Getting Personal with Languages
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By Kimberlee Thorne-Waintraub, owner of Small World Language Services & Quality Translation, Seasoned Proofreader, Language Arts & Culture Coach and wearer of many other hats
It’s interesting how one becomes naturally impelled to write something like this, in the quest for defining your own personal, yet ever changing definition and how my experiences shape my role in this global community of language collaborators. My contribution today is an attempt to convey how my personal experience has evolved into who I am today.
When I started accepting my first official language gigs in this industry, it was unknown to me that I was making a natural professional transition from verbal communication to that of written, after attempting to mentor my own language students into techniques that would help them communicate in the best way possible.
Moreover, I was tired of doing the same thing, answering the same basic questions over and over again and although I loved the social and cultural interaction with my English students on a personal basis, I was a little bored (more like “drained”) and frankly speaking, I wanted to delve deeper into different languages and find the inner workings of why and how languages work and what makes them tick…
I wanted to work in an area that stimulated me intellectually and one that would force me to read varied texts that would enrich my own vocabulary, yet one that allowed me to reconstruct them and make them better, while adding my personal touch. Fortunately, my wish was granted. Hurray!
This “new activity” consisted of proofreading and editing jobs for my English students and clients who needed real help in creating and rewriting their own essays and emails for their own academic and business correspondence and documents, and others which required a native English speaker’s polished touch.
This required the perspective of someone who could understand the language nuances, grammar and subtleties in English, but ideally it could only be interpreted correctly by someone who had been born and raised in an English speaking country, and who later moved to a foreign country and lived enough time there to understand how the locals live and think on a daily basis and understand their mindsets. It helped to be married to a local, thus I got the inside view instead of a tourist one.
In my case, I started out as a private English teacher (15 years as of date), and with time, due to the immersion process of experiencing daily life in a foreign environment, I could also the roots of the original or source language (in my case, Spanish) in order to understand the thinking process of someone who thought in another mindset, which is a separate chapter in itself, and maybe even a whole series of research that has been done by others on this subject…
Thus, I soon began to realize that there was a huge need for written text to be handled clearly, concisely and be well-communicated, so I began a somewhat fruitless quest in my attempt to teach them how to do this on a personalized level. However, I also realized after a time, that unless the individual had been taught to write clearly in his/her own native language and had continued to utilize these skills on a fairly regular basis, it was very unlikely that the same concept could be taught and successfully incorporated in a second or foreign language.
In summary, and many years later, after taking on one too many poorly written texts in Spanish and Portuguese to English, I have also come to the very clear conclusion that very few texts are written well in the first place…
This is a real issue that we deal with as writers, translators, editors, reviewers and post QA professionals who are given the task of dealing with a less than perfect text that we, for as much as we struggle to do our personal and group best, can rarely produce a quality text, simply due to the fact that the “raw material”, otherwise known as “the source text” got off on “the wrong foot”. I have often witnessed the process of a text that went wrong somehow, since my professional duties are mainly two-fold: Project Management and Revision.
In this fast-paced world that has become accustomed to instant (just add water) food preparation, auto-pilot and mass production, few are able to take the time and effort required to truly do something well, yet we understand that some processes really do deserve to be done in a careful and time-taking fashion, i.e., slow food, cheese, wine, and yes, business reports and written documents (especially emails) are no exception.
Therefore, we find that if these necessary steps aren’t taken, the results are far from satisfactory in the end and the end product or service suffers greatly…
As a seasoned reviewer and often the last stop for Quality Assurance, I naturally detect errors in written text in so many places where one would think and take for granted that someone has at least re-read or proofread the text before sending it along to the readers. This is commonly found in social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn, professional CVs and cover letters, emails, blogs and newspapers, just to name a few. Furthermore, with so many texts going around continually on the Internet these days, this trend is growing more prevalent, and at an alarming rate, in my opinion.
I’d like to start with the definition of what Proofreading means, according to BusinessDictionary.com www.businessdictionary.com/definition/proof-reading.html
Careful reading (and rereading) of a (yet to be finally-printed) document, to detect any errors in spelling, punctuation, or grammar. It may also involve checking of different elements of a layout (such as headlines, paragraphs, illustrations, and colors) for their correct dimensions, placement, type, etc. Every author knows that (despite the spelling checking abilities of modern word processors) a human proofreader is indispensable. See also editing.
Many of you reading this will probably be thinking, “how obvious”, probably due to the fact that you work with language on a regular basis… But you may be surprised to hear that texts are getting worse in these modern times, especially due to the onset of emails, chat sessions and text messages that often corrupt and abbreviate text. Don’t even let me get started on today’s generation of youth that will consequently be those who write our future texts!
I often see e-mails in English that make me think, “Uh-oh. This person is in trouble!” I often wonder if they realize how their writing abilities portray them as a business professional and expose their corporate and personal images openly to others.
Typos and words that are similar from one language to another are what we call “false friends”. They appear to be one thing in one language, but it clearly has another meaning in the second language.
I will use a real example from one of my clients, when I asked about a payment that hadn’t been sent out, and this is the reply I received from my client:
I am sorry for the incontinence you had. I am in Italy and just got your message and took care of it right away. For some reason your invoice did not reach the accounting, so I have made sure you will be paid.
If you don’t know what “incontinence” means, I’ll tell you now. It means the inability to retain your own body liquids – a condition that is frequent among elderly people, but certainly not for people my age (I’m in my mid 40s now).
Additionally, when you write in a language that is not your own native tongue, you might tend to rely on your own abilities to do it well, without knowing that it doesn’t sound natural in a foreign tongue. But let’s face it – we are prone to make mistakes, especially since we may not be aware of the fact that we’re making them. It may be more forgiveable to make those mistakes while with friends and family, but it’s not alright to make them in business, especially when your image is so at stake.
And since English is the language we currently use in business throughout the world, our writing skills are constantly put to the test. Make sure you proofread/review your written text and if you can, have it read by a native of the language you’re writing in. As a minimum, run the spellchecker in that language. You may be surprised how many mistakes have been made.
Until your writing skills get up to par in a foreign tongue, try to rely on a good native speaker to help you out. There are experts available who can provide you with professional services like email writing and revision, document creation and translation, with the aim of helping you communicate better.
Kimberlee Thorne-Waintraub is an experienced linguist, proofreader and project manager from the USA. She has published multiple articles on the fields of Translation, Localization, Proofreading and Editing. She currently lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina and is the owner of Small World Language Services.