Alibi

Alibi mystery magazine cover

Do you teach a language in addition to your translation work? Or do you have a pack of kids swarming your house this summer? “Alibi” is the game for you!

This works best for small groups (5-10 participants) and is fun for all ages. (Really. We tried it at an office party with the attorneys, and no one wanted to stop.) You might want to use this for intermediate language learners and above.

Set the scene: A crime or murder has been committed. Use some imagination to customize it for your group – for instance, someone stole all the cookies from the cookie jar. The police have narrowed it down to just two suspects, but unfortunately, the pair are providing an alibi for each other. Be a little specific here – such as, they say they were at the movies together at the time. 

Choose the potential criminals: Now pick two people to be the suspects with the alibi, and ask them to leave the room for a minute before the interrogations. They should be corroborating their story now (for example, what movie did they see, where, and what time). In the meantime, explain to the rest of the group that they will be the interrogators. They should brainstorm a series of questions to try to catch the suspects in a lie.

Interrogate suspect one: Ask only one suspect back into the room. Sit the person in a chair facing the group, and let the questions begin. For writing practice, someone can be in charge of noting the answers. Go through about 3-5 minutes or 20 questions at this stage. The interrogators can improvise questions as they go. The suspect must answer (pretend to be their attorney if they try to use that defense to get out of playing).

Interrogate suspect two: You can ask the first suspect to leave, but it’s more fun if they stay – as long as they are quiet. Bring in the second suspect and go through questions agan. Ask the same or similar ones to see where their alibi is weak. Cap this stage, too, at 3-5 minutes or about 20 questions (unless you clearly catch the lie – then a questioner should holler “Aha!” and “the law” wins). You will likely catch the pair in a lie, but they might hold out – in which case, “the citizens” win.

My favorite part of this game is that each round is equally fun. There aren’t many tricks you can learn that make it too easy for either side, and it doesn’t get vicious – people are too busy puzzling through the logic flow. Even your most reticent students will be itching to chime in. No one can resist a mystery…

What language games do you like, for fun or for class? How do you get shy people talking? Share in the comments below!

Extracts of Record for Visa Purposes

eagle

A colleague and I were discussing translations of personal documents for visa applications recently, and I was surprised to learn that attorneys regularly ask her for form-based translations of birth certificates. Rather than have her produce a full, alternate-language copy of the original record, they want a data table filled out (similar to the new, multi-lingual extract of record in the EU). In all my years providing translations of birth, marriage, and divorce certificates, I have never had this request from any agency or direct client—and the news went against all my training.

According to both the US State Department website, and to my great relief, the attorneys are not technically correct to ask for this format change:

Translations. Any document containing foreign language submitted to the Service shall be accompanied by a full English language translation which the translator has certified as complete and accurate, and by the translator’s certification that he or she is competent to translate from the foreign language into English.

(emphasis added; source: www.state.gov)

The USCIS website says the same thing:
11.3 Foreign Language Documents and Translations.
(a) Document Translations .
All documents submitted in support of an application or petition must include complete translation into English. In addition, there must be a certification from the translator indicating that the translation is complete and accurate and attesting to his or her competence as a translator. See 8 CFR 103.2(b)(3) .
(emphasis added; source: www.uscis.gov)
USCIS notes that, for countries with lengthy and dense civil recording practices, the “keeper of a record” will sometimes issue an extract (a simplified or abridged version), which can be accepted as long as it comes from an official, authorized record-keeper and contains adequate information about the individual(s). Translators are only meant to provide complete and accurate translations of the record—not shorten it.
That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if these websites were maybe out of date, or (more likely) out of sync with actual practices used by civil servants to process requests.  The truth is, neither my colleague who translates into a form template nor I have heard of issues with the applications that use either of our methods. So now, I am curious…
What has your experience been? Have you been asked to translate a document into a different format? Have you had issues with providing translations for visa applications? Please share below!

 

Rainy weather reading

pexels-photo

The rainy season is in full swing in California, and I have been taking advantage of the weather to snuggle up with some great books. Here are a few of my recent favorites:

  • Ces enfants de ma vie, by Gabrielle Roy – This French collection of related tales starts out slowly with some shorter stories, but keep with it! It builds into longer, more personal tales of life as a young teacher in remote areas of 1930’s Canada. We read this for our local book club, and those of us who finished it could not stop talking about the ending. The sweet descriptions of the Canadian landscape are a great touch to help you embrace the colder seasons, too.
  • Hocus Pocus, by Kurt Vonnegut – The story of a war veteran who teaches at a college for the disabled, then at the prison across the lake, and survives the takeover of the town when the inmates escape (among other things). It hits a bit close to home in the current American political climate, but Vonnegut is one of my favorite authors. Perfect if you like witty, sometimes dark humor.
  • Pacsirta, by Dezső Kosztolányi – For those of you who read Hungarian, I loved this description of a family experiencing temporary empty-nesting when a couple’s daughter visits cousins out of town. Plenty of laughs, with enough substantive food for thought to keep you hooked. And there’s no sappy Disney ending.
  • The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey, by Candice Millard – I am still working on this piece of non-fiction. Teddy Roosevelt was a total character with huge capacity for persistence. This book documents the trip he took after losing his bid for a third presidential term, down the Amazon with his son Kermit. They faced disease, death, and even murder. Fascinating!

What are you reading lately? Can you recommend any favorite authors? Share in the comments below!

Proofreaders’ marks

Thanks to everyone who participated in today’s webinar with the ATA! It was fun leading you through the creation of a proofreading system. I’ll be following up on some questions that came up afterwards over the next few days.

One participant asked, “Where can we download or get the proofreaders’ marks?” That’s an easy one, so here you go:

http://www.merriam-webster.com/mw/table/proofrea.htm

And a similar version from the Chicago Manual of Style:

Chicago Manual of Style proofreaders' marksHappy translating (and proofreading)!
Carolyn

Quality assurance training opportunity

A little bit of exciting news:

The American Translators Association is hosting a webinar with me on June 16th, 12pm (noon) EDT. I’ll present techniques and tricks for proofreading your work efficiently and effectively, plus some of the science behind why they work. Register here today!

Here’s a quick sampling of my reference materials:
Building Great Sentences, by Brooks Landon
The Fine Art of Copyediting, by Elsie Myers Stainton
The Organized Mind, by Daniel J. Levitin

For more information, click here. I hope you can join us!

Dahl’s Law Dictionary {book review}

I know that most translators rely more heavily upon internet-based resources (and why not? there are so many good sites out there!). However, hopefully this is not to the detriment of your bookshelves.

After hours staring at a screen, it can be a welcome break to flip through a tangible resource—not to mention that books published professionally, it being no inexpensive feat, are often vetted a bit better than websites before going to press.

The newest addition to my office library is Dahl’s Law Dictionary (3rd edition), by Henry Saint Dahl and Tamera Boudreau. In an incredible stroke of luck, I was able to give it a test run almost immediately with a lengthy new translation project.

Results? It’s an OK dictionary. I love that it has lengthier explanations of terms like biens corporels and mandat, for instance. It’s helpful to learn a bit more about the French system in an American context before making a choice about how to translate a phrase.

There are some noticeable absences, such as the seemingly dozens of different types of juges or avocats one can encounter in French law. Terms are grouped by type of law (criminal, family, property, etc.) in the front of the book, which could be useful for French-learning lawyers but is less useful for someone seeking out straightforward terminology answers.

That odd choice in use of print space is a bit frustrating when the more important, absent terms were left out in favor of non-law-specific terminology like discipline, fortune, and photocopie.

Dahl, a practicing lawyer, does recognize some of these shortcomings in his introduction:

I am well aware that many new volumes could be added to this book, and it could be endlessly supplemented with new words, phrases, and derivatives (xvi).

Still, for someone new to the legal field, lawyers wanting to extend their practice between France and the US (wine country practitioners, perhaps?), and current translators wanting a more thorough explanation of certain terms, this is a decent starter resource. You can learn a little more about the French system on every page.

The French-English version is available here, and there is a Spanish-English version available, too (now in its 4th edition).

What physical resources do you keep on hand in your translation space? Share your recommendations below!

All things legal

Happy springtime!

Last month, we explored the English language from several different angles, including its history, current trends, and revision tips. This month, we’ll be looking more specifically at language, translation, and the law.

These are some posts I’ve already published on the subject:

Are there any questions you would like answered related to this topic? Ask away!

Revise, or re-translate?

One issue I notice translators love to complain about is being asked to revise someone else’s translation. I absolutely get the annoyance when it is clearly a request to improve a cheaper translator’s work after your quote was rejected as being “too late” five minutes after the initial email. Been there, felt the burn. I’m with you on calling that out as poor etiquette.

But, sometimes, I find translators using this as a blanket excuse to turn away editing requests from professionals who want to write in a non-native language. And that’s something I just don’t understand.

Revising a non-native speaker’s English (or French, or other written language) creates a win-win situation for you and for your client. The original author gets practice writing in a language they might need to use for other professional purposes. And it offers you, the translator, an ideal exercise for improving your revision process and watchlist.

Think about it: a non-native writer’s written language is a direct translation of a French, German, Kiswahili, namethelanguage thought. So, it offers an opportunity to observe real-time examples of subtle, concept-level translation mistakes that can easily slip into your own work unnoticed.

This idea is similar to how we [translators] use parallel texts to identify appropriate vocabulary/register/etc. Revising a non-native writer’s work allows you to be more neutral in how you approach the text, more analytical, and more open to asking, “Why did that happen?” Instead of poking holes in your own hard work, you can approach the revision process as a learning tool.

In French-to-English translation, for instance, I find myself making oddly negative sentences where a positive statement is needed—because that’s how the French write. In Hungarian-to-English translation, I’m always watching out for how I’ve used commas and transition words. There’s no shame in making these mistakes in your first draft, as long as you are aware of your typical “mistranslations” of grammar and punctuation and correct them in your editing passes.

Other common translation errors to watch for when revising, depending on your language pairs:

  • When to use definite versus indefinite articles
  • Errors in subject-verb agreement
  • Plurals—or unusual absences of them
  • Incorrect verb in metaphorical/abstract sentence (lexical misconception)

What grammar and lexical oddities crop up in your language pairs? How do you accommodate them your translation/revision process?

Building Great Sentences {book review}

Related to my post earlier this week on the Hemingway app, I’d like to recommend a great book to you about writing effective, clear prose using longer sentences: Building Great Sentences: How to write the kinds of sentences you love to read, by Brooks Landon.

Building Great Sentences book cover

The main purpose of this book is demonstrating how longer sentences can be both effective and interesting to readers of all kinds. It is not meant to be revolutionary—just a simple observation about memorable writing. Right from the beginning, Landon tells us:

Strunk and White do a great job of reminding us to avoid needless words, but they don’t begin to consider all of the ways in which more words might actually be needed. (17)

Longer sentences can be more effective for arguing a point. This is why we often see longer sentences in academic or legal texts. By including as many logic steps within a single sentence as reasonably possible, you are less likely to be misquoted or misunderstood, and more likely to retain your reader’s attention for the duration of your argument. If you ever had to write mathematical proofs during high school, you’ll remember that each individual line of the proof on its own meant very little—it was only when you put all the parts together that you had something significant to say.

Leading transitions (which I’ll leave to Landon to explain) in this type of writing pull your reader from one step to the next, essentially allowing them to take your thought journey alongside you. This can reveal quite a lot about your personality, your beliefs, and your motivations. Done properly, it humanizes you you far better than any snappy, quick marketing copy could.

pulling someone in

Long sentences can actually be more pleasurable to read than shorter ones. They “tease, surprise, test and satisfy” the reader’s intellect (4). They require more concentration and more attention from the reader—with the reward of understanding something better at the end. Comparing short to long sentences is like comparing a quick walk to the mailbox to a half-day hike. Which would be the more memorable to you?

That said, Landon never advocates for incomprehensibility nor for verbosity. As he says,

The most effective prose establishes a relationship between writer and reader. (128)

He offers practical exercises at the end of every chapter for you to practice putting these principles to good use. He also touches on metaphor, rhythm, balance, and suspense—elements which help you form your own style and natural pauses for your readers to process information within a single sentence. Examples from both fiction and non-fiction, male and female authors, academic and popular commentary help balance out his thesis.

Landon offers a great reminder that most writers have very good reasons for crafting sentences a certain way — even the longer, more convoluted ones. And if translated correctly, you can help that author their original thought into effective language for the target audience.

If you work with academic, legal, scientific, or other higher-level texts on a regular basis, I highly recommend Building Great Sentences as a way to improve how you analyze your source texts and transfer the original author’s decision to your translation. Your work can only benefit from understanding this aspect of language better.

Building Great Sentences book cover

Click here to purchase a copy of Building Great Sentences: How to write the kinds of sentences you love to read, by Brooks Landon.

Have you read this book before? What do you think of Landon’s ideas? What other books can you recommend for writers or translators who want to improve their work?