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Keeping up to date - Culture - History: couldn't ProZ give a positive sign?
Thread poster: Francesca Pesce

Francesca Pesce  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:30
Member (2006)
English to Italian
+ ...
Jun 21, 2007

First of all I apologise for any mistakes I may make, but English is not my mother tongue (I would appreciate if someone corrected my mistakes...).

Something has been bugging me lately. I'll try to make this as brief as I can.

Talking with some colleagues, I am gradually realising that many of them - younger and older alike - have very vague ideas of what goes on around them: at a global level, but even at the national or local level. They probably don't read newspapers, maybe just a few headlines. They very likely don't participate in their countries' civil, political or social activities.

It goes without saying that history is often long forgotten as well. If someone has no clue of what is happening in the world, imagine if they know (or care about) what happened 20-30-50-100 years ago.

The best translators I know are those that have a solid culture behind them. They probably don't even use CAT tools, but they have a deep knowledge of their mother tongue, of its culture and history.
The point is that I don't believe one can be a good translator if one doesn't know what is behind and around words.

A few days ago a quick poll asked how we keep up-to-date in our profession. 14.2% answered "ProZ.com forums". Maybe someone was joking, but it made me think.

ProZ offers many instruments and resources to help translators work, improve, even think. But the - understandable - choice to keep out from any topic that could be controversial contributes in giving the impression that to be a good translator you have to know a couple of languages well enough, you have to learn the use of some CAT tool, you have to specialise in one or more topics, you also have to learn to run your own business, etc. But no trace of any link to real life, to the world.
I understand that the world outside can be controversial. I also understand that ProZ cannot be all-comprising, it cannot be or give everything to a translator, but maybe it could give some kind of hint, at least, that it is important to keep our feet and minds in the world.

Very few graduates in translation have been told that to be a good translator technique isn't enough, that they also should be interested and caring citizens, that the difference between a machine and a translator is culture, thinking, debating.

In a recent forum we were very calmly discussing a mostly legal issue on a nazi who in my country contributed to killing hundreds of people and who for one day was allowed (a permission that was then immediately revoked) to go out to work apparently as a translator. An experienced translator intervened writing that the issue was probably controversial and could disturb German colleagues who might prefer to forget their past history. Now this gives the sense of the risk that I am trying to describe.

Now, I don't really know how ProZ should or could do this, without blowing up the - difficult - balance it has managed to keep in all these years, but I am sure that something must be done.

Starting, maybe, from links to local and international newspapers. Organising forums and debates on historical events, on books. On the environment.

I repeat that ProZ isn't a mother or a father, who should tell us how to go about in our profession. But, I repeat, keeping the real world out, it somehow does. And in this sense it contributes in the direction of technically prepared and culturally ignorant professionals


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Nesrin  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:30
English to Arabic
+ ...
Translators are just people Jun 21, 2007

I do agree with you, we should all be more culturally, historically, politically, socially (etc) aware. But translators are just people at the end of the day. If a translator is specialised in banking and accounting, or technical manuals for example, why would you expect him/her to be more "aware" than an accountant or a technician for example?
But despite what you say, I do believe that translators are generally more aware of what's going on around them than the average university graduate.

The quick poll you refer to, by the way (as far as I understood it, judging by the choices given), was not about how translators stay up to date with current affairs, but how they professionally develop themselves. Although many translators may be regular readers of newspapers and books, which will inevitably reflect on their language skills and general knowledge, they may not consider this a "direct" method of professional development.

----------

PS Hi again Francesca! Just to say sorry I haven't commented on your main suggestion to Proz.com and some other points you've made, but I just wanted to comment on your observation about translators' general awareness!

[Bearbeitet am 2007-06-21 13:34]


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Lawyer-Linguist  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 20:30
Dutch to English
+ ...
No apologies needed! Jun 21, 2007

Francesca Pesce wrote:

First of all I apologise for any mistakes I may make, but English is not my mother tongue (I would appreciate if someone corrected my mistakes...).



Nice thread Francesca, I'll come back and contribute properly when I get a chance - some very interesting ideas.

Just wanted to say quickly that your written English is of a very high standard, I bet most of us wish we could write at this level in our second/third languages.



[Edited at 2007-06-21 13:29]


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Deschant
Local time: 20:30
Reply Jun 21, 2007

I agree wholeheartedly with Francesca. I am often surprised to find KudoZ questions in my pairs in which the problem is not the knowledge of either the source or the target language, but the lack of ability to grasp historical or cultural references. I have seen this happening in other language-related professions as well (for example journalism), and I think that most people of my generation (I'm 26 years old) in such professions find difficulties mainly because of a lack of solid culture, not because their knowledge of the language is poor. I have also found mistakes due to poor cultural background in the translations I proofread. Sometimes I just wish translators read more (any kind of books. or just the news, I don't have any preferences here)!

However, I'm not sure about how can ProZ make a difference. It is true that it has an enormous potential due to its international scope: i.e. what is considered a "solid culture" in Europe is probably very different to its equivalent in India or Japan, the cultural and international heritage and environment aren't just the same. But of course the current rules for forum discussion limit this potential to a considerable extent, and perhaps not many people would like to engage in such discussions, preferring to use the forums to discuss CAT tools, issues with agencies or the like (which is just fine, of course!).


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tinageta  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:30
English to Latvian
+ ...
Probably against the Rules Jun 21, 2007

Hi, Francesca, although I fully support your idea I do not think this will ever be allowed in this "venue". Remember that a few years ago (do not know if this still applies) it was forbidden to wish a Merry Christmas in fear that this could OFFEND someone, and even a poll question "How did you spend Christmas?" was frowned upon because apparently it offended some colleagues ( see here http://www.proz.com/topic/40636 ).

Ha! And you think discussions on painful subjects will be allowed here?:D:D

[Edited at 2007-06-21 16:36]


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 13:30
English to Spanish
+ ...
Positive Sign Jun 21, 2007

I think the fact that this site exists and is growing by leaps and bounds is in itself a very positive sign. However, it is a translation site; it can only go so far. It is for translation, not culture in general.

Your concerns in that area are quite valid. It goes without saying that as translators we have a duty to increase our overall level of culture in all ways. We can do that by using all the other resources we have available to us.

Certainly many of those participating here can easily see where their shortcomings are and endeavor to remedy them as best they can. In that sense, then, it does actually serve to encourage further development.


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Jenny Forbes  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:30
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
Reading Jun 21, 2007

Henry Hinds wrote:

I think the fact that this site exists and is growing by leaps and bounds is in itself a very positive sign. However, it is a translation site; it can only go so far. It is for translation, not culture in general.

Your concerns in that area are quite valid. It goes without saying that as translators we have a duty to increase our overall level of culture in all ways. We can do that by using all the other resources we have available to us.

Certainly many of those participating here can easily see where their shortcomings are and endeavor to remedy them as best they can. In that sense, then, it does actually serve to encourage further development.



Positive indeed, Henry. In a recent poll, if I'm not mistaken, more than 50% of respondents said they kept themselves up to date by reading, which seems to indicate that we're not just a bunch of philistine keyboard bashers. The breadth of interests of Prozies as expressed in these forums impresses me greatly. I read voratiously myself - mostly European history and geography. Not particularly related to my work, but nevertheless, I hope, generally broadening my knowledge of European culture.
I read a great definition of a specialist the other day - someone who knows more and more about less and less.
Yes, it's essential for a translator to be knowledgeable about the culture of the countries whose languages he/she uses - and it's generally recommended to know all about everything, too.
Regards,
Jenny.


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Vito Smolej
Germany
Local time: 21:30
Member (2004)
English to Slovenian
+ ...
Bass fishing Jun 21, 2007

Henry has some time ago insisted, that what ProZ should be to translators is pretty much the same as some www.bassfihing.org is to fishing afficionados: the intention of ProZ is not to turn us into the best, the human race can offer. Thats up to us, and to us alone, and definitely not up to Proz: its something you just cant delegate.

Of course, neither does Proz impede our strive to improve. Id say it helps in its own humble, invisible way....


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Juliana Starkman  Identity Verified
Israel
Local time: 15:30
Spanish to English
+ ...
Brava! Jun 22, 2007

I love this thread, and am only sorry I am in the middle of helping my husband pack for a business trip, or I would sit here for a long while philosophizing...
I could not agree more wholeheartedly about the need for an appreciation and awareness of the world around us, and it being a prerequisite of sorts for effective translation. I would even take that a bit further perhaps...I know in my case that my languages have been my personal weapon in breaching the walls of the unknown or the unavailable. I go bonkers thinking of all the OTHER news, literature, essays, etc. which exist in languages I am not fluent in, and which I am sure are wonderful. Should we not all be fascinated enough with what we don't know that we at least make the attempt to explore and learn?
Proz.com may not need to set up a centre for higher education, but it is nice to know that there are many colleagues (and the more you hang around here the clearer it becomes) who are wonderful sources of information. All one needs is the will, right?
I may have to come back to this...


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Enrique Cavalitto
Local time: 17:30
SITE STAFF
Agree! Jun 25, 2007

Vito Smolej wrote:

Henry has some time ago insisted, that what ProZ should be to translators is pretty much the same as some www.bassfihing.org is to fishing afficionados: the intention of ProZ is not to turn us into the best, the human race can offer. Thats up to us, and to us alone, and definitely not up to Proz: its something you just cant delegate.

Of course, neither does Proz impede our strive to improve. Id say it helps in its own humble, invisible way....


Thanks Vito!

One of the concepts upon which ProZ.com has been built is that of the "translation workplace". All services, activities and discussion on this site focus on the art and business of translation, as specified in the site's definition of scope.

Of course there are many important issues not covered by this scope definition, but the site only aspires to be the translation workplace as defined by said definition and ProZ.com's mission statement.

Kind regards,
Enrique


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