April Issue: Bilingualism in the US

This post first appeared on my personal blog:

Multilingual Attention Sign

Image by beer

I think our generation’s been fortunate to witness the rise of the Internet and cell phone technology. The 7-year gap between my long-term US stays enabled me to witness an equally fascinating development in a different realm: the rise of bilingualism in the US.

When I was in Pennsylvania in 2002-2003, I didn’t see signs in any language but English. Granted, Pennsylvania is a predominantly white state, far from areas of high immigration.

However, here I am in 2011, in the equally Northeastern state of Ohio, and – lo and behold! – virtually every public sign has a subscript in Spanish.

It only makes sense for a country that has no official language to move toward bilingualism and reflect its current population makeup, but I wonder what other Americans have to say on the matter?

Translating Security Questions

Security questions at http://www.huntington.com

An important issue to take into account for localizing websites is that of security questions. In my experience of coming across these questions, as a Russian-bred person, I often discovered that most of them did not apply to me.

Some of the popular security question on US websites run along the lines of:

What is your mother’s (father’s, brother’s, etc.) middle name? What is your high school mascot? What was the first car you’ve owned?

A person living elsewhere will, most likely, be perplexed by some of these questions. To be more specific, Russians don’t have middle names. Moreover, schools in Russia go by numbers and not names. Also, they don’t have school colors or mascots.

Expectations from Translators

Image by just4you

It often makes me sad to see job descriptions for translators on Russian job search websites. A lot of times employers will want the translator to perform additional duties as a secretary, personal assistant, manager, etc. Moreover, as you might have read in this blog, people in Russia often don’t distinguish between a translator and an interpreter.

A simple search for переводчик (perevodchik, ‘interpreter’/’translator’) on the Russian website rabota.ru reveals that companies expect their linguist to take care of correspondence with foreign partners, interpret at business meetings, and often carry out other secretarial or administrative functions. In addition, it is not an exception for an employer to expect the translator to go in both language directions (perhaps caused by a lack of native speakers).

Is it like that in your country/personal experience? How can we change it? Does it need to be changed?

Translator vs Interpreter

I have often heard colleagues complain about the ignorance of the general public in the USA as to the difference between translating and interpreting. As my professor Dr. Geoffrey Koby said, mimicking your average layperson, “Translator? Isn’t that the person behind the politicians on TV?”

In English, especially in the US, the relationship between the two terms is further complicated by the other meaning of ‘interpret,’ the one we would you to talk about interpretations of a novel. Moreover, interpreting without any modifiers can signify American Sign Language (ASL) interpreting.

Interestingly enough, Russian doesn’t make a distinction between translation and interpreting. There once used to be a word to signify an interpreter (толмач), but it is now obsolete. As a result, both activities are covered by the umbrella term перевод (perevod), and if it is necessary to specify if translation or interpreting is meant, people add устный (ustny, ‘oral’) or письменный (pismenny, ‘written’).

Does your language make a distinction between translating and interpreting? If so, how closely is the distinction followed?

Things people just don’t say outside Russia

This post first appeared on my blog about Russia:

Now that I am pursuing a Master’s degree in Translation (see my translation-related blog for more information), I often think about similar things people describe using totally different expressions that are not, strictly speaking, translations of each other.

Say, one of my English students asked me who you translated the Russian expression “X по профессии, но Y по призванию” (literally, X in my training, but Y in my calling”). At that point, I was at a loss. The best I could come up with was “I was trained as X but have always wanted to be Y.”

However, I’ve now been noticing certain things people say in Russian which, even (probably clumsily) translated, would make no sense to an English speaker. For instance, on this Russian tutoring services website, I came across the following cited as the parents’ motivation to find an English tutor for their child: “Привить любовь к языку” (“to develop love (an appreciation?) for the language”). Have you ever heard anyone in the US say that they want to develop love for a language?

What is your experience with other languages? Can you say that? Are there things in your language that sound weird in others?