Trying to master a foreign language

Archive for the category “Interpretation and translation”

Training in Barcelona

The following entries were written in Barcelona, while I was doing an AIIC Spanish language and culture course. I am uploading them only now, after the fact, because in Barcelona my access to internet, at times when I could write, was patchy at best. Truth be told, I had very little time to write at all, what with the lectures, the visits and time spent with friends both old and new. I arrived in the city on July 20. The plan was to have a couple of days to kick back before any serious work got under way. The course itself took place from July 23-28.

The entries are in Spanish–my first attempt at activation. Please feel free to comment, and to correct any mistakes.

20 de julio
Rumbo a Barcelona
Llego al aeropuerto sin ningún problema. Es un trayecto que conozco muy bien. En el tren (RER B), nunca hay sitio para las maletas, que los viajeros dejan donde pueden, aunque la linea comunica la Paris con el aeropuerto Roissy Chasrles de Gaulle. Siempre hay músicos que tocan instrumentos con mas o menos éxito. Cruzamos sin parar los suburbios del norte de Paris, un trayecto que dura apenas cuarenta minutos.

El vuelo no está lleno–quizás la consecuencia de la crisis. Una hora y media mas tarde, estoy en Barcelona. El aerobús me traslada del aeropuerto hasta la Plaza de Cataluña para solamente 5,65 euros. Empieza muy bien este viaje.


Number crunching

These days, I live by numbers and trends: cifras, sendas de crecimiento, bajas, subidas, balances, incertidumbres, previsiones y estadísticas.

After a string of rather technical meetings at OECD, involving interpreting from Spanish to English, I have discovered another angle for improving my skills. Every day, I listen to a presentation that involves figures.

These days, my closest companion, the one I commune with every day, is the billion, which, in Spanish, is the far more cumbersome mil millones. For someone as arithmetically challenged as me, converting 10,000 millones into 10 billion in the heat of the interpreting moment requires considerable effort. So I practice.

The following link is full of figures, and it’s also quite interesting. It is my small contribution to the circulation of economic ideas in Spanish:

Conferencias en línea

Now that I have started working from Spanish in the booth, I feel I need to practice almost daily. It’s a matter of building up my confidence. To practice, I need material. Radio and television programs are helpful, but more for general knowledge than for simultaneous interpretation practice. In the media, the pace and register are geared for entertainment rather than communication.

Instead, I look for online lectures. Whereas YouTube is a valuable source, I find I waste a lot of time wading through irrelevant material before I find something useful. I need something more targeted. For now, the ITunesU app serves my purpose and gives me access to free online lectures from universities the world over, including Spanish and Latin American Universities.

I start with the lectures offered by Universidad de Navarra. Some are quite short (10-15 minutes), other are fifty-minute classes. the quality of the recordings is uneven, but generally it’s good enough. I write down new terms. An interview on new technologies in education yields a new expression “se cuenta con”, as in “se cuenta con los educadores que nos consultan sobre algún tipo de cuestión…”. From a lecture on the physical properties of materials, I learn the term grieta, cracks (or fissuresin French). In a lecture to student teachers, a Peruvian professor discusses what it means to be a good teacher, and I get an initial impression of what educated Peruvians sound like.

I practice shadowing, i.e. repeating what the speaker says simultaneously, taping myself and doing spot checks of the recording. I practice memorisation. I let the speaker talk for two or three minutes, pause the recording and do a summary in Spanish. I tape myself and check. I practice simultaneous, into French or English. It becomes easier every day.

Taking the leap: interpreting from Spanish

I’m now back from Argentina and officially working from Spanish. According to standard conference interpretation terminology, Spanish for me is a C language, i.e. a language, which, for professional purposes, is passive, a language you work from, not into. I have never had a C language before. My other two languages (English and French) are both active, both A (i.e. native) languages.

The upshot is that for the first time in my life, I do not have full intuitive command of the message. because I have to devote more energy to listening, I have less energy to devote to analysing and re-expressing the message. Like a colleague who discussed her experience of adding Swedish C in 2002 (see Déjean Le Féal, Karla. 2002. “La “théorie du sens” au banc d’essai.” in Israël), I find myself struggling to avoid word-for-word translations. From Spanish, I also retain less information in short-term memory.

For the time being, I have nothing but questions. How can I gear meeting preparation to the problems of working from C? What is the link between activation and understanding, and what language enhancement activities should get priority? Where can I find data on C language acquisition and development?

A lot of work in store!….

Vos o tú

Like French and English, Spanish is a global language, with over 400 million native speakers in 70 different countries (my stats are courtesy of wikipedia). Spanish therefore comes in many different. flavors.

Here, in Argentina, where I am traveling to attend a conference, people use ‘vos’ instead of ‘tú’ as the second person singular pronoun.

This is not what I learned as a student of Spanish, first, briefly, in highschool, and later, much more extensively, in France, as an adult. I learned Spanish mainly from Spaniards. Spaniards don’t necessarily agree among themselves as to what constitutes proper Spanish. Speakers from Asturias don’t sound anything like speakers from, say Estremadura or Andalucia. But Spaniards all agree that the second person singular pronoun is ‘tú’. No one had ever bothered to tell me about ‘vos’.

Yet ‘vos’ is no minor local quirk. It is used in what is refered to as Rioplatense Spanish, in other words, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, and to a lesser extent in many other countries, ranging from Chile to Central America to bits of Colombia and Venezuela. That’s a lot of people. more than the total population of Spain.

To at least to try to use ‘vos’ instead of ‘tú’, while I’m here, is, of course, irresistible–at the risk of sounding even more confused than I aleady am. So what if I get it wrong? I am a foreigner–a ‘forastera’. I’m allowed to be confused. So in I dive, asking the taxi driver “tenés el cambio?” instead of ‘tienes’ (more later on the topic of asking for change in this country–that’s an entry all to itself).

More on vos or voseo:

Language perks

Learning a language involves a great deal of work, from memorizing lists of words, to conjugating verbs and practicing your pronunciation. But there is a very major upside as well. Learning a language actually requires that you travel. There is no substitute for immersion. For those of us who have always dreamt of exploring the world, it’s an ideal excuse. When a friend asks “What are you doing this summer?”, I can answer, truthfully, “I’m going to Spain to work on my Spanish.” The fact that I also plan to spend a lot of time on the beach and/or by the pool is purely coincidental, of course.

Right now, I’m writing this blog entry from Buenos Aires. I signed up for an interpreter training course here in BA, where it’s summer. Meanwhile, in Paris, where I live, it’s cold and wet.

This is my fourth trip to Argentina, where they speak a very specific type of Spanish, which can be hard to understand if you’re not used to it.

I love Argentina, and BA is one of my favorite cities. I never get tired of it. BA is vibrant, cosmopolitan, trendy, messy, chaotic and very much alive. According to Wikipedia, it’s the second-largest metropolitan area in South America (the biggest is Sao Paolo in Brazil).

In the morning, I have classes, in the afternoon, I do homework, rest and visit. When the course is over, I will have a couple of weeks of leave to devote to traveling. This is the life I dreamt of as a child.

La verdad es que tengo mucha suerte.

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