Client of the Month

A few weeks ago, Judy had just sat down to eat her all-organic kale salad when she got a call (of course, fork was in mid-air). It was a frantic client, asking if she could come interpret at a deposition. Now. Always eager to help a client, Judy left the kale salad sitting on the table, threw her hair into a less-than-perfect ponytail, changed from yoga pants into a suit, put on lipstick in the car and drove the 3 miles to the client's office. Time elapsed between phone call and arrival: 13 minutes. Not bad. Lunch was a bag of chips in the car. The client was truly stunned that Judy showed up so quickly (living down the street and being familiar with the law firm helps), and was very grateful. For this project, the court reporting firm hired Judy, and these guys are really, really nice.

We found out how nice they are when they paid their invoice within a few days and also included a Starbucks gift certificate with a handwritten note thanking Judy for her assistance. How nice is that? We are grateful to have wonderful clients who go above and beyond -- we would have been happy with just the check, but the small gift certificate is a truly lovely gesture.

What's the nicest thing a client has done for you? We'd love to hear about it!

AIIC Event: Austrian Culture and Language

This announcement comes courtesy of AIIC, the International Association of Conference Interpreters. This prestigious association is co-organizing this event with UNIVERSITAS Austria Interpreters' and Translator's Association, of which Dagy is the secretary general.

The Albertina museum in Vienna. With horses.
A few years ago (in 2009, to be exact) the two organizations teamed up to provide a multi-day refresher course on all things Austrian culture. The Austrian language and the wonderful peculiarities of Austria may be a mystery to many who have German as a "C" language, and AIIC and UNIVERSITAS are here to help. This event  is back by popular demand, but its still in its planning phases, so don't buy your tickets to Vienna yet. If you are interested, please have a look at the AIIC events page (information available only in German). Please note that this is not an interpreting workshop. Rather, the course will focus on Austrian culture, specific language issues, politics, art, food, society, etc. Here's a link to the 2009 program.

Austria at its best.
The course will be held in Vienna, Austria, from July 8th through July 12th. The organizers need at least 20 participants to hold this event. If you are interested or have any questions, please e-mail Alexander Zigo at before February 15, 2013. The course costs EUR 650 for AIIC members and EUR 800 for non-members. Course registration will close on April 30, 2013. 

It's all Greek to Me!

Roughly a year and a half ago, Dagy decided to take a few Greek lessons, with no goal in mind except wanting to be able to order her Greek coffee in Greek when in Greece (a country she adores and likes to visit). Also, an EU interpreter friend had recommended looking into a new language before taking the accreditation test for freelance conference interpreters, as this might impress the jury (it sure did!). Read on to learn about Dagy's Greek learning adventure.

Αλεξάνδρα and Ντάγκι in class.
Initially, I had no intention of going beyond the very basics. I struggled to learn the alphabet and threw a fit or two until I finally got those lower case, upper case and handwritten letters straight. At some point, my ambition kicked in and on New Year’s Eve, I decided on a very ambitious long-term project: reaching a level of Greek that would allow me to interpret from Greek into German at the European Union by early 2017. That’s four years down the road. It might sound like a daunting task, but it’s certainly doable. “Adding” new languages is the new normal for interpreters, both freelance and staff, at the institutions of the European Union, where I am a freelance conference interpreter. After all, relay interpreting can be frustrating. It's a process that's frequently used in conference interpreting sessions for languages of lesser diffusion, say, if there's no Greek->German interpreter available, speeches are interpreted into English and then into German, resulting in a delay for all parties. And since all of us have learned languages in the past, why not add another? I know a lot of interpreters who have added languages and it takes them about four years on average. This project will certainly require a high level of self-discipline and dedication, both of which I have in abundance (probably because I was a serious athlete in my previous life). Even though I have a lot of other things on my plate (running our business, translating, interpreting, serving as the Secretary General of my professional association UNIVERSITAS Austria, working out, reading books etc.), I think I can do it.

Now, how am I doing it? For the time being, I am still a slightly advanced beginner. I've taken two summer courses and one full semester course, all of them at beginner level, since no others were offered. While it’s a small group, not everybody is learning at the same pace and I felt I needed to take it to the next level if I was to get past Πού μένεις; (where do you live?) and Τι κάνεις; (how are you?) soon. So I asked the excellent teacher, Athens-born Alexandra (Αλεξάνδρα in Greek), to give me private lessons. Together, we will focus on what interpreters need most: understanding complex speeches. That will involve a lot of listening comprehension exercises, numbers and tons of vocabulary, after we get past the grammar basics, that is. In addition, I listen to Greek talk radio every day as well as to EU plenary sessions and committee meetings to hear high-level Greek. Unlike just six months ago, I do understand a few words here and there. The great part about starting out with a new language is the fantastic progress you see at the beginning. I’m also looking into taking an intensive course at a language school in Athens that comes highly recommended by a fellow EU interpreter who learned her Greek there. I also purchased a few comic books in Athens last September and hope to be able to read them soon. I sometimes venture to Greek news sites to practice my reading skills (albeit without understanding).

Wish me luck! My significant other, Tommy, said that he’s we willing to buy a small summer house on a Greek island if I pass the EU accreditation exam for Greek in 2017. We are so on!

Interpreting Blunder of the Month

No interpreting awards for Judy today. 
We really enjoy poking fun at our own mistakes, so here's Judy's interpreting blunder of the month. Ready?

During all formal legal proceedings, it's appropriate to address everyone formally when speaking Spanish. As opposed to English, in Spanish we have the informal pronoun "tú" and the formal ''usted," which are both used for the second person singular (you). Now, there are no real hard rules on this, but when in doubt, it's best to address anyone formally in any business setting, unless you are talking to friends, colleagues or children. Judy's unofficial rule of thumb is to address every person who appears to be older than 12 formally. Thus far, this strategy has worked quite well.

However, a few weeks ago, Judy was called to a deposition to assist a young girl. Given Judy's estimate of the girl's age, she addressed her informally, which did not seem to bother the girl in the least. Everything was going smoothly until the deposing attorney asked for the deponent's date of birth, which is quite common during some civil depositions. With one short answer from the deponent, everything changed. 

Attorney: "What's your date of birth?''
Judy interprets: "¿Cuál es tu fecha de nacimiento?"
Deponent: "'14 de julio de 1975.''
Judy interprets: ''July 14th, 1975.''
Judy (internal dialogue): Holy cow! This deponent is older than I am! I can't believe I have been addressing her informally. She sure doesn't look like she will be 38 this year! How disrespectful of me.  Grr. Where can I find a hole to hide in? Ah, there is no hole. I must soldier on. This stinks. Is this deposition over? Oh no, it just started. 

Needless to say, Judy was absolutely mortified, but no one else seemed to notice. Lesson learned: no more guessing deponent's ages. Just default to the formal way of address and stick to that -- it's just safer. Now, it would have been great to find out what skin cream the deponent uses, but alas, court interpreters don't get to ask questions about skin care routines, so we don't know. It's probably just genes. Final lesson: good thing Judy never worked as a bouncer at a bar.

Free Online Ivy League Classes Through edX

Judy at Harvard, 2011. 
You might wonder if there's some sort of catch here. We assure you: there is not. This program has been widely publicized, universally praised and is hugely popular, and for those of you who are not yet familiar with edX, here's a short summary. A few years ago, top-notch Ivy League (and other) universities got together to revolutionize education and to allow every student on the globe with an internet connection to take classes at some of the world's best universities. These classes are called MOOCs (massive online open classes). The pilot started with just a few highly technical classes, but has since expanded. There are several platforms, including EdX (an initiative by the venerable Harvard University and MIT) and Coursera, which offers more than 200 courses, including Natural Language Processing, which sounds fascinating.

Some classes can be started whenever the student desires, while others run on a set schedule. Some require intense work and participation, while others are more flexible and less time-consuming. Have a look at the individual classes offered. Upon successful completion of the course (meaning earning a passing grade), students are issued a certificate of completion by the university that offered the class. For instance,  if you took a Harvard class through edX, the certificate will say HarvardX. We don't know about you, but we've always wanted a document that has our name and Harvard's on it. 

We are thinking about enrolling in at least one class this spring. Here are the edX classes that have piqued our interest:
It does sound a bit too good to be true, doesn't it? Well, it's the next big thing in education, and if we see any potential downside to this fantastic program (remember we have not yet taken any classes) for linguists, it's that most of these classes are quite heavy on science and technology (which the sci-tech translators will love). Some of these classes, such as Artificial Intelligence, have a long list of prerequisites and are truly intended for those with a strong background in math and statistics. 

So there you have it: free online Ivy League classes. How's that for professional development? 

Miss Venezuela, Use Your Interpreter

Interpreters work in many high-profile situations, including some you would never have thought of, including the International Space Station (as eloquently explained in our favorite book of 2012, Found in Translation) and yes, international beauty pageants. Objectification of women aside, these popular events are televised all over the world, and we could not really think of a more nerve-wrecking interpreting assignment than being on stage interpreting the famous question (and response) for a Miss Universe finalist. The Miss Universe organization hires a small army of highly qualified interpreters to assist the contestants throughout the competition. Usually Miss Universe is held in an exotic location, but unfortunately for the US-based interpreters, the 2012 competition was held in Vegas, which isn't bad, but it can't compete with Brazil or Thailand.

Now that we've told you about the great Miss Universe interpreters (one of whom Judy had the pleasure of meeting), you will be surprised to know that Miss Venezuela (usually a very strong contender for winner or runner-up) decided not to use her interpreter, who was right there on stage with her (and correctly interpreted the question). Instead, she waits for the question to be interpreted into Spanish, but then proceeds to answer it in broken English. Only she knows why she chose to do this, but the result is quite cringe-inducing.

The question was: "If you could make a new law, what would it be? And explain why."

The transcribed answer was (courtesy of The Hollywood Reporter): "I think that any leys [Spanish for "laws"] there are in Constitution or in life, are already made. I think that we should have, uh, a straight way to go in our similar, or, eh, in our lives as is this. For example, I'm a surfer, and I think that the best wave that I can take is the wave that I wait for it. So please do our only, eh, law that we can do. Thank you Vegas!"

Not surprisingly, this answer earned Miss Venezuela zero points. Somehow, she was still able to come in third. The lesson? Interpreters can save your life, avoid war, prevent you from getting falsely convicted, and they can help you win an international beauty pageant. Miss USA was this year's winner. 
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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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