Friday, February 9, 2018

Young Translators Champions 2017-2018

The European Commission has just announced the winners of its latest Juvenes Translatores (Latin for Young Translators) competition. This is an annual contest that it runs for 17-year-old secondary school students across the European Union. This year's winners, all 28 of them (one from each member state), will go to Brussels on 10 April to receive their trophies and diplomas. There's no overall winner; it would be too difficult to judge one, especially as there are considerable differences between the styles of the various texts.

The competition has been building up for some years since it was launched in 2007, and consequently there's already quite a full commentary on it spread over several posts of this blog. I won't repeat it all here because you can retrieve the series just by entering juvenes in the Search This Blog box on the right. But here are a few reflections on this year's results,

Some figures. There were over 3,300 contestants, up from about 2,000 in 2010.  This indicates that enthusiasm for translation as a competitive skill has by no means waned. It illustrates that translating can be done for pleasure, as a hobby, as a game; as what we called ludic translation in 1987 when done by young children. It can be a mind-tickling game like crosswords or Scrabble.

In view of the constant (and justified) complaints in the United Kingdom about the decline of language teaching in the schools, it's particularly encouraging to see the large number of contestants from there (312 from 73 schools), surpassed only by Germany (370), Italy (352) and France (333).

There's no doubt that one of the reasons for the large number of UK contestants is the continued tradition of language teaching in the grammar schools (see Term below), a tradition that includes translation exercises – the kind of syllabus I went through myself. There are no fewer than 13 such schools in the list of participating schools. The UK winner was Daniel Farley from Manchester Grammar School for a Spanish to English translation. His school was founded in 1515 by the Bishop of Exeter to provide "godliness and good learning"' to poor boys in the city of Manchester.

The winning entries are available on the first EC website listed below; and so also  – if you would like to try your hand at one of them – are the source texts.

Grading 3,300 translations is no mean job. The staff of the EC who were involved should be thanked warmly for their dedication

European Commission. Juvenes Translatores 2017 Contest., or click [here].

European Commission. Juvenes Translatores: announcing this year's winners of the of the European Commission's translation contest for secondary school students. Press release, 2 February 2018. or click [here].

Grammar school. A UK secondary school of a type with Renaissance origins that stresses academic rather than a practical or vocational education. There are over 100 of them. They got grammar in their name because they taught the grammar of Latin and other languages. Nowadays they've become controversial because of their selective admission. My father went to the King Edward VI Grammar School in Birmingham, where he won a prize for German in the form of a beautifully bound anthology of German poetry.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Inspirational and Inspired Interpreting

We kick off 2018 on this blog with a post about church interpreting, a function which is mostly performed by non-professionals. It has been an unusually long time since the previous post, and for this the pandemic of flu of the long-lasting, misnamed 'Aussie flu' variety is mainly to blame. My apologies for not wishing all you Followers a Happy New Year.

The conventional image of the ideal interpreter is that of a neutral, colourless transmitter of information who neither adds to nor subtracts from nor influences the message. This is what is taught in the training schools due to the long tradition of professional interpreters themselves conducting training and research, and no doubt it fits a great many interpreter functions such as court interpreting, most conference interpreting and community interpreting. Nevertheless there are important areas that it doesn't describe, or at any rate not adequately.

One such area is religious or church interpreting. Far from it being marginal, a researcher, Adelina Hild, finds "clues that point to the fact that IRS [interpretation in religious settings] might be one of the most widespread types of interpreting activities in certain communities." Therefore my interest was awakened recently when a student wrote to me from Taiwan – this blog travels far – about a thesis she's thinking of doing on interpreters who work for missionaries. Missionary interpreters are an important subgroup of religious interpreters and there are missionary interpreters worldwide; Evangelical Christian, Mormon, Catholic, Muslim, Buddhist etc. Her project reminded me that religious interpreters must not only convey information; indeed that may not even be their primary function. Like the speakers for whom they interpret, their task is to persuade or convince their listeners. For this they may even go beyond words. The first description of a church interpreter on this blog was about a church meeting in Cameroon where the interpreter mimicked the body language of the pastor, something that would be a no-no in conference interpreting. [To find it, enter Buea in the Search box on the right.] An interpretation in neutral language and flat, colourless tones lets down an inspiring speaker. The interpreter too should inspire. Therefore I call such interpreting inspirational interpreting. As one inspirational interpreter puts it, "Taking such an active participant role is in stark contrast with the professional ideal of neutrality or impartiality,"

Like myself, the student in Taiwan has been an admirer of the Finnish Pentacostal interpreter Sari Hokkanen since we heard her speak at the first NPIT conference [see Sources below]. Hers was a paper that should be read by all student interpreters because it gives a very different view of interpreting. What she brings out emphatically is that such interpreting may not only be inspiring, it may also be inspired.
"Pentacostalism emphasizes personal religious experience, defined as encountering God, making it a salient feature of the social context of the volunteer interpreting context. Therefore I study spiritual and practical levels of preparation… In addition, I examine ways in which a personal religious experience, especially 'hearing from God,' can take place while interpreting, which speaks of my active participation in the interpreted service… the goal of preparation is not only to achieve a personal religious experience, but also, and perhaps more importantly, to mediate religious experience in others."
Lest it be thought that strong religious belief makes religious interpreting unique, consider what Sari herself says: "Religious interpreting settings may have plenty of similarities with non-religious settings that have a strong ideology." I myself felt it when interpreting in Canada for some political speakers. There are situations where inspiration makes the difference between a good interpreter and a great interpreter, just as it does between a good speaker and a great speaker.

Aeltje Chen (Taiwan). Personal communication about missionary interpreting. Email, 15 November 2017.

Sari Hokkanen. Simultaneous interpreting and religious experience; volunteer interpreting in a Finnish Pentacostal church. In R. Antonini et al., (eds.), Non-Professional Interpreting and Translation, Amsterdam, Benjamins, 2017. pp. 195-212.

Sari Hokkanen, Simultaneous church interpreting as service. The Translator, vol. 18, no, 2, pp.201.309, 2012. Abstract at

Adelina Hild. The role and self-regulation of non-professional interpreters in religious settings: the VIRS project. In R. Antonini et al., (eds.), Non-Professional Interpreting and Translation, Amsterdam, Benjamins, 2017. pp. 177-194.

Sari Hokkanen. Source: University of Tampere.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

MT Hackng Update

I thought to take a rest after Post 400, but the material keeps on coming.

A few weeks ago, a post here about automata warned that MT systems are vulnerable to hackers. Here is the relevant part of the post; for the full post, enter hacking in the Search box on the right.

It said that translating had already been partly robotized by the invention, progress and popular acceptance of machine translation (MT). Only partly robotized, so the danger isn't yet apparent, but there may be much more and much worse to come…
"We know now that virtually all computer communications can be hacked and subverted: supposedly encoded emails, secret diplomatic despatches, election systems, etc – according to this morning's papers, even defibrilators. There's no reason MT systems, through which users channel millions of words a day, should be exempt. And if they can be hacked they can be subverted… That doesn't even require access to the source text or knowledge of the source language."
Well, the worse is already coming. Here's the latest. It concerns rhe Norwegian firm Statoil, "one of the world's biggest oil and gas companies."
"NRK Norwegian news agency reports that the $46 billion business used, a free online tool, to translate 'notices of dismissal, plans of workforce reductions and outsourcing, passwords, code information and contracts.'  Then, the story continues, .. a college professor Googled Statoil. In her results were the company's translations."
It seems, however, that I was not alone,
"The translation industry saw the breach coming, 'It was something we had been warning about for 10 years or so,' says Don DePalma, chief strategist at Cambridge-based think tank Common Sense Advisory."
The translation industry sees it perhaps, but do the millions of more naive users? Was the Statoil breach truly the result of hacking or just of a computer glitch? Either way, the system was vulnerable. The conclusion is obvious: don't send anything confidential for translation by an MT system, even (or especially) a free one.

Terena Bell. Data breached in translation. CSO, 9 November 2017. or click [here].

Monday, October 16, 2017

400 Posts and Half a Million Page Views

I haven't had time to count them myself, but the Blogger software platform that I use informs me that there are now 400 posts on this blog, all but two or three by me, and that it's receicved no less than half a million 'page views' since it started in 2009.

Half a million is an impressive number but it must  be taken with several grains of salt. Half a million views doesn't mean half a million viewers. And many viewers undoubtedly hit on the blog by chance when they're really looking for something else. They may, for instance, be using natural translation in a different sense than mine. And finally, even if they stop to read a post, they may not like it. Nevertheless, out of half a million there must be quite a few that readers found interesting and even convincing. But I must admit I'm disappointed by the paucity of good comments and discussion.

Perhaps a surer indication of interest is the 229 registered Followers, to whom I'm very grateful for their encouragement. Today, however, they are outnumbered by the 259 Followers of my web page.

Since 2009 there has been an important advance in the attitude to non-professional interpreting and translation (NPIT) among translatologists. The turning point was the international conference that Rachele Antonini organised at Forli in 2012. But it hasn't gone far enough yet, despite a boost from the crowdsoucing that the internet has enabled. The academic literature and the conference agenda is still dominated by Expert Translation. And while NPIT and Natural Translation (NT) overlap, they aren't quite the same thing, because there are still many Professional Translators who are untrained or self-taught and without formal qualifications, and many Natural Translators who fill the large gaps in the services of the Professional Experts.

So my mission of recognition for the importance of NT is not yet accomplished and it won't be in the short working life left to me. Hopefully it will be taken up by another generation.

Source: Support Bloggers' Rights,

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Drama of Catalonia

There hasn't been anything new on this blog for a while because I've been distracted by a major political event close to home, namely the impending declaration of independence from Spain by by the government of Catalonia.

Rather than attempting to analyse the catastrophe myself, I defer to one of the most seasoned Spanish political commentators: Iñaki Gabilondo of the El Pais newspaper and SER TV chain. Those of you who know Spanish can find him from Monday to Friday at, but unfortunately very little of what he says is translated into English. Therefore I've done an unauthorised emergency translation of one of his pronouncements last week. Since it's beyond the scope of this blog, I've placed it temporarily on my Academia page, which is, or just click [here].  Apoligies for the fault in this link. It's been corrected.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Language Brokering in Germany and Australia

It's some time since we had a post on language brokering (LB), but that doesn't mean it's any less prevalent. Wherever there is migration there is language brokering. And the corollary is this: Wherever migrants have children, there is child language brokering (CLB). The children don't have to be exceptionally gifted. It follows that as the waves of migration continue, so too, in their wake, do LB and CLB
Ruaa Abu Rashid

Ruaa Abu Rashid is a Syrian girl who fled to Germany with her parents  and siblings when she was 18. When she arrived she knew no German but she soon found her way on to a language course "even though my heart sank at the thought of learning German." She travelled more than 100 km a day to  go to classes. Four years later she is now a proficient German speaker and is about to start a degree course at university. She sees herself
"as something of a spokeswoman for the whole family. She has had to translate for her parents everything from rental contracts to the strict rules governing the allotment [where they grow vegetables], as well as accompanying them to parents' evenings at her sister's school."
Besides acting as interpreter, she's also the interface between her family and German society, With regard to the latter, she
"does not shy away from talking about her frustrations, especially her encounters with unfriendly bureaucrats… the dogmatic teachers who don't like their authority being questioned, and the apparent randomness of rules. She also feels a lack of willingness to understand or at least respect her religious beliefs."
Notice the following in Ruaa's case.
* She was already 18 when she came to Germany, hardly to be considered a child. LB is far from confined to children; indeed language brokers can be any age. Many are adolescents or young adults.
* She made a deliberate and sustained effort to learn the new language. She didn't 'pick it up' as many language brokers do.
* Her functions went beyond the linguistic. Indeed the very term language broker may be misleading because it ignores the cultural aspect (for more about this, enter culture brokerimg in the Search box on the right).
* Her motivation was partly service to her family and partly to further her own ambition.
* She knew some frustration as well as satisfaction.

Anne and her mother

Now let's take a leap to the other side of the globe. An article has recently appeared about LB in Australia, and it's of particular interest because, as its author says, "For a country of migrants such as Australia, there has been surprisingly little research done on 'language brokering." There is mention, though, of research being done by Renu Narchal at West Sydney University.

The article mainly describes with photos the brokering done by two informants who are now mature women but who began brokering as children. One is Cantonese-speaking Chinese, the other is Polish. Remarkably, after several decades in Australia, they are still brokering for their mothers - which goes to show that brokers may be of any age. It also shows how their services are still needed because there are migrants who never fully master the language of the receiving country, The Chinese mother, now 79 years old, worked long days in restaurants and never found the time to learn English.

The article paints a revealing picture of brokering from childhood through adulthood. Anne, the Cantonese speaker, describes her weekly visits to her mother:
"Before dinner can be served, mum and daughter sit down at the kitchen table and methodically open all the letters that have arrived that week, and Anne translates them from English into Cantonese. It's a role she has played since she was a young girl growing up in the suburbs of Melbourne. When Anne was born, it seemed the role of interpreter was the one she was destined to inherit. Even today, correspondence that seems important doesn't  wait for her weekly visits. Her mother painstakingly conveys the words, letter by letter, over the phone as Anne tries to work out how to interpret them.
"All the mail, any forms, any newsletters from school -- I would not ony have to translate them but also fill out the forms as well. Any words I didn't know, I would have to look them up in the dictionary and try to work out what the hell they meant."
Again, the broker's duties didn't end with translation and they involved transactions well beyond what children are usually entrusted with. Anne says that for her,
"translating naturally moved on to making decisions. I would go to the bank with [my parents] and open term deposit accounts with them standing next to me and I did all the talking. But I remember being on my tippy-toes, trying to see over the teller counter, that's how small I was still… It did cause a lot of stress, because if I didn't know something I didn't know who to turn to for help. I felt responsible for them and it all rested on me."
That kind if stress is one of the downsides of CLB.

For the experiences of the Polish broker, which were similar, go to the article. The link is below.

None of the brokers desribed above received any instruction in translating. None of them is extraordinarily gifted. Their experiences from childhood and adulthood in widely separate parts of the world and their different languages entitle us to postulate that LB and CLB are social universals of Natural Translation. The story of Anne on her 'tippy-toes' reminds me that one of the observations which first led me to the Natural Translation hypothesis 40 years ago was witnessing a little Portuguese girl interpreting a form for her father at the counter of a post office in Ottawa.

Kate Connolly. Two years on, has Angela Merkel's welcome culture worked in Germany? The Guardian, 30 August 2017.  Click [here] or go to

Cathy Prior for Life Matters. When kids translate for their migrant parents. Alternative title: Language brokering: when you're the only one in the house who speaks English., 10 August 2017. Click [here] or go to

Image credits
Maria Fick, The Guardian
Fiona Pepper, ABC RN

Monday, August 28, 2017

Interpreter Directionality

From time to time this blog revives a post from bygone years that IMHO merits the attention of a new generation of Followers.  I was reminded of one such post recently by the comment of an appreciative reader who is bilingual himself and says he can translate both ways. Here is the post. It originally appeared in 2009.

Directionality means whether the translation is done from a first language to a second language (from an A language to a B language, in interpreters’ jargon) or vice versa.

I have just received [in 2009] a lengthy, well-designed survey questionnaire addressed to Professional Expert Conference Interpreters and seeking their views and feelings about directionality. It comes from Jan-Hendrik Opdenhoff of the GRETI research group at the University of Granada, Spain. If you would like to participate, contact Jan-Hendrik at

expert on bilingual aphasia A Neurolinguistic Theory of Bilingualism. The aphasic patient in the case study was a nun and nurse living in Paris but born in Morocco. She spoke French at home and with colleagues but had learnt Arabic at work and with patients. (Morocco is a thoroughly bilingual country.) She was suffering from ‘antagonistic bilingual aphasia’. That is to say, on one day she could speak French but could not find the simplest words of Arabic to express herself although she could understand it; and yet on the following day she would be able to speak Arabic without much difficulty but could no longer speak French. In addition, she exhibited paradoxical translation behaviour (Paradis’ term for it), which took the form that on days she could speak French but could not spontaneously speak Arabic she could nonetheless translate from French to Arabic, even utterances involving complex structural differences between the two languages. And to make the phenomenon even more complex and surprising, she could not translate the other way from Arabic to French. On days she could not speak French, the paradoxical translation phenomenon would be reversed – in other words, she could only translate into her deficient language!

Paradis also described similar cases involving other language pairs (French and English, Farsi and German) and in other countries (Canada, etc.), so the phenomenon is rare but widespread. How is it possible to have these different patterns? They raise questions about the mechanisms for translation in the brain, over and above the preliminary question of whether representation, processing and storage of language differ in bilinguals from in unilinguals. About these things we still know tantalisingly little – or rather, in the case of translation, virtually nothing.

The paradoxical translation described by Paradis was pathological; but then Natural Translation, like all things natural, is foredoomed to have pathologies.

Alexander  Ludskanov (Bulgarian Academy of Sciences), 1916-1976. Mensch und Maschine als Übersetzer [Human and Machine Translation]. In German. Translated from Bulgarian by. Gert Jäger and Hilmar Walter (Universsity of. Dresden). Halle: Niemeyer, 1972.

Michel Parads, M. C. Goldbloom and R. Abadi. Alternate antagonism with paradoxical translation behavior in two bilingual aphasic patientsBrain and Language 15:1.55-69, 1982 

Michel Paradis. He is now a retired Emeritus Professor.