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0840 Translating a Document

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Welcome to English as a Second Language Podcast number 840: Translating a Document.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast episode 840. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California. Our website is eslpod.com. Go there to download a Learning Guide for this episode.

This episode is a dialog between Francine and Aziz about taking some documents, something that has been written, and translating it into another language. Let’s get started!

[start of dialog]

Francine: Do you know the word in Mcquish for “partnership”?

Aziz: No, I don’t speak Mcquish. What are you doing?

Francine: Jim gave me this letter and this document to translate into Mcquish because I speak a little of it, but even with a dictionary and thesaurus, it’s slow going.

Aziz: Didn’t you tell Jim that?

Francine: I did, but he still wants me to try because it’s so hard to find a Mcquish-English bilingual.

Aziz: I’m not surprised. Other than you, I don’t know anyone who speaks Mcquish.

Francine: Yeah, well, I’m doing my best to translate these documents idiomatically because the literal translation won’t make any sense, but it’s a tough job. I simply don’t know enough business Mcquish to know the equivalent words and phrases.

Aziz: Can’t you just paraphrase and convey the general meaning by using a lot of loan words and cognates?

Francine: I’m trying, but I don’t think it’s turning out the way it’s supposed to.

Aziz: At least he didn’t ask you to interpret. You’d really be in the hot seat trying to interpret in a meeting or over the phone.

Francine: Yeah, at least I was spared that experience, at least for now.

Aziz: I wish I could help you, but the only language I speak, other than English, is gibberish!

[end of dialog]

Francine begins by saying to Aziz, “Do you know the word in McQuish for partnership?” “McQuish” is a very rare language. It’s not spoken by more than, oh maybe a hundred people or so. You probably have never heard of it. Francine wants to know the word in McQuish for “partnership” (partnership). A “partnership” is usually when two people decide to work together in a business, for example.

Aziz says, “No, I don’t speak McQuish. What are you doing?” Francine says, “Jim gave me this letter and this document to translate into McQuish because I speak a little of it but even with a dictionary and a thesaurus, it’s slow going. “ “To translate” means to take the words in one language and express them in another. What we’re trying to do is express the same idea. Some people get confused, I think, that translation is taking a word in one language and giving a similar sounding word in another. But it’s not about the words, it’s about the ideas that you’re expressing.

Francine is trying to translate a letter and a document – some other sort of piece of paper – into McQuish. But she says, “Even with a dictionary and a thesaurus, it’s slow going.” A “dictionary” is a book that has the meanings of words. You can have a bilingual dictionary, which gives the word in one language and a translation in another, or you can have a what we could call a “regular” dictionary that just has the words and the meanings all in the same language. A “thesaurus” (thesaurus) is a book that lists groups of similar words, words that have similar meanings. It’s a book you use when you’re trying to find a word that has a similar idea but you want to use something different. A “thesaurus” will help you find similar words. It’s not a definition of the word. It’s a listing of words in that category. “To be slow going” means to be making very slow progress. It’s something that’s taking a lot of time, perhaps because it’s difficult to do. It’s slow going.

Aziz says, “Didn’t you tell Jim that?” - “that” meaning that it’s slow going even with a dictionary and a thesaurus. Francine says, “I did. But he still wants me to try because it’s hard to find a McQuish-English bilingual.” A “bilingual” (bilingual) is someone who speaks two languages. “Bi” (bi) is a prefix that often means two. So, “bilingual” means two languages – someone who speaks two languages. Someone who speaks three languages would be a “trilingual” (trilingual). After that, we usually use a completely different word to describe someone who speaks four or more languages. That word is “polyglot” (polyglot). But Francine is talking about a McQuish-English bilingual – someone who speaks McQuish and someone who speaks English. They should talk to me.

Aziz says, “I’m not surprised. Other than you, I don’t know anyone who speaks McQuish.” Francine says, “Yeah. Well, I’m doing my best to translate these documents idiomatically, because the literal translation wouldn’t make any sense.” An “idiom” (idiom) in a language is a set of words that mean something different together than if you were just to look up each individual word’s definition. So, for example, a “start up” could mean, if you just looked up the words in a dictionary, “start” meaning to begin, and “up” meaning the opposite of down. But that isn’t in fact what “start up” means. A “start up,” as a noun, is a new company, often a new technology or Internet company, although, the word is more generally used now to refer to any new company – can be a start up. Perhaps a better example would be a phrase like “It’s raining cats and dogs.” This expression means it’s raining a lot. It’s raining a great deal. It has nothing to do with cats and dogs falling down from the sky. It’s an idiomatic expression. The meaning of it is not something you can figure out from the individual words.

Well, “to translate a document idiomatically” means to do so in a way that expresses the ideas in common phrases that are used in that second or that language you are translating the document into. So, idiomatic translations would be translations that express the idea, not just the individual words. When you’re just taking each individual word and translating it, that would be what we would call a “literal translation.” “Literal” (literal) means the exact meaning for that one word but that one word by itself, not connected to any other words. A “literal translation isn’t, in my opinion, really a translation at all. A translation is taking the ideas from one language and expressing them in another. A “literal translation” is taking the idea of a word individually, without considering the other words in the sentence and translating that word which is really not a very useful thing to do. But, Francine is trying to translate the documents idiomatically. She says, “A literal translation won’t make any sense.” “To make sense” means to be understandable, to be logical, to be rational. If you say, “It won’t make any sense,” you mean you won’t be able to understand it. She says this translation that she’s doing is a tough job. “I simply don’t know enough business McQuish to know the equivalent words and phrases.” “Equivalent” (equivalent) means equal to, the same as. Francine doesn’t know the right words in McQuish – she says “business McQuish” – for the words she knows and is trying to translate in English.

Aziz says, “Can’t you just paraphrase and convey the general meaning by using a lot of loan words and cognates?” “To paraphrase” (paraphrase) means to express the same idea, the same general idea, but using different words. So, it’s not an exact translation. It’s sort of a summary of the ideas. The verb “to convey,” (convey) means to express or to share some information. “To convey the meaning” means to communicate the meaning. “To convey the general meaning” would be to be able to have the other person understand the meaning that you are trying to give them. A “loan (loan) word” is a word that is borrowed from another language. Sometimes it has a similar meaning as it does in the language that you borrow it from. Sometimes it has a slightly different meaning. In English, we use the French expression “Bon appétit” to mean have a good meal, enjoy your meal. A “cognate” (cognate) is a word that is similar to a word in another language. It has the same or similar sound or spelling. So, there are some words, for example, in English and in Spanish, that are cognates. They mean basically the same thing, but there are a lot of words that are what we would call “false cognates.” They sound the same but they mean something very different.

Francine says, “I’m trying but I don’t think it’s turning out the way it’s supposed to.” I don’t think the result of doing this paraphrasing and using loan words and cognates is giving me the result we want. Aziz says, “At least he” – Jim – “didn’t ask you to interpret.” “To interpret” (interpret) means to translate while you are speaking. So, “translation” refers to taking the writing and putting it in another language. “Interpretation” means that the other person is speaking and then you translate the meaning in your head and speak the second language.

So, if you go to the United Nations, for example, they have what are called “interpreters.” The interpreters interpret; they translate orally. Aziz said that if Francine had to interpret, she’d really be in the hot seat. “To be in the hot seat” (seat) means to be in a difficult situation, a situation that would give you a lot of problems. Francine says, “Yeah. At least I was spared that experience – at least for now.” “To be spared” (spared) means that you don’t have to experience something, usually something bad, something unpleasant. Someone might say, “I’ll spare you the details,” meaning I won’t give you all of the details because they are very painful to listen to or unpleasant to hear. Aziz says, “I wish I could help you but the only language I speak – other than English – is Gibberish.” “Gibberish” (gibberish) are words that don’t make any sense. They don’t have any meaning. They are just sounds that you say as though they were language but in fact, the words are just nonsense [speaks gibberish] – that’s gibberish. It doesn’t mean anything. Most of what I say is gibberish, I think.

Now let’s listen to the dialogue this time at a normal speed.

[start of dialog]

Francine: Do you know the word in Mcquish for “partnership”?

Aziz: No, I don’t speak Mcquish. What are you doing?

Francine: Jim gave me this letter and this document to translate into Mcquish because I speak a little of it, but even with a dictionary and thesaurus, it’s slow going.

Aziz: Didn’t you tell Jim that?

Francine: I did, but he still wants me to try because it’s so hard to find a Mcquish-English bilingual.

Aziz: I’m not surprised. Other than you, I don’t know anyone who speaks Mcquish.

Francine: Yeah, well, I’m doing my best to translate these documents idiomatically because the literal translation won’t make any sense, but it’s a tough job. I simply don’t know enough business Mcquish to know the equivalent words and phrases.

Aziz: Can’t you just paraphrase and convey the general meaning by using a lot of loan words and cognates?

Francine: I’m trying, but I don’t think it’s turning out the way it’s supposed to.

Aziz: At least he didn’t ask you to interpret. You’d really be in the hot seat trying to interpret in a meeting or over the phone.

Francine: Yeah, at least I was spared that experience, at least for now.

Aziz: I wish I could help you, but the only language I speak, other than English, is gibberish!

[end of dialog]

There’s no gibberish in our dialogs. That’s because they’re written by the one, the only, Dr. Lucy Tse.

From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Thank you for listening. Come back and listen to us again here on ESL Podcast.

English as a Second Language podcast is written and produced by Dr. Lucy Tse, hosted by Dr. Jeff McQuillan. Copyright 2012 by the Center for Educational Development.

Glossary
to translate – to express words written in one language in another language; to change the language in which a document is written without changing the ideas

* This software can automatically translate documents into more than 20 languages, but the quality isn’t very good.

dictionary – a book that lists words and phrases, explains their meaning, and presents examples of their usage, sometimes in another language

* This text is so complicated that I have to look up every other word in the dictionary!

thesaurus – a book that lists groups of words that have similar and opposite meanings

* Pass me the thesaurus. I’m trying to think of another word for “mysterious.”

slow going – with very slow progress; not advancing very quickly; difficult to do and taking a lot of time

* We’re cleaning out the garage, but it’s slow going.

bilingual – speaking two languages well

* They’re raising their children to be bilingual in English and Romanian.

idiomatically – expressing ideas through the use of common phrases and expressions

* Ulysses is always getting into trouble because he wants to know everything. Idiomatically, we can express the same idea by saying, “Curiosity killed the cat.”

literal – related to the exact meaning of words, without any room for creativity or interpretation

* When Meghan said she was flooded with work, she didn’t mean it literally.

to make sense – to be understandable; to be logical and rational

* Trent had too much to drink and he was talking a lot, but he wasn’t making any sense.

equivalent – equal to; the same as; with the same meaning or value

* One U.S. Dollar is equivalent to 2.7 Peruvian soles.

to paraphrase – to express the same idea in different words, not using the same words as in the original version

* Let me try to paraphrase what you just said and see if I’ve understood you correctly.

to convey – to express; to share some information or idea with another person

* The artist conveyed a sense of respect for the beauty of nature.

loan words – words that are borrowed from one language and used in another; words that are taken from a different language and used as they are, without changing them at all or changing them only a little bit

* “Bon voyage” and “bon appétit” are examples of loan words in English.

cognate – a word in one language that sounds very similar to a word with the same meaning in another language

* Many people think the English “embarrassed” and the Spanish “embarazada” are cognates, but they aren’t, because “embarazada” actually means “pregnant.”

to interpret – to provide oral (in speech) translation; to express what one person is saying by speaking those same ideas in another language immediately after he or she speaks

* The court system has a hard time finding people who can interpret for Vietnamese speakers who are involved in legal trials.

in the hot seat – in a difficult, problematic, and troublesome situation; having many problems

* When reporters found out about what the mayor had done, he was in the hot seat.

to spare – to arrange for someone not to have to experience something unpleasant; to make an exception or change a rule so that someone does not have a negative experience

* After their daughter died from a drug overdose, they became very active in nonprofit organizations fighting against drug use, hoping to spare other parents from having similar experiences.

gibberish – words that are impossible to understand and do not have any meaning

* Victoria says her one-year-old son is speaking in full sentences, but to everyone else, his speech just sounds like jibberish.

Comprehension Questions
1. Which book can help Francine find the word in Mcquish for “partnership”?
a) A dictionary.
b) A thesaurus.
c) A cognate.

2. Why does Aziz say that Francine would be in the hot seat trying to interpret?
a) Because she would be able to make a lot of money.
b) Because she wouldn’t be able to understand the conversation.
c) Because she would be extremely nervous.

Answers at bottom.

What Else Does It Mean?
slow going

The phrase “slow going,” in this podcast, means to move with very slow progress, not advancing very quickly, and taking a lot of time: “They’re trying to teach Eliseo to sew, but it’s slow going.” The phrase “while the going’s good” means that one should try to do something now, before it becomes more difficult or challenging: “There’s supposed to be a storm later this afternoon, so let’s try to climb the mountain while the going’s good.” Finally, the phrase “when the going gets tough, the tough get going,” means that people who are very determined will work very hard to do something when it becomes difficult and other people would probably give up: “Eli succeeded when everyone else said it was impossible. I guess it’s true that when the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

to spare

In this podcast, the verb “to spare” means to arrange for someone not to have to experience something unpleasant: “Dynee decided not to have a baby shower, because she wanted to spare her friends from needing to buy her a gift.” The verb “to spare” also means to give something to another person when one really needs it for oneself: “Could you spare a few dollars to help the poor?” The phrase “with (something) to spare” means having more of something that one needed: “They finished the project with time to spare.” Finally, the phrase “to spare no expense” means to spend as much money as is needed to make something happen, no matter how expensive it is: “Our competitors will spare no expense to attract our best clients.”

Culture Note
Public Services Available in Other Languages

In the United States, English is the language that is used everywhere, but many “public services” (services provided to people by the government) are provided in non-English languages. In some cases, this is because there are laws that require that certain materials be “accessible to” (able to be used by) non-English-speaking “populations” (groups of people sharing a characteristic). In other cases, it is because a government “agency” (organization; group) wants to improve the quality and “reach” (ability to communicate with many people) of its services.

For example, many “ballots” (pieces of paper used to vote in an election) are printed in several languages, as well as the “voter information pamphlets” (books that present information about the candidates and laws being voted on in an election). In many states, people can apply for a driver’s license and take the written exam in a non-English language. Many “welfare programs” (programs that give money or other items to people who have little or no money) have application forms and other materials printed in the languages spoken in their “target communities” (the groups of people the programs are designed to help).

Public medical and legal services are also offered in non-English languages, although this often happens through the use of an interpreter when the “practitioner” (a person who practices law or medicine) does not speak the other language. Courts cannot put a person “on trial” (in a lawsuit) without “ensuring” (making sure) that he or she understands what the lawyers, witnesses, and judge are saying.

Public agencies “increasingly” (more and more often) have telephone answering services that offer information in multiple languages, most often English and Spanish. Callers can push a button on their phone to indicate which language they want to use during the call.

Comprehension Answers
1 - a

2 - b