Obstacles Encountered When Translating Rare Languages and How to Overcome Them

We were recently asked to translate three documents from English languages of the worldinto thirteen languages, including:

*        Arabic

*        Amharic

*        Burmese

*        Chin

*        Farsi

*        French

*        Karen

*        Karenni

*        Nepali

*        Somali

*        Spanish

*        Swahili

*        Tigrinya

Such a request is not unusual and whether or not the volume of the project is high, no effort should be spared to satisfy the client.

Before the project was confirmed, we had to evaluate and provide a proposal for the job. Two of the documents were in Microsoft Word and one was in Excel. Even though we have hundreds of vendors in our database, the search had to be fine tuned to meet the specifications of this particular project. A translator and editor/proofreader with expertise in the respective specialty area had to be assigned for each language.

Following are some of the usual concerns that need to be addressed when working with rare language translations:

1) Finding language service providers who are dedicated to quality and not to simply collecting payments. No matter how tried and true a vendor is, we have a saying at the office that “you are as good as your last screw up.” Admittedly, this sounds cynical and puts a great deal of pressure on the agency and on the vendor. However, the translation industry is one in which only excellence is good enough. Therefore strict quality assurance standards must be adhered to at all times.

2) Finding vendors who can work within clients’ budgets. Bidding on projects can be very competitive. A very important factor that clients take into consideration when selecting a language service provider is budget. Bearing this in mind, the right balance must be maintained, on the one hand by asking the client to pay enough to be able to ensure the required quality while on the other hand by asking providers to be willing to negotiate in order to be successful in landing the project.

3) Meeting deadlines. One of the biggest challenges that can be encountered during the course of a translation project involving rare languages is delayed responses due to differences in time zones and other technical factors beyond providers’ control. Some examples are loss of phone or internet service, power outages due to electrical storms and other situations that range from mild to disastrous. From the very outset of the working relationship, as far as possible, language service providers must be made to understand the importance of maintaining constant contact from the time they submit their proposals up to and including after delivery has been made to the client.

4) Ensuring that instructions are understood and carried out. Communication problems can occur, among other reasons, if English is not the native language of the language service provider and there can be other challenges if providers do not share the same work ethic as the project manager. At times a linguist may appear to agree with instructions provided, only to display behavior that proves otherwise. However, the project manager must see to it that instructions are understood and carried out.

5) Making sure that the client is satisfied with delivery. Very often the characters used for rare languages are different from those used in English and it is not unusual for them to be garbled in file formats such as Word and Excel. Therefore, along with those deliverables, pdf files should be provided so the client will be able to properly view the characters in the translations. In addition, the fonts used should be provided. Files should be zipped in a format that the client will have no difficulties opening. At times, a font installer may have to be sent to the client so that the client will be able to work with the foreign Microsoft Office files.

At the end of the day, whether a project is assigned to twenty-six different linguists or to one language service provider, the quality must be such that the client will keep coming back.

Obstacles Encountered When Translating Rare Languages and How to Overcome Them

We were recently asked to translate three documents from English into thirteen languages, including:

*        Arabic

*        Amharic

*        Burmese

*        Chin

*        Farsi

*        French

*        Karen

*        Karenni

*        Nepali

*        Somali

*        Spanish

*        Swahili

*        Tigrinya

Such a request is not unusual and whether or not the volume of the project is high, no effort should be spared to satisfy the client.

Before the project was confirmed, we had to evaluate and provide a proposal for the job. Two of the documents were in Microsoft Word and one was in Excel. Even though we have hundreds of vendors in our database, the search had to be fine tuned to meet the specifications of this particular project. A translator and editor/proofreader with expertise in the respective specialty area had to be assigned for each language.

Following are some of the usual concerns that need to be addressed when working with rare language translations:

1) Finding language service providers who are dedicated to quality and not to simply collecting payments. No matter how tried and true a vendor is, we have a saying at the office that “you are as good as your last screw up.” Admittedly, this sounds cynical and puts a great deal of pressure on the agency and on the vendor. However, the translation industry is one in which only excellence is good enough. Therefore strict quality assurance standards must be adhered to at all times.

2) Finding vendors who can work within clients’ budgets. Bidding on projects can be very competitive. A very important factor that clients take into consideration when selecting a language service provider is budget. Bearing this in mind, the right balance must be maintained, on the one hand by asking the client to pay enough to be able to ensure the required quality while on the other hand by asking providers to be willing to negotiate in order to be successful in landing the project.

3) Meeting deadlines. One of the biggest challenges that can be encountered during the course of a translation project involving rare languages is delayed responses due to differences in time zones and other technical factors beyond providers’ control. Some examples are loss of phone or internet service, power outages due to electrical storms and other situations that range from mild to disastrous. From the very outset of the working relationship, as far as possible, language service providers must be made to understand the importance of maintaining constant contact from the time they submit their proposals up to and including after delivery has been made to the client.

4) Ensuring that instructions are understood and carried out. Communication problems can occur, among other reasons, if English is not the native language of the language service provider and there can be other challenges if providers do not share the same work ethic as the project manager. At times a linguist may appear to agree with instructions provided, only to display behavior that proves otherwise. However, the project manager must see to it that instructions are understood and carried out.

5) Making sure that the client is satisfied with delivery. Very often the characters used for rare languages are different from those used in English and it is not unusual for them to be garbled in file formats such as Word and Excel. Therefore, along with those deliverables, pdf files should be provided so the client will be able to properly view the characters in the translations. In addition, the fonts used should be provided. Files should be zipped in a format that the client will have no difficulties opening. At times, a font installer may have to be sent to the client so that the client will be able to work with the foreign Microsoft Office files.

At the end of the day, whether a project is assigned to twenty-six different linguists or to one language service provider, the quality must be such that the client will keep coming back.

Inch’Allah dimanche (Sunday God Willing) Yamina Benguigui, 2001

I recently enjoyed watching Inch’Allah dimanche, a French/Algerian film with English subtitles on Netflix. Even though there is some violence in the film, it is very easy to watch as the plot flows fairly smoothly. However, I wished the subtitles had been available in French and not just in English because I feel French subtitles better capture Arabic meanings than English ones.

Inch’Allah dimanche is the story of Zouina, a young Algerian wife, who, accompanied by her husband’s mother, Aicha, along with her three children, travels to France to be reunited with her husband, Ahmed who has been away from Algeria for quite some time. The departure from Algeria is heartrending and extremely traumatic for Zouina and her beloved mother who are both inconsolable as they separate.

Zouina’s form of dress gives one the impression that Algerian customs are relatively liberal in comparison with those of other Muslim countries where women are almost completely covered up in floor-length dresses, burqas, hijabs and niqabs. However, it soon becomes clear from the oppressive treatment she receives from her husband and mother-in-law that her feelings are not taken into consideration and there is not much difference. In fact, when Zouina, Aicha and the children finally arrive in France where the remainder of the film is set, Zouina’s husband never once shows her any sign of affection, apart from a cold, perfunctory hug when he picks up his family to take them to his apartment. If the viewer is looking for some show of tenderness between them, it never happens, which is surprising because Zouina is so attractive.

Throughout the film, Aicha’s words and behavior show how attitudes toward religion seem to play a vital role in family relationships among these Algerians. She constantly pronounces judgment on Zouina’s behavior and invokes Ahmed’s physical punishment upon her to “curse the devil.” At the boat, she shoves Zouina and upbraids her for showing emotion and for tearfully running toward her sobbing mother. As if her despair at having to leave her mother is something evil, Aicha asks Zouina if she has no shame or fear of God.

Zouina is able to enjoy very little interaction with the outside world, except to visit the grocery store and listen to game shows and talk shows on the radio when Aicha is not turning it off. However, determined to overcome the severe restraints on her life and freedom, she endures the constant verbal and physical abuse of her tyrannical mother-in-law and husband. “Damn you” are words he repeats to her upon her every infraction. She leaves viewers on the edge of their seats as she constantly risks further abuse by waiting until her husband and mother-in-law have left and constantly stealing out of her home with her children on Sundays to visit the outside world, knowing full well that such behavior is strictly prohibited.

The most pathetic part of the movie is when Zouina finally meets her fellow Algerian, Malika, whom she has expended every effort and risked her very life to see. She shares her new found ideas of freedom with Malika who, rather than being inspired, becomes very afraid and orders Zouina out of her home, accusing her of trying to have her killed. Malika’s internal conflict is evident as she tearfully stands behind the door, obviously torn apart while Zouina screams and cries for her to let her back inside and not to abandon her like this.

There seems to be no real dénouement and the story appears to end abruptly on a note of hope when Zouina arrives home with her children in the bus driven by a young man who passes her house everyday. She meets Ahmed and Aicha waiting outside with the neighbors and friends after having returned some four hours before with the sheep they have been checking on every Sunday to ensure its readiness for the upcoming Eid celebration. Ironically Zouina is holding the key that will let them inside the house. Instead of punishing her, as recommended by Aicha, Ahmed smiles at her and Zouina tells the children that from now on she will be taking them to school.

In the long run, Inch’Allah dimanche is a story of the triumph of the human spirit over oppression and the willingness to make the ultimate sacrifices to achieve a dream or desire.

The Importance of Good Customer Relations in the Translation Process

Why Informed Clients Receive Better Quality Translation Service

Indeed, simply knowing a foreign language does not a translator make

Informed clients who understand the various stages of the translation process are more likely to receive better quality translation service. The more educated you are as a client about the professional nature of translation is the more time, resources and energy you will spare yourself in the long run. Sometimes, when clients believe they can save money by having an acquaintance who is “bilingual” provide a certified translation, they end up losing more than if they had simply hired a professional service in the first place. Indeed, simply knowing a foreign language does not a translator make and botched translations will not be accepted in an official capacity.

Clients can experience a great deal of frustration when after a translation has been completed by someone they know who lives down the street, they learn that qualified translators are unwilling to certify the translation that has not been properly done. Sworn translation or certified translation must be done by a professional translator who has obtained certification from a recognized authority such as a university or a professional translator association such as the American Translators Association.

Even though it may seem to be less expensive to hire a freelancer, direct clients will stand to benefit more by hiring a translation agency to complete their important projects and the accountability of project manager to clients will prove to be a less stressful solution for tight deadlines and specific budgets. A translation agency with a group of competent freelancers will be better equipped than a lone freelancer to handle larger projects in a shorter space of time. Furthermore, an agency with a competent team will also be able to satisfactorily complete important projects since the team will comprise of editors who will be on the lookout for missing text, inaccurate grammar, spelling, punctuation, in addition to stylistic gaucheries in the target language and formatting that is inconsistent with that of the source language.

It is essential for clients to clearly communicate their needs to their language service providers who will be better able to evaluate the respective translation projects that they present for quotations. For example, when a client or prospective client simply requests rates without providing other essential information such as subject material, source and target file formats, deadlines, volumes and special requirements and instructions, the language service provider will not be able to properly evaluate the project. The project manager’s willingness and ability to keep the client appraised of the status of each respective project and provide options during the process will ensure the client’s total satisfaction.

During the entire translation process from the moment of the initial inquiry up to and including after the project has been delivered, constant communication between the project manager and the client and also between the project manager and the rest of the team is necessary to ensure the desired outcome.

Challenges Faced by Consecutive Spanish Interpreters

Why Spanish Interpreters Are Really Multi-Lingual, Especially When Speakers Use Spanglish

One of the ultimate objectives of Spanish language training is to teach students to speak, read and write accurate and impeccable Spanish with the hope that some day, they may become sufficiently proficient in the language to use it professionally. Great efforts have been made to maintain standard Spanish and some of the career paths students of Spanish have aspired to are translation, interpreting, document review, voice-over recording, writing, teaching, et al. 

In this article, we will discuss the challenges some Spanish interpreters face in their daily work. There are two main types of interpreting: (1) simultaneous and (2) consecutive. In simultaneous interpreting, the interpreter renders the speaker’s words from one language into another while the speaker is still speaking. In consecutive interpreting, the interpreter waits for the speaker to stop speaking and then renders the speaker’s words from one language into another. Consecutive interpreters can interpret at court hearings, depositions, jailhouse visits, interviews, business meetings, medical appointments, independent medical evaluations, during telephone conferences or exchanges between a small number of persons. 

Since speakers can go uninterrupted for a significant amount of time before a break is finally given for interpreters to render all that has been said into another language, consecutive interpreters are faced with the task of remembering extraneous amounts of speech. They have to rely upon their short-term memories and note-taking skills. In order to recall what speakers have said that needs to be rendered into another language, consecutive interpreters have to develop an elaborate, personal system of symbols to represent everything that is said in interpreting assignments. To a certain extent, the note-taking system developed by the interpreter is like a language in itself. 

In addition to relying upon their short-term memories and note-taking skills, consecutive interpreters have to be familiar with the respective terminology and subject material being discussed, along with the various regionalisms used in different Spanish-speaking countries, so constant vocabulary building is essential for interpreters’ success since during each assignment, they will have to interpret for Spanish speakers from different regions. 

three ring venn diagram
Spanglish is a blend of Spanish and English used at varying extents

 

As if they do not already have to think on their feet, finding the appropriate symbols to represent everything that is said and then rendering the verbal translation at the appropriate time, interpreters also stand the risk of being baffled when a defendant, deponent, claimant, participant, patient or other speaker says something that they have never heard before in Spanish. It can take the interpreter some time to regain his or her composure and he or she may request a moment to check a dictionary. At some point, the speaker may even clarify the intended meaning of what was said or the interpreter may eventually figure it out. Whatever the case, when such clarification is provided, the interpreter can be taken aback at the realization that the speaker has just spoken Spanglish![i] Spanglish is a blend of Spanish and English that can be used at varying degrees. Users of Spanglish simply do not pay any attention to the efforts being made to keep Spanish, or English for that matter, standard. To the contrary, they have a mind of their own and develop this new way of speaking for their own convenience. Spanglish vocabularies have seen tremendous development and are no longer just a matter of a few words..[ii] 

Hence, Spanish interpreters must either decide to study Spanglish and stay up-to-date with the growing vocabulary or run the risk of being rendered speechless in interpreting assignments. Following are a few Spanish words, their Spanglish counterparts and English meanings:

Spanish Spanglish English
sótano beisman basement
paseando jangeando going out or hanging out
goteando liquiando leaking
alfombra carpeta carpet
éxito suceso success
almuerzo lunche lunch
ayudar asistir to assist
asistir atender attend
empujar puchar to push
estacionar parquear to park

Spanglish is constantly evolving; it is neither organized nor consistent. Perhaps, the only way in which Spanglish may be comparable with Spanish is that different Spanglish expressions are used by different speakers in different regions.[iii] It would appear as if the responsibility for Spanglish interpreting has automatically fallen to Spanish interpreters and embracing this responsibility is not always easy. As Spanglish continues to evolve, the translation and interpreting industry may have to rethink this arrangement and more specialized Spanglish linguists may have to arise to embrace the task of interpreting Spanglish as distinct from Spanish and English. 


[i] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanglish 

[ii] http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1438900 

[iii] http://factoidz.com/the-spanglish-language/

Social Game Translation & Localization

The Translation Industry’s Role in the World of Gaming

Playing gamesThere are four stages to a successful social game. (1) The game is first conceived in the mind and imagination of the developer. At the time of conception, the game may or may not be highly marketable. Believe it or not, playing games is a significant part of the job description posted for many positions in a game developer’s business. This is to ensure that a mediocre game becomes something that is phenomenally alluring to prospective players. (2) After the necessary tweaking has been done, the game is ready to be released by a game publisher. It is possible for a game publisher to also be a game developer. (3) If it is conceived that the game may be appreciated in different countries by people of different cultures, it is then localized into various languages. This is where language service providers play a very important role in an industry that has fast moved into a billion-dollar business. (4) After passing through all of the above stages, the game is then monetized. This is where a game publishing company can really make a developer happy and in turn be greatly compensated! This final stage determines in the mind of the developer whether or not the game is a success.

The translation and localization industry needs to keep a keen eye on this sudden burst of activity by social game developers, since localization companies are now in direct competition with game developers and publishers who are now acting as “middle men” who are constantly seeking the most competitively priced and technologically advanced language services to assist them in attaining the jealously guarded position of the top of their industry.

As in every other industry, the quality of work rendered by online game localizers is crucial to the success of any game. Through the use of language and cultural adaptation, online game localizers must help their clients to make a great impression on their multi-tiered target market, starting with other developers down to the individual game player. Many and varied are the cultural gaps to be bridged.

In order to deliver a superb product to clients and players, the online game localizer should be a native speaker of the requested target language of the game. The language service provider should also be well versed in the respective terminology pertaining to each game and able to work in a variety of formats, including graphic arts programs and game applications (sometimes called tools). The online game localizer should be adept at transferring the game from one culture into another. The very evaluation of localization jobs can be challenging since for larger projects, special software will be needed to count the words in the above mentioned formats. For very small projects, the social game localizer will need to convince the game publisher or developer to accept to pay a minimum charge since a per-word rate will not work for a job of under three to five hundred words!

The Language Shop has collaborated with scores of project managers, team leaders and freelance linguists in all continents and time zones to complete 83 complex, multi-tiered translation projects for facebook and other platforms into English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Japanese, Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, Russian, Arabic, Dutch, Portuguese, Czech, Indonesian, Turkish, Greek, Finnish, Hindi, Norwegian, Swedish from Chinese or English.

Some games translated were Gangster Wars, World War, Serial Kidnapper, Illegal Parking, Texas Holdem Poker, 6waves Poker, Daily Horoscope, Happy Harvest, Pirates of the World, My Fishbowl, Happy Farm, Happy Harvest, Garbage Cleaner. Animal Paradise, Shadow Empire, Frosmo World, Kingdoms of Camelot, Bingo World, Ultimate Slot Machines, World Poker, Chinese New Year, Medical Mayhem, Friends Quizzes, Daily Tarot Cards, Wonder Garden, King of Kung Fu, Give Hearts, App Creator, Sunny Beach, Mall World, Plants vs. Aliens, Resort World, Island Paradise, Battle Punks and Party Town.

How Good a Listener Are You?

Why Active Listening is the Best Thing You Could Ever Do For Yourself Professionally and Personally

So here I was: I had created the job of my dreams that involved going to interesting places and meeting people of different cultures who spoke different languages from all over the world. It all sounded so glamorous. When I arrived at one of my first networking events at the United Nations in New York, I had no idea how I was going to get through it. How could I possibly make these total strangers become interested in what I had to say? If at any moment I had ever been under the impression that using the most impressive words and doing some name dropping would serve to endear me to them, I would have been in for a rude awakening. It will take forever to get close to these people! I thought to myself. How would I ever be able to find out whether or not they needed translation and interpreting services
Over time, I have developed the art of making lifelong allies by simply saying hello and engaging in active listening after that. Finding out from people about themselves, what they do, what successes they have enjoyed, what difficulties and challenges they encounter and losing myself in every word they say has brought positive change, both personally and professionally. When I learned the important lesson that no matter what languages they speak or what their cultures are, people are always going to be more interested in themselves than in anything else, it was as if a light bulb had been turned on in my mind and it is easier now to talk to anyone, anywhere.

Generally speaking, after people have talked about themselves for long enough, they will eventually take a pause and ask the magic words, “So what about you? What do you do?” This is one of the most significant moments in the entire encounter and the next 30 seconds will determine the direction in which the relationship will go. If you can sum up exactly what you are about in 30 seconds, you stand a very good chance of getting an additional minute of the listener’s attention, during which time, your new acquaintance may be inclined to ask you some direct questions. The way you answer those questions will be important and you will need to find a way to show a relationship between your answers and how the listener may benefit in some way.

At every level of the encounter, honesty and sincerity are key because you may just be called upon in the near future to prove some or all of the claims you have made.

Recommended Reading:
http://www.amazon.com/When-Listening-Comes-Alive-Communication/dp/0969707916/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1320376181&sr=1-1

Jamaican Language and Cultural Identity

It has been said that how a person speaks may identify where they are coming from but not necessarily where they are going.

Access to travel and emigration have impacted upon the evolution of Jamaican Language, sometimes called Jamaican Creole, Jamaican Patois or Jamaican Dialect, of which there are a plethora of variants. It is spoken by most, if not all Jamaicans all over the world and the very diversity of the language is one reason why it has had difficulty being accepted as an official language and has often been erroneously referred to as “Broken English” by those who do not understand or who have no regard for its origin and/or history.

Knowing that English is the official worldwide language, many Jamaican parents who read, speak and write Standard English fluently demand that it be used in the home so that children will master it as their native language. They figure that their children will have no difficulty learning Jamaican Language from their peers in informal settings so they enforce the learning of English in every other possible situation. In such situations, children learn to separate the two languages and find no difficulty switching from one language to the other, when appropriate and necessary. Since the mastery of Standard English has a tendency to represent breeding, class and education, for social reasons, they believe that the greater the speaker’s mastery of Standard English is the more socially acceptable that speaker is, whether or not they occasionally use Jamaican Language.

Ironically, there are situations in which the converse can sometimes be true because the more that Standard English is used to mitigate Jamaican Language is the more broken the English really becomes and such users are technically poor speakers of Jamaican Language. In actuality, the less the mastery of written and spoken Standard English by the Jamaican Language speaker is the more likely the speaker will use “Broken English” rather than speak Jamaican Language, which is a totally different language. This is true of many Jamaicans who claim that they do not speak Jamaican language, even though their English sentence construction is not grammatically correct and their accent and intonation may sound as if they are in fact speaking Jamaican Language.

While the accent, intonation and syntax of some Jamaican Language speakers may sound humorous to other Jamaicans, the truth is that the more Standard English is interspersed into the Jamaican Language, is the more humorous the resulting sound really can be. The more conscious a listener is of the history of Jamaican Language is the less they will see another Jamaican speaker’s accent as something to be ridiculed, no matter how strange the intonation may sound. In addition, historically aware Jamaican Language speakers will not see the need to intersperse the accent, intonation and syntax of Standard English, thereby mitigating the Jamaican Language, in order to sound socially acceptable.

A Jamaican listener may judge the speech of a Jamaican Language speaker using one of two criteria: (1) the linguistic rules of Standard English; or (2) a respect for the history of Jamaican Language. If the listener uses the former criterion, the Jamaican Language speaker will sound humorous or strange. However, if the listener uses the latter criterion, he/she will find nothing wrong with the sound of the speaker.

Following are some situations in which Jamaican Language speakers may sound humorous to Jamaican listeners but quite acceptable to speakers of Standard English or other languages who base their judgment solely on the subject material being discussed:

– When listeners from the urban or more privileged socioeconomic areas of Jamaica are listening to speakers from more rural or lower socioeconomic areas;
– In settings where the Jamaican Language speaker’s accent may be influenced when interacting with speakers of various different languages and cultures, including British English and American English;
– In interviews in which the Jamaican Language speaker may try to impress the listener by using an inconsistent accent, in an effort to sound sophisticated [or “speaky spokey”]. Jamaicans will probably be the only listeners who pick up on this. Other speakers will probably not notice.
– In cases when the speaker is trying to use complex words and sentences,–sometimes to the point of using malapropisms. The foreign listener will probably just assume that this is part of the dialect.

In most cases listed above, a Jamaican Patois or Jamaican Dialect Interpreter will be hired to facilitate understanding between both (sets of) speakers. A Jamaican Language Interpreter may be necessary for:

– Press conferences and interviews;
– TV and Film (subtitles and voiceover dubbing can also be used);
– Court hearings;
– Jail Visits;
– Wire taps for surveillance (translators receive audio tapes or audio files in electronic format and in turn, provide a transcript in the respective target language of what has been recorded in Jamaican Language).

Jamaican Language has endured modifications from its original usage because of the impact caused by the growing numbers of Jamaican users all over the world who speak Standard English and other languages and dialects. In fact, in modern times, how something is said may just sound comical, while in previous times, the same statement may probably not have been understandable at all in Jamaican Language.

Interesting Links:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jamaican_Patois
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jamaican_diaspora
http://www.uvm.edu/~debate/dreadlibrary/herbold.html

Book Review: “Jamaican Child” by Dr. Bertrand Bonnick

This review was written by Carlton Laing, a former high school class mate, and revised by The Language Shop.
I just finished reading Dr Bonnick’s (XLCR ’76) “Jamaican Child:The Story of Bighead.” It is a wonderful amalgam of coming-of-age experiences that evoke memories of one’s own Jamaican childhood or, if one is not Jamaican, provides a peek into what it’s like growing up in post-Independence Jamaica. What the story line lacks in seamlessness is more than compensated for by the hilarity and color of the individual chapters that in and of themselves are stories within the story. Altogether, Dr. Bonnick takes you on a ride as “hirky jerky” as the hog-and-goat country truck on which the protagonist, Bighead, makes his first journey from “country to town” [from the rural area to the more urbanized area of Jamaica, the Capital, Kingston]. But if you can hold on for the ride and the read, along the way you get a chance to see a slideshow of Jamaican life that takes you past family secrets and incest, “duppy stories and obeah” [stories of ghosts and of witchcraft], sexuality and violence, and yes, first love and “last lick” [a game played in Jamaica, the object of which is to be the last person to deal a harmless blow to your friend]. You will ask yourself where you can still “get a duppy fi rent” [a ghost for rent] in Jamaica, or how certain we are of our own paternity. You will wonder at the variations of the dialect spoken on an island as small as Jamaica, where in South St. Elizabeth, young people are discouraged from “courting” [having sex] too soon while in Kingston, the practice is condemned as “slackness.” In addition, you will wonder why in some parts of the island, the “rolling calf” [a duppy with fiery eyes and flames issuing from its nostrils] was the most mystical creature in the spirit world while in Big Head’s district, nothing was more fearsome than the ghost named the “Gullippa” duppy. Dr Bonnick’s narrative of his slice of Jamaican life makes you realize that as tiny as their island may be, Jamaicans have a unique and at the same time diverse culture that affords each person enough material to tell his or her own story from their own unique perspective. Dr. Bonnick has told his story forthrightly, humorously and tenderly. I hope it inspires more of us to tell our own story.

Information on “Jamaican Child” and the author, Dr. Bertrand Bonnick, another high school classmate, can be found at the following site:
http://www.authorhouse.com/Bookstore/BookDetail.aspx?BookId=SKU-000286110

Language Professionals and Immigrant Issues

Being multi-lingual may serve as an indicator that some translators and interpreters are immigrants who at one point or another, have had to face some of the very same issues in which they become professionally engaged. Translators and interpreters do well to pay close attention to matters relating to immigrants and immigration since, among other reasons, the profession is involved in many ways.

A few years ago, through professional interaction with the LaGuardia Community College Immigration Legal Services Center, I learned about the services offered by the CUNY Citizenship and Immigration Project, which provides free services at various campus centers located throughout New York City. Services to the public include confidential one-on-one consultations with immigration attorneys and paralegals, as well as access to immigration and citizenship forms, and community and educational activities. and other citizenship and immigration clinics around the country. Usually, after immigrants cross the main hurdle of obtaining the right to live and work legally in the United States in order to make a living for themselves and their families, there are other issues they have to face.

Perception Issues. Through aiding in the communication process, translators and interpreters can help immigrants overcome the negative connotation that the word “immigrant” can sometimes bear. Because of fairly recent events in the U.S., some immigrants now have the appearance of being a threat to the security of the country. Others are often perceived as a threat to the economic wellbeing of U.S. citizens because of their willingness, borne out of their need, to work for a fraction of the prevailing rate in their respective industries. There is a tendency for some people to assume that immigrants have no assets or education and that their motive for immigrating into the U.S. is to take something from the country rather than to make a contribution there. While many immigrants do seek “opportunity,” a significant number have obtained tertiary education and/or professional skills and experience, while others are already property owners before hitting the shores of the U.S. Even though their decision to leave all of these behind may appear questionable to some, immigrants can have a lot to offer when they arrive in some cases at great sacrifice, especially when there are families in the new environment and/or back home to be supported.

Language Issues. Some immigrants who do not speak English tend to remain insulated in an environment where they feel they will be best able to function and be understood. The lesser the extent of the support they receive in their cultural communities is the greater the extent of the difficulties and challenges they will face when dealing with the public since they are unable to effectively integrate into the society, due to a lack of English language skills and cultural understanding. Because of this shortfall, some immigrants face difficulties because some US Citizens do not like the idea of having to accommodate immigrants so much. It is not unusual to hear the complaint, why do I need to press “One” for English when, after all, this is “America” and everyone should learn to speak English! Learning English to an acceptable level of proficiency takes time, nevertheless. Therefore, as long as immigrants are invited to the U.S., language professionals will continue to be called upon to bridge the gap, be it through teaching English as a second language or through translation and/or interpreting in a variety of situations in which immigrants find themselves.

Social Issues. At times, when people immigrate to the United States, they experience a culture shock and, not understanding the diversity that exists, may at times appear to be impolite. This can be very annoying for others when, for example, they may either avoid those who speak English or speak in a different language while in the presence of English speakers. This happens very frequently in places like grocery stores, dry cleaners, restaurants, nail salons and beauty parlors. Because their behavior may appear to be impolite, these immigrants need to be taught not only English but cultural awareness, especially in order to navigate service industries.

Over a two-year period, I observed the reaction of students in an English reading class I established for immigrants at St. Pius V Church, a Roman Catholic Church in Jamaica, New York comprised of a diversity of parishioners from the Caribbean, North America, Latin America, Central America, Asia and Europe. Some forty-one participants enrolled, and classes comprised mainly of Spanish, Portuguese and French speaking immigrants. The participants in the classes had some appreciation for their need to learn English in order to be prepared for life in the United States. A very important component that was added to the class was a cultural understanding of the community in which the students lived.

Other Social Issues. I was once in the presence of some women a few years ago and one very young mother of three told me that she was worried for her young toddlers and that she felt they would have a better life if only they could change her names. I understood her plight and the fact that for decades, some immigrants have changed their names for various reasons, including their need to avoid religious persecution, I cannot imagine a life worth living as someone else and would never consider changing my name, except to use a pseudonym for some artistic purpose. Immigrants from other cultures have had a similar social dilemma and have felt the need to use the anglicized versions of their names in order not to appear socially inferior. Others have felt the need to go to any lengths to look like their Western counterparts and have had their eyes surgically altered to lose their original look.

Health Issues. Immigrants are no exception to the numbers in the U.S. in need of adequate healthcare and healthcare coverage. Not only that, but they face the same concerns as everyone else when it comes to lifestyle, accessibility to proper nutrition, stress reduction and prevention. Because of litigation passed that requires healthcare facilities and providers to ensure that interpreting services are made available to non-English-speaking patients who present for medical attention, foreign language professionals are in greater demand and have more work opportunities than before. It is standard procedure for hospital and other healthcare facilities’ human resources departments to include multi-lingual healthcare providers among their personnel.

Legal Issues. Immigration attorneys deal with a range of concerns, including but not limited to adoption, asylum and protection, business and employment, consular processing, deportation and removal, family-related concerns, general matters, litigation, and naturalization. Some immigration lawyers also specialize in criminal law and human rights issues and immigrants needing support in these areas have to avail themselves of their services. Each of these legal areas entails distinct subject matter and call for informal meetings, conferences in chambers and a plethora of documentation requiring experience and the knowledge of various processes and varied terminology in all languages. Language professionals are required in the legal arena to assist with immigrant issues.

Working with immigrants can be very exciting and rewarding and it is certainly an area in which translators and interpreters can create and find many opportunities to develop their skills and make a difference.