one day become, Dr. Rachel Evans, the unlikely accidental scientist.
The other day my best friend and I were having a conversation about the Video Music Awards (VMAs). She mentioned that last year the artist Pitbull got slammed on twitter for speaking Spanish during his MC duties. Now, I was not aware of this because although I saw various performances on YouTube, I did not watch the awards when it aired. I got online to see if I could read some of the things that had been written about the incident. I found lots of tweets filled with people’s displeasure saying things like “Pitbull isn’t even American, why is he speaking Spanish on an American awards show?” Others were saying equally ignorant things such as, “don’t those people already have their own award show?” What took the cake for me was this quote: “English and Spanish are the top languages. I speak no Spanish because I wasn’t exposed to it. However, I want to learn their language too. Let the Spanglish flow. Sure beats Ebonics.” I couldn’t believe that someone was defending one culture that came under attack and in the same breathe was insulting another culture.
This got me to thinking about foreign language in business. What is it exactly that rubs people the wrong way when you speak a language they cannot understand? I am not pretending that I have the definitive answer but, aside from people who are just simply racist, I think most people are just reacting to their collective bad customer service experiences. We have all experienced walking into a beauty supply store, a nail salon or an ethnic restaurant only to feel uneasy and out of place. So what made us uneasy? We knew before we walked in that we would find non-native speakers. I think the issue is the quality of customer service. Customer service isn’t simply providing for the customer your services/products; it is much more than that. Customers have emotional needs; they want to feel that you care for and respect them. How can you make them feel at home in your place of business? The answer— do not be rude to your customers intentionally or unintentionally. In addition to all of the general dos and don’ts of customer service, here are several key rules of etiquette to follow when you have to navigate around two languages:
Acknowledge your customers: Greet them cordially, do not eye them suspiciously when they enter your establishment. If you do not speak the local language well and feel self-conscience about caring on a conversation, learn one or two greetings. Give them a genuine smile at the very least; a smile will go a long way. If you are busy and cannot attend to them at the moment, say so and let them know that you will be with them shortly. If you are having a personal conversation, end it and attend to your customers at once. Above all, never leave your customers thinking that you do not what to help them.
Do not discuss your customer’s/client’s issue in another language in their presence to another individual: It is rude to have a conversation with your customer and then switch languages to include another individual into the conversation. If you have to ask a fellow employee to help with your customer’s inquiry and that fellow employee does not speak your customer’s language, briefly explain to your customer that you must ask another individual and apologize for having to switch languages. Periodically stop and summarize for your customer what was said. Do not make any gesture, remark, or expression that might make the customer feel as though you are saying negative things about them.
Familiarize yourself with local customs: If your culture is different from that of your customers, you owe it to your business to get to know the culture. Knowledge of the local customs will prevent you from making mistakes and alienating your customers when dealing with them. For example, placing money on the counter shows good manners in one culture but may be seen as rude and standoffish behavior in another. Not looking someone in the eye when speaking to them is considered a sign that you respect them and are not challenging them in one culture but that you are dishonest and unsure of yourself in another.
Always Smile! You will want to make it part of your company policy to smile while you are serving your customers, especially if they are American. Americans are put off if they feel that you are not taking pleasure or pride in doing business with them.
VMA viewers, whether warranted or not, felt left out. When your customers walk away they should never feel left out. You will find that your customers do not mind that you follow your own cultural customs or that you converse in your native tongue at work. All they want from you is the benefit of your expertise, your attention, your assistance and your appreciation that they chose to conduct business with you.
Did I leave something out? Share with us your customer service experiences. What advice on customer service etiquette would you give? Please comment below.
The hardest part, in my opinion, for any new professional is getting started. We have all found ourselves at that moment where we have completed the required education and or certification and now we just need to find a job. We start our job hunt in the usual way and look in the usual places (classified ads in print and online, word of mouth, social media, company job boards, etc.) We read through job posting after job posting only to realize that they are all asking for the one requirement we do not have—experience!
True, we can certainly count the related work we did during our academic program. Perhaps we were even lucky enough to have an internship where we gained actual experience working in the industry. Maybe we were able to make a few connections here and there, yet even with all of this under our belt our portfolio can still be quite thin and limited. Can anything be done?
When your skills have not been tested or verified, businesses are leery about taking such a risk on a virtually unknown—and rightly so. It would not be in the best interest for a company to take careless risks. Luckily, there are always new companies forming; companies who are experiencing hard times as well as non-profit organizations who need goods and services but may not have the necessary funds to pay for them. This is when they rely on volunteerism. Translators and interpreters can showcase their skills and gain experience by taking on volunteer jobs. If you are not seeing any viable volunteer opportunities online, start looking within your community. Take the initiative, create volunteer opportunities. I noticed areas where content on my veterinarian’s website looked a little dull, so I offered to rewrite the content. After taking my pet bunny for his wellness check, I informed my veterinarian that I was currently looking for opportunities to grow my portfolio. Therefore, I extended my writing services to him on a volunteer basis.
Another portfolio building opportunity is bartering—who knew! Do you remember back in elementary school when one of the most exciting times of the school day was trading lunches in the cafeteria? Well, this is not any different. If you target other freelancers and young small businesses, you can get the things you need while grooming yourself to be a desirable candidate for all those job postings that you see calling for experienced individuals. Bartering is nothing new, in fact it was the principal way people got what they needed before monetary systems were established. If you are a mechanic who needs help with moving, offer to fix or do maintenance on a small moving company’s trucks. Discover what people need and think of how you can use what you do to benefit from what they do. Did you know that Roman soldiers use to get paid with salt? That is where the word salary comes from. Sorry, I digress. The key thing to remember here is to always be on the lookout for opportunities and to make sure you are prepared when those opportunities come.
Case in point, one day my neighbor struck up a conversation with me in my driveway. I mentioned that I was due to take some family portraits and he mentioned he was a freelance photographer. He told me that he could work up a good rate for me. I told him that I too did freelance work (translation and copywriting). He informed me that he was currently working on another business endeavor and was in need of some written content for his new project. We exchanged business cards and now we have an appointment to see how we can work out an arrangement exchanging services that will benefit each other. You never know when these situations will occur so make sure you have business cards handy. Put some in your wallet, purse, pocket, backpack, briefcase, car or anywhere else you can think to keep them. If you always have your laptop or tablet with you make sure you have a digital copy of work samples saved on your device. Speak up and do not be timid to tell others about the work you do. You will be surprised at the amount of projects you can generate for yourself.
I would love to know what worked for you. How were you able to grow your professional portfolio? Let us know in the comment section.
Americans have a love affair with all things chic and European. Don’t believe me? Let me throw a few names at you:
Louis Vuitton, Prada, Channel, Dolce & Gabbana, Mercedes, Ferrari, Lamborghini
Every American woman wishes her closet was filled with designer clothes and accessories, and every American man would be beside himself to have one of those luxury cars parked in his garage. This love affair, specifically with the French, that we inherited from the English dates back to the 16th century. It was quite fashionable for the wealthy English to take trips to France and arrange French lessons for their children. When you consider the history together with the fact that―let’s face it, English is a bit lackluster. It is not surprising to see so many people attempting to give their children and businesses exotic and interesting, French-sounding names. The problem: not everyone understands or cares to understand orthography (a way in which the words of a language is spelled). As a result, names are created with ridiculous spellings where apostrophes and accent marks are haphazardly thrown about. Please understand. Just because you put an “o” at the end of a word does not make it Spanish, and just because you put an apostrophe in a name does not make it French. Apostrophes are utilized to indicate possession (John’s car), and plurals (The Evans’ house). In English, as well as in other languages, they can also be used to indicate the omission of (a) letter(s) (do + not= don’t, Je + suis= J’suis).
The use of apostrophes in names is practiced by speakers of various languages. These constructions have survived from times long ago, when surnames were often derived from one’s place of origin (de Iberville= D’Iberville, which means from Iberville) or parentage (di Angelo= D’Angleo, Of Neal = O’Neal, which means son of Angelo and son of Neal). Accent marks are not used in English, but they are in other languages for the purposes of stressing pronunciation of vowels or to differentiate one word from another.
Many times I have watched elementary students try their very best to learn combination sounds and spelling rules only to be frustrated because the spelling of their own name does not follow the orthography rules they are being taught in school. If a student has an actual foreign name, they generally have no problem accepting the explanation that their name is from another language and therefore the rules for spelling are different. However, when someone’s name is clearly an independent creation, I am always at a loss for an explanation as to why the pronunciation of their name is spelled the way that it is.
In an effort not to offend anyone―including a few of my own relatives, I am not going to give real examples of the sort of names to which I am referring. However, as I get off of my soapbox, I would like to leave you with a bit of advice and a heartfelt request. Naming a child is a very important job; it is a decision that should not be made quickly. One must think about how this name will carry him/her through life, in all of its various stages. If you are so inclined to bestow upon your child a name of your own creation, make sure you follow orthography rules for the language you are trying to emulate.
This article is the fourth and last in the “Four Modes of Language Learning” series and will deal primarily with ways to improve writing skills.
If you are taking an academic language course, you will find that you get more practice with reading and writing than you do with speaking and listening. Although this might be the case, it is quality and not quantity that is most important. As a student, you may have to turn in some type of written assignment to your teacher on a regular basis, but are you making sure that the quality of writing is your very best? The same tips that helped you learn to write well in your native language will also help you in your second language. Once you figure out what you are going to write about, go ahead and get all of your thoughts down on paper, leave editing and proofreading for last.
Students new to language learning tend to write their thoughts down in their native language first, and then they translate their writing. This is alright to do in the beginning, but eventually if you do not grow out of this you will hinder your progression with thinking like a native speaker. This is very similar to what happens when a child uses his fingers to learn how to count. In the beginning it is fine, but when the child moves on to the upper grades he is expected to count in his head. What is the big deal you may wonder? Well, counting on your fingers becomes a crutch. The day comes when you have to calculate bigger numbers― well beyond the scope of your fingers. The child’s ability to visualize numbers and hold them in his mind while calculating is diminished. If you take this approach, you will frustrate yourself with trying to word expressions the same way you do in your native language. All bilinguals know that not every thought can be formulated in the same way from one language to the next. If you read a sentence like this: It is better not to think in that, your first thought would be― I can tell that this was not written by a native speaker. It should read: It is better not to think about that. The reason you get that sense is because of the writer’s word choice.
Do not handicap your writing. You want your writing to look, sound and flow more and more like a native speaker’s writing. If you want to acquire good writing skills you must regularly read examples of good writing. Selecting material with substance such as well-respected novels and magazines, academic journals, news articles and the like will help serve as models for good writing. Practice writing what you see every day. Your daily writing does not have to be formal and long. Start off by writing things like to-do lists in your new language, emails to native-speaking friends, tweet and facebook in your new language as well. A word of caution: If you participate in social media, understand that many people on these forums do utilize shorthand. You can certainly write correctly on these forums when talking to others but refrain from using the shorthand yourself until your writing skills become stronger.
Audio Podcast Transcript
[Check back for the posting of the live interview]
RE: Hi and welcome to An Education in Translation. This is our second podcast. Today is March 19, 2014. My name is Rachel Evans and I am the educator and host behind “An education in Translation.” Today… I would like to implement a segment I like to call Career Day. And I am happy to announce that we will be talking with Janine Rhyans. She has agreed to join us from Denver Colorado by phone. Isn’t that correct Janine?
JR: Yes I have.
RE: Ok, Janine is a Spanish to English translator, and she is also a Translation Studies student at the University of Denver. So I thought that it would be a great idea for those of you out there who are interested in careers as a translator to sort of pick the brain of a translator, someone who has started the journey, on the journey, to kind of figure out what got them interested in the career. What kinds of things that they are doing in order to become a translator? And what kinds of things do they have to deal with in their profession? So Janine, what I like to ask you is−if you don’t mind sharing with our listeners−how did your interest in translation develop?
JR: My interest in the translation and interpreting field developed when I was in high school. I actually had an internship with a non-profit organization that frequently used translators and interpreters, so I was able to kind of study how they worked and get a sense of, a little bit of a sense of, what the career field was like. And so also in my previous jobs, I have had the opportunity to translate informally. So when I saw that the University of Denver had a Spanish translation program; I thought that it would be a good opportunity for me to study the translation field.
RE: Ok, so what did you like best about translation, what attracted you to it?
JR: I like the challenge of translating one language to another and being able to kind of play with words. Also, I like that you have to use both of your language skills, and that it builds on my natural strengths as a writer and in research.
RE: Ok, so how would you briefly describe your language learning journey? Was it a difficult process for you, and if so, why? And what were some of the things that helped you along the way?
JR: I would say that my language journey began because I have always been fascinated with languages, and I always liked this idea to be able to communicate with a person in multiple ways. I started studying Spanish in middle school and I continued in high school, and then I decided to major in the language in college. I would say that probably one of the challenges for me was speaking, because I am naturally a quiet and shy person. And so I had to make an effort to speak. So, I just… you know I made that effort to speak in all of my classes.
RE: Ok, so what do you want to do with your translation skills? I know that you have a choice of working for a company (being an in-house translator) or working for yourself (being a freelance translator). I also know that you have a background in education and in accounting. So, are you interested in using your translation skills toward those things, or would you like to do something else with your skills?
JR: Ideally I would like to work as a freelance translator and proofreader.
RE: Have you chosen a specialization, If so, what are they? And then, do you think that it is necessary to choice a specialization?
JR: The areas that I plan to specialize in are business, art and international development. I do have a background in business and accounting, and I also have strong interest in the art field and in international development. I think that it is good to specialize in translation because it helps you to focus on developing a knowledge of industry terminology. It also helps you to focus on what types of translations jobs you would like to take.
RE: Right, because there are so many options out there―
RE: You know there are so many industries that could use, you know, translation services. You know you have the medical field, the legal field, um, the business field. So it can get pretty overwhelming, so I guess narrowing down your focus, you know, would be a big help. It will help you to be more marketable and then you can say that you mastered a particular area, that you have a particular expertise in a certain area.
JR: Yes, that is true.
RE: Ok, so what steps have you taken or will you take to reach your goal as a translator? What are some of the things that you are doing on a regular basis to meet that goal?
JR: Well, currently I am completing my program at the University of Denver. And while I have been studying, I have also been doing volunteer translating. And I have been putting together a portfolio of my translation work. I also have started taking professional development classes in the business field, sort of more entrepreneurial classes.
RE: Ok, I think that it is really important — I am really glad you mentioned that you are putting together a portfolio… And that you are putting together a focused resume, a professional resume and things like that because sometimes when you are in school — sometimes people don’t tell you these things and—
RE: when you are done with your degree, you get out there and you do not know why you are not getting jobs. You are just — you are clueless and I think that it is helpful to hear somebody say; ok you need to be working on this. You need to be doing this. And that can help you reach your goal sooner.
JR: That is true.
RE: So if you have already taken steps, which obviously you have. We have just got through talking about those. Are you finding the process difficult? And if so, what are the challenges that you are running into?
JR: I think anytime you start something new the process is difficult, so you just have to take things in small steps. And also for me―because I work full-time―it is also finding the time every day to do something to work on my goal.
RE: Right, right. So what would the ideal translation career look like for you? If you could um you know put together where you want to see yourself in five or ten years, what would your job look like?
JR: I think the ideal career probably initially would be to work uh part-time as a translator. But then long-term, I would definitely like to work full-time as a freelance translator.
RE: Ok, and uh I would imagine that your long-term goal, that you said, is to work full-time as a translator. Is there anything else that you would like to add to your skill? Would you like to add an additional specialization, or do you feel comfortable with the specializations that you have already chosen?
JR: I think for right now I just I kind of want to focus on those three, but yeah, maybe in the future I would definitely be interested in learning more.
RE: Ok and what advice would you give to both school-aged students and college students who might be contemplating a career in translation? What would you tell them?
JR: I would say to research the field, the translation and interpreting field. And maybe talk to professional translators and interpreters to find out what their education background is, what their career path was. I would also say; you know if you want, you can start to volunteer for different non-profit organizations as a translator or an interpreter. I would just say; you know just go for it.
RE: Ok, thank you so much. Now—
JR: Thank you.
RE: If you would like to learn more about Janine’s experiences and the things she has to deal with as a translation studies student and as a rising translator; you can follow her on her blog. Janine if you would share with us where we could go to read your blog and any other places on social media that you may be.
JR: My blog is called Janinetranslatesblog.com, and I am also on twitter Janinetranslates.
RE: Ok, thank you so much Janine and to all of our listeners out there. I hope that this was helpful to you and I just want to say; good luck to all your future endeavors.
JR: Thank you for having me.
RE: Your welcome, thank you.
This article is the third in the “Four Modes of Language Learning” series and will primarily deal with ways to improve reading skills.
Reading is an enjoyable pastime for many and is often used as a tool for teaching and learning. It can also transport its readers to fantastic worlds and expose them to unique ideas. Like anything else, doing something repetitively will help you to improve.
The problem that many new language learners make is that they pick reading material equal to the material they read in their first language. Why is that a problem? Well, your skill level is quite different between your new and native language. In my classroom, I often provided easy-reader Spanish books to my high school students. They use to chuckle at the thought of having to read stories that read like “see Spot run.” In the end, they saw the wisdom in my decision as they encountered reading nuances that they never had to contend with in English.
Once you get comfortable reading material at the basic level, you can start to increase the difficulty of what you read. This will guarantee that you are always challenged. Naturally, you will read things that you like but don’t forget to read materials from different genres. The hardest part is locating good material. Here are a few suggestions to get you started: Visit the children’s area of your local library and ask to be directed to the foreign language section. Browse the internet for translated versions of your favorite children’s books and every now and again just for fun, follow native speakers on twitter or Facebook and try reading their posts.
I guarantee if you practice daily reading, your reading skills will get better and better.