Language in Literature: Budapest by Chico Buarque

Last month, we wrote about a work of fiction that did the interpretation profession a disservice through inaccurate portrayals, and it made us think about how the translation and interpretation profession is generally portrayed in literature. One of our most loyal blog readers, Guillermo, suggested that we read "Budapest" by Brazilian author Chico Buarque. Guillermo refered to it as a masterpiece on language, so we had to get it. We ordered it from our local library, and Judy read it in one day. If Dagmar's take on the book differs drastically from Judy's, we will post it here soon as well. Thanks a lot for the great tip, Guillermo!

I don't speak Portuguese, so I read "Budapest" by famed Brazilian artist Chico Buarque in its good new English translation by seasoned literary translator Alison Entrekin. It's quite a challenge to communicate some of the finer points of Romance languages and nuances in a non-Romance language, and at times, the writing doesn't seem as eloquent as it probably is in Portuguese. However, Entrekin certainly did the author justice (she apparently worked closely with Buarque on the translation).

The book, set mainly in Rio de Janeiro and Budapest, Hungary, tells the tale of a ghostwriter who lives in the shadows of his outstanding work, which repeatedly brings others fame and fortune. On a whim, he decides to move to Budapest and learn the "only language the devil respects." What follows is the protagonist's, José Costa's, immersion in the Hungarian language, life, and of course, love, which comes in the form of an enigmatic and unorthodox Hungarian teacher. Buarque's writing is at times breathless and always quite stunning, and it reminds me of some of Andrea DeCarlo's earlier works. Buarque's descriptions of language acquisition are very interesting, and while this book does not focus on the translation profession per se, it's an insider's view of learning a new language as an adult. While some of the aspects of the plot are highly unlikely (we won't spoil it for you here) and some passages seem a bit out of place or don't do much for the story, it is a well-developed tale full of descriptive power.

The passion for language -- both the author's and the protagonist's -- comes through very clearly, and it's a fantastic read for those of us who make our living by working with languages. It's great to finally read a good book about loving language, the place language occupies in our lives, how we define ourselves through language, and the liberty to perhaps choose your own native language. You can buy the book here or check if your local library carries it.

An Entrepreneurial Year

Even though we've been running our business through its European sister company since 2002, Judy didn't join Dagmar in full-time entrepreneurship until last year. From 2003 until 2008, Judy worked full-time as an in-house translation department manager for a large e-commerce corporation and ran Twin Translations on the side. August 31, 2008, marked her last day in corporate America. Today, August 31, 2009, is the first anniversary of Judy's full-time entrepreneurship. A few thoughts:
  • It's been an amazing year, even though we picked an economically difficult time
  • There isn't enough money in the world to make up for the joy of being in control of your own destiny
  • We've acquired dozens of new clients and hundreds of new projects
  • We debuted this translation blog
  • Judy debuted her "Entrepreneurial Linguist" workshop, which she's now given ten times across the U.S. and Europe
  • Judy was elected Vice President at the Nevada Interpreters and Translators Association
  • Published five articles in high-circulation translation newsletters, including the ATA's Chronicle and the ITI's Bulletin
  • Enjoyed all the freedom of working from anywhere thanks to wifi (pool, cofffe shop, etc.)
  • Took a working vacation to Europe for seven weeks in the spring
  • Still counting blessings
Even though being an entrepreneur, especially in these tough economic times, is a huge challenge, we're both really proud of how far we have come. We will most likely earn less income this year than in our highest-grossing years (2006 and 2007), but we are doing what we love, working with whom we like best: each other and our fabulous clients. Thanks to everyone for all their support and for giving Judy the kick in the butt to make a long-overdue decision.

A Day Without the Internet

Last week, the wireless system in Judy's house in Vegas went down. Both the PC and the laptop weren't connecting to the internet. While we are software power users, occassional beta testers and feel very comfortable with anything HTML and e-commerce, hardware isn't our thing. After an hour or so disconnecting and connecting the modem, the router, and anything else that had a plug, Judy gave up. Well, a call to our cable service provider was made, and they assured us that the problem wasn't with them, but clearly with Judy. Instead of fretting for the rest of the afternoon, Judy did something atypical and forgot about the ever-present online access and focused on something else, mainly writing our "Entrepreneurial Linguist" book which we've talked about here before. Without constant online distraction, we are happy to report that the second draft of a chapter on social media was written in one afternoon. Lesson learned: you can live (and get work done) without the Internet, and perhaps we could even self-impose an internet-free afternoon (it's doubtful that we will really do that, though). The picture to the right features Judy's laptop poolside with no internet acccess. Perhaps it needed an online break, too.

Miss Universe 2009: Beauty and the Interpreter

Yes, we admit it: we occassionally watch Miss Universe (at the gym, while running). This year, Judy had an incentive, as she has two friends working at the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas, who put on the event (great job, guys!). When it came time for the dreadful final question phase (we won't get into the merit of the answers here), several contestants required an interpreter. First of all: our hats are off to an interpreter who's willing to stand in front of millions of people at a live TV show and interpret while being distracted by gorgeous women. It's very scary, and there aren't that many linguists who wouldn't panic at the thought (we would). That said, the interpreter had some noteable mishaps, but he held his own with remarkable self-assurance.

The interpreter struggles with his interpretation for Miss Dominican Republic, and he certainly made an ethically incorrect decision by not interpreting the contestant's mistake (she meant to say "descuido" -- mistake -- but said "cuidado" -- care), but correcting it for her in his English interpretation. Part of the judge's question was: "According to the World Health Organization, there is an urgent need for HIV testing across the globe." Interpretation: "La Organización Mundial de la Salud exige que alrededor de todo el mundo se hagan pruebas para descubrir si la persona padece de SIDA o no." Translating back the interpreter: "The World Health Organization demands that AIDS testing is done all around the world to determine if the person has AIDS or not." The WHO does not demand such a thing, nor did the judge say that. And the testing is for HIV (VIH in Spanish), not for AIDS (SIDA in Spanish). This interpretation mistake would certainly have been disastrous at an international conference, but how serious is it here? What do you think? As professionals, we say that it certainly matters, but that mistakes happen, especially in high-performance situations. Was it good enough? And what's your stance on the interpreter not following the rules of his profession and correcting the contestant's mistake, to her benefit? We'd love to hear your thoughts on the interpreter's performance. On another note, we are still wondering why Miss Puerto Rico, who is from a country with two official languages (English and Spanish), needs an English<->Spanish interpreter.

Watch the video. Warning: the quality of the video is very poor:

Not for Sale: Dealing with Self-Promotional Blog Comments

Those of us who write blogs have to determine a strategy for dealing with comments that readers leave. Most of the time, the comments section is what takes the blog entry to a new level , fueled by interesting insight our readers leave. We strongly believe that the comments section is a great forum for exchanging information and ideas with fellow linguists. However, we do moderate comments, which means that if a reader leaves a comment, it's not live on the site immediately. 99.9% of the time, we will approve the comment right away, and it will appear on the blog.

The reason we have to moderate the blog comments in the first place is because of the unfortunate fact that more and more spammers, pseudo-savy internet marketers, companies desperate for business, or simply unethical folks who want to take advantage of our hard work are trying to promote their businesses on our blog. So, for our reader's benefit and for universal fairness, we have come up with the following:
  • We will not, under any circumstances, publish a comment left with the sole intention of readers clicking on the commenter's link. A comment would be along the lines of "Great post. Please visit www.bestcarsontheinternet." It won't happen. This blog is a forum of professional exchange between linguists and is not a platform for others to promote their services.
  • We will not promote anyone else's services or products on our blog unless we deem them to be of great interest to our readers. We will, however, recommend things that we think are useful: dictionaries, new software, translation-related books, etc. However, there is never any financial interest with the publishers -- we are not getting paid to do any of this.
  • We will not participate in link exchanges. We will, however, link to our favorite blogs written by other linguists in our blog roll, and don't necessarily expect a link back.
  • We will not accept any invitations by dubious new translation-related websites to review their services. We frequently get invited into "bloggers' programs," which apparently is a thinly disguised ploy to get some free publicity.
  • The final word: we work very hard on this blog, and we appreciate our readers' loyalty. Hence, we won't turn it into a mouthpiece for anyone wanting to promote their services, nor do we want to put our readers through reading advertising copy. Whoever wants to promote something can start a blog of their own.

Time-Saving Tip of the Week

This is a seemingly easy one, but we wonder: how many of us do it? Between the two of us, Judy is guilty of it. Are you? We are talking about immediately responding to any new e-mail message that comes in, thus decreasing the focus you might have had on a translation project. Should you? It depends.

In time management classes, one learns to figure out if things are urgent/not urgent and important/not important. Almost all e-mails will have one characteristic from either category. In terms of e-mail answering while you are doing something else, you should try to only immediately answer e-mail that's both urgent and important (i.e., client asks a follow-up question on a translation, client needs clarification, client needs an urgent translation quote, etc.). Ideally, every other e-mail you'd answer at specific pre-scheduled times during the day. Time management experts are generally in agreement that this is the most efficient way to handle the hundreds of e-mails we get every day. However, who's really doing that? Are you? Judy is not. She reads every e-mail immediately and usually responds right away. Dagmar is much more disciplined and focused on this and only takes immediate action if necessary.

How do you handle the extraordinary amount of e-mail you receive? Do you have a specific strategy? We'd love to hear about it in the comments section.

Money-Saving Tip of the Week

As small business owners in these challenging economic times, it makes sense to try to find ways to cut costs. We won't compromise the amount of time we spend on translations (our main cost being our labor), the quality of our dictionaries, nor the quality of the specialized softwares we use. That leaves relatively few items where money can be saved in low-overhead business like ours. However, there's always ways. This one is also good for the planet, which is wonderful -- we are all about saving the planet.

It's a simple thing: printing on both sides of the paper. We always did this in graduate school, and we've once again gotten in the habit. As part of our quality assurance process, we print copies of all projects up to five times, so that's a lot of paper. Now we are at least using the paper twice, which feels great; and it adds up! Just be sure you are not printing on recycled paper when you have to deliver a hard-copy certified translation -- it almost happend to us! Any other great money-saving ideas out there from fellow translators?
Join the conversation! Commenting is a great way to become part of the translation and interpretation community. Your comments don’t have to be overly academic to get published. We usually publish all comments that aren't spam, self-promotional or offensive to others. Agreeing or not agreeing with the issue at hand and stating why is a good way to start. Social media is all about interaction, so don’t limit yourself to reading and start commenting! We very much look forward to your comments and insight. Let's learn from each other and continue these important conversations.

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The entrepreneurial linguists and translating twins blog about the business of translation from Las Vegas and Vienna.

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