Tag Archives: translating

Parley-vous francais?

28 Sep

Or: How to get on when you have no idea what they’re saying

I don’t speak French. At all. In the past, I have tried to speak French in front of actual French people, to general amusement and outright laughter.

So of course I chose to move to Paris.

Yes, I know, it makes perfect sense.

My host family seems to be surprised at how well I function in a French-speaking household. I shrug and tell them it isn’t so bad. After all, I can read a French paper and get the gist of it.* The TV has subtitles on all the cartoons. And I might not be able to follow a conversation, but I can pass the butter or salt when someone asks.

At this point in my life, I’ve spent years in places where I don’t know what the hells anyone is saying. I’ve become very, very good at inferring what is going on through body language, tone of voice, and general common sense. If you concentrate it isn’t too bad. Call it my one weird skill. (Well, that, and my unerring ability to be approached and asked for directions, no matter where on Earth.)

Basically, “fake it until you make it”. I’ve found that if you brazen through, you can usually get away with a lot of poor social skills. Sure, I have no idea what the cashier said, but I certainly can read the total on the register and hand her the right amount of money. A polite smile gets me through most interactions without having to speak, other than my basic “hello” and “thank you”.

And, above all, if you can read, you can do anything. Seriously. Maps? Menus? Bus schedules? Signage? My Dad used to tease us all the time whenever we came up to him with questions that could be easily answered by reading the labelling or the internet.**

So really, my advice to the average traveller is to do basic research, learn a few key phrases, and above all, get used to not knowing what’s going on. It’s like being back in my college stats class, except with better bread.

*English and French share a lot of cognates. Plus, I have seven years of Spanish under my belt. They’re similar enough that I can figure out what’s going on. Usually. But it’s still better than my Chinese reading ability, of which I am still unable to skim a paragraph after six years. As always, see Moser for more on this.

** “That sounds like a job for The Internet!”


Gender Inequality

19 Mar

Back in January, my minor project at the time was a translation for China Development Brief, a non-profit that brings Chinese journals and science articles to a wider audience by translating them into English. My article was on sexual harassment in the workplace, and how gender inequality is a social and economic problem in modern China. It went live over the weekend and can be found here.

I have to say, it is incredibly gratifying to see my name in print. Webprint. Whatever. What’s even more gratifying is the portions that I translated and were more or less left intact. I look at it and think smugly to myself, “uh huh, I still got it”. There might have even been a minor Snoopy Dance of Joy. Maybe.

So, if you’re interested at all in feminism, gender inequality in China, or seeing how my Chinese translations look, click click click away.




It’s Like Windows95 All Over Again

9 Jan

I lost two days of work on my translation this weekend. LibreOffice, the open source alternative to Microsoft Word, has a recognized bug where it will crash every time you hit save after futzing around with columns. It crashed and lost two days worth of translating. I was almost done. I had two fucking paragraphs left.

Look, LibreOffice, I get that you’re open source. I appreciate you trying to give people an alternative to Microsoft Word or whatever the hell Linux users write with. But this only works if you work. And Ubuntu? You’re not off the hook, either. You launched Natty and Oneiric with a known fuckup. TWO DAYS OF WORK. That’s not a minor bug, ladies and gentleman. There’s a fix, but gosh, wouldn’t it have been lovely if one of those pesky Updates that you send every three days had included one for this? And the temp backup only works if it comes preselected. You guys promised it would be better on Ubuntu than Windows, but I’m freezing/crashing at the same rate, I can’t play any of my Steam games, and for some freaking reason, I have data recovery issues? What gives? I’m not a coder, I barely make the Terminal work. Give me some guidance here.

As usual, XKCD gets exactly what I mean.


6 Jan

I’m working on a translation today. Why I volunteered to do this, I can’t even… the hells was I thinking? I’m about two-thirds of a way through “Sexual Harassment is a Gender Equity Issue”. I should probably be done by tomorrow

My last translation job was for my senior thesis, wherein I translated a 20,000 character science fiction story. It was about genetically engineered rats. And the gender imbalance between men and women in modern China due to the one-child policy, but mostly about rats. It took me about three months of concerted effort, with fevered eleventh-hour revisions and review with help from friends and family. So when the guy from China Development Brief (CDB) gave me this article I was kind of like, 2000 words? No biggie. And it really isn’t terrible, to be honest. I know most of the words, thanks to third-year Chinese. (Somewhere, Dr. Wang feels incredibly vindicated for making us learn things like “gender equality” and “sexual harassment”.) It’s just the fact that I’ve been mostly lazing about and putting the nose back to the grindstone is a little shocking. Boo frickety hoo, right?

It’s almost enjoyable, getting back into the hang of translating. Clearly, I’m a crazy person. I’ve got some new tea and a few scones – let’s do this thing.


(I’ll link to the article when it’s finished. After I’m through with it, the article has to go through another two rounds of editing before it gets published. Yay for redundancy and editors!)