Friday, September 04, 2009

Languages and Learning

After working with interpreters and translators of varied linguistic capacities and capabilities over the few years, one of the major things that Indian linguists lack is their command over English.
I really do not understand the point of learning a foreign language if you are no good in the language that you are going to translate into.
Over the last few weeks I have been pretty appalled at some of interpreter talent that is in India. Thankfully to set the balance right, I have come across some good ones too.
If you are planning to learn a foreign language, do so by all means, master it and read everything from storybooks to rhymes and comics and the newspaper in that language. And side by side, head to British council and enroll in their English courses or simply read as much as you can and use the dictionary. If you are already a professional in a field, learn the terms that you come across every day.
I think its no use being an interpreter/translator if you have not even come close to mastering the source (the language you translate from) and the target language (the language you translate into).
And as a disclaimer this is only for those who are interested in taking up languages and translation as a profession. It is definitely lucrative, but only for those who are good enough.Yes currently there are several professionals who are not, but slowly the supply is rising and then it shall truly be a survival of the fittest.


Explorer said...

Hey Chinmayi,
Have been wanting to ask you something related to this for a long time now !
I've read about a saraswathi mantra in your mom's blog.
Its for everyone to see that you are shining in so many fields and this can be owing to blessings from the goddess Saraswathi.
Have you been doing japa of this mantra for a period of time now? If so, how has the metamorphosis of your being been?
Pls ignore this question if its cutting into your personal domain.


EsKay said...

If a person hasn't got much command in his/her mother tongue what chanches he/she will have in another language. We lack communication because of our education system. Our education system hardly allows us to express ourself in whatever language it maybe. We behave like a semi-intelligent photocopier - copy sentenses into our brain and then chuck them out where and when necessary.

I have noticed your command in English and style have improved from your early blogging days. Practice makes it perfect but in these sms days we hardly have a chance.

Unknown said...

Absolutely! IT companies also boast of being modern and westernized by way of dress coding etc. But the kinda English u hear in a meeting is...yakee...Infact, I used to spend time in office by correcting my boss's mails for grammatical errors. Having gud command over English s a must for all translators.

Anon said...


This blog of yours is excellent.It clearly shows that it is your experience that is talking.I wish you could blog more on this topic.Looking forward to it.


Anonymous said...

hello chinmayee ! Im looking at learning a new language. Id like your opinion on what languages its harder to find transalators for. Kindly comment...thank you.

Chinmayi Sripada /Chinmayee said...

Maya: Scripted languages - Chinese/Japanese/Korean/Thai or Nordic Germanic languages - Dutch/Norwegian.
But more than anything else it is necessary for you to have a varied knowledge on all fields. Though every linguist has specializations, technical translators are in demand.

Chinmayi Sripada /Chinmayee said...

To anonymous: My mail server is under upgradation. But you could mail me on chinmayi at gmail dot com.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your,this,particular post.
But I think one cannot master a foreign language,and thats the reason, I believe, why we call those languages as foreign languages. I dont say that one cannot be a master at those, it takes some time,because having a foreign language as a profession is a bit new for our corporate field.

Deepa said...

//I really do not understand the point of learning a foreign language if you are no good in the language that you are going to translate into.//

Rightly said. To be a good translator (written), proficiency in both the languages is required.
In case of an oral interpretor, may be not.

Chinmayi Sripada /Chinmayee said...

Deepa: In case of an Oral interpreter, the case is the same. Unless you communicate effectively what is being said, and considering that the common official language is English, it is necessary for interpretation as well.

krislee said...

Deepa: Very well said deepa! I believe that those who are good at writing would be good at understanding what the other person says(not necessarily good at speaking).
I believe oral interpreter should have very good hearing skills as oral interpretation doesnt mean only speaking.....I expect some opinions from the mentor chinmai....

EsKay said...

Oral interpretation does not require high skill level as in for translation because of two reasons: firstly in communication grammer mistakes are excused; if not understood one can clarify further and secondly incorrect phrasing can lead to false interpretations. In technical world it is paramount. I can see how difficult it is for people from difft nationalities to convey their thoughts clearly in writing. Conference calls are OK.

SARAS said...

advance birthday wishes

Anonymous said...

Have you mastered all languages? In most cases, the client is happy if you get the point across, than he would be if you were verbose and ended up beating around the bush.
Typical top management ignorance.

Chinmayi Sripada /Chinmayee said...

To anonymous: I have not mastered all languages. That is next to impossible. AS long as I am concerned, I will be interested and shall work on getting a brilliant, perfect end product across. That is why a client pays my company and not to "get a point across".
And Translation and interpretation does not mean verbose and 'beating around the bush' FYI. unless you actually are in top management you never know what it is to be there. Typical ignorance of someone who probably does not understand the skill and the processes behind this sector.

Srividya said...

Hello Chinmayi I am a Japanese translator/interpreter with 10 years' experience in this field. First of all, I want to applaud your efforts and intiative. You are doing a good job with Blue Elephant.
I like to read your blog as it is always well-written.
However, I think that your tone on this particular post is a little condescending. I genuinely do not mean to offend you, but I think that you would have sounded more practical if you were a translator/interpreter yourself, and then put this comment across. In my experience I have come across many people whose English is brilliant, but lack sufficient command over the Japanese language. In such cases, I am forced to feel that I would much rather go with someone whose English is not as good, but is able to understand and communicate Japanese well. The English that we Indians speak is not perfect, and hence people would not mind listening to average English. I mean to say that yes, we all like to deliver good products at the end of the day, but you have to be practical and not expect every person in India to be able to speak very good English. I have seen interpreters from Tamil medium schools who have worked hard to learn English and Japanese, and I must say that though their vocabulary is limited, they are able to frame simple sentences in English. Their Japanese is good. It is important to take a comprehensive view of the whole thing.
Good luck on your future assignments.

Chinmayi Sripada /Chinmayee said...

I think the demands of the clientele has gone up that they expect the interpreters to speak good English as well. Not being able to frame a simple sentence without spelling mistakes especially in a highly technical environ is not really acceptable. The point is I understand that everyone may not have the same kind of education that you and I would have had, but my point is once they have come into the field, is it abnormal to ask to make yourself upto the task and keep learning on a daily basis? Someone who is convent educated might not have a great command over the English language either unless they cultivate the habit of reading, or has put in their effort to improve in their language, according to my humble opinion.
I started the company AFTER I did a lot of assignments in translating and interpreting German documents, they ranged from creatives (movies and sending them to film festivals), patent documents, CAD designs, medical texts. I got the help of friends in the engineering field for clarity when I worked on those. I remember working 22 hour days for almost two years.
I have been there, done that. And hence I say what I have said. Blue Elephant was formed, 4 years after I worked as a freelancer, our of sheer interest, because demand happened and I decided to supply.
I guess you did not know I was a translator/interpreter myself. My point is this, if one has learnt a language and has started making money for providing services, then your services better be good.
(in the case of interpretation, I see it more as a demand for a lot of frills and I have been subject to extreme rudeness too, just because someone is a Japanese interpreter and they know that the demand is there, one professional told me what is needed in addition to his interpretation fee, and said 'get lost' if you cannot afford it)
We learn a language the more we use it. And with this particular client I am dealing with THEY ask, how do they call themselves interpreters if they are not good enough in the languages they are working in? And in sensitive communication, it is extremely important that an interpreter knows English as well or whatever is the target language. If it is Tamil, I would demand that he pronounces the Zha, Ra and La properly. Get the alp-praan and Maha praan right if it is into Hindi. Wrong tone, usage of words can disintegrate a perfectly good working relationship. Going by your experience, I don't think you need to really tell you that.
Is it too much to ask to just be good enough in what a person claims he does?
Yes, its common knowledge that the English of an average Indian is not perfect. For that matter it is not perfect wherever English is a foreign language. But when it is a profession, we have to learn, no excuses there.

Deepa said...

// In case of an Oral interpreter, the case is the same. Unless you communicate effectively what is being said, and considering that the common official language is English, it is necessary for interpretation as well.//

hmm... makes sense. Pondering further, I think they both require different set of skils, apart from a decent level of proficiency.

Spoken - fluency in speaking that language, pronounciation etc...

Written - Basic written communication skills,
Impeccable grammar usage and spelling in that language, etc

Deepa said...

And yes, good luck for all your projects!