Tip of the Tongue
QA known – The why and how of polishing translations
Sun, 25 Oct 2020 05:43:00 +0000



The large majority of professionals share a similar basis of knowledge, granted with individual style differences. They know how to produce the basic product or service, whether that is a chair or a translation. The devil is in the details. Customers expect a polished product or service, one free of errors and blemishes. This requirement separates the wheat from the chaff, distinguishing those whose work leads to long term satisfied customers and those who struggle to maintain a clientele. Using an example from a production line, no manufacturing process reaches 100% perfection. Thus, it is clear that no reputable enterprise passes on its products to others without a thorough quality assurance (QA) process.

Translation also requires QA. To explain, translators produce a first draft aimed at transmitting the content, tone, subtext messages and structure of the original text to another language. If successful, the result is faithful copy of the source text. However, the first draft is often neither faultless no seamless. It may suffer from incorrect word choices, grammar and spelling errors, inconsistency in terminology uses, punctuation misuse and missing or duplicate words. Even if technically correct, the first draft may use syntax patterns from the original document that are not acceptable in the target language, such as the use of active/passive and the placement of adjectives and direct and indirect objects. The longer the documents, the greater the probability of the occurrence of these mistakes. In fact, a first draft is not an acceptable final product in most cases regardless of the knowledge and skill of the translator.

The key for a proper translation is the QA. The first and easiest step involves software applications. The most obvious one is spell check, F7 in Microsoft products. This function will identify most spelling errors and duplications as well as many grammar and punctuation errors. Of course, there will be false positives and missed errors, especially when the word in error exists. Still, as a first step, spell check identifies the vast majority of the gross errors. An additional step is running a QA function. Most of the CAT (Computer Aided Translation) tools includes this function with others, such as Xbench, available for download. The purpose of these tools is to identify inconsistent translations, missing or incorrectly placed tags, which signal font aspects, missing or additional parentheses and mismatched punctuation. These programs help identify serious issues in the translation. Thus, spell check and a QA function are key elements of the mechanical QA process.

However, in order to create a seamless translation, as in all forms of writing, the translation must be reread, often many times. Theoretically, the best method is to have another pair of eyes read the translation, as is required by ISO standards for translation agencies. In practice, the effective use of an outside reader requires money, time and a trusting relationship between the translator and editor, a rare combination. Instead, in the vast majority of cases, translators must reread their own document and strive to identify errors and text to improve. One technique is a focused reading of the translation that checks a limited variety of issues while ignoring others. This approach is especially useful in documents with numbers, names and complex structure but requires a great investment of time as the document must be read multiple times, each one with a different focus. Another option is to print the document and read the black and white copy, which tends to make certain issues much more visible. My favorite technique, especially for longer documents, is to read the document backwards, paragraph by paragraph, which not only creates a “new” document in the mind but also forces the reader to check each paragraph separately without connection to the previous one. Some translators read the text out loud or use the available software to have it read out loud, allowing them to identify clunky language that needs to be recrafted. It is vital to pay attention to any “red light” that pops into mind and thoroughly examine the issue. A combination of any of these techniques usually produces a polished translation.

Of course, QA requires time. While the 80/20 rule does not apply in translation, review and polishing a translation can easily reach 50% of the total time investment. The rule of thumb is that the longer the document, the more time quality assurance takes. That is the reason why larger translation projects should cost more, not less. Furthermore, the longer the document, the more breaks are required for QA as it is impossible to attentively read through 10,000 pages without many breaks. Thus, translators need to allow for QA time in both scheduling and setting rates. As a result, except for very short documents, same day delivery is a recipe for disaster in translation. Curiously enough, most deadlines easily suffer a delivery delay to the next morning or end of day. In order to provide a proper product, translators must insist on reasonable deadlines.

All products, including translation, require proper QA processes. Whether done by software or human, these processes are not a waste of time but instead are integral to the production process. For translators, like many other professionals, the reward for this insistence on QA is satisfied customers and shining above the rest. Not only is the devil in the details, they are also the key to success.

*Captions help the sight impared access information. 

Picture: Pixaby: Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/openclipart-vectors-30363/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=161049">OpenClipart-Vectors</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=161049">Pixabay</a>

Industry 4.0 revolution revelation
Sun, 18 Oct 2020 04:55:00 +0000


By sheer coincidence, I participated in three online conferences this week. By greater coincidence, they all related somehow to the fourth industrial revolution. The first conference was a webinar organized by Kerem Tech, the Galil Tech and Startup Community, to introduce industrial engineering students to the real world of industry. The following day, the Braude School of Engineering had its annual pre-academic school year meeting online and discussed various aspects of the current and future distance learning. Finally, I participated in a large event organized by the Galilee Accelerator for Smart Industry, the Braude School of Engineering and various local and national government entities to discuss industry 4.0 and offer opportunities to connect aspiring startups to established enterprises. All this zooming provided me with a wave of knowledge and some understanding of the current technological revolution in terms of progress, process, leaders and personal cost.

As I learned, according to the approach, four industrial revolutions have occurred. The first one was around 1765 when industry began applying large scale mechanization. The practical application of an internal combustion engine in 1870 completed changed the landscape. In 1969, the invention and use of semiconductors introduced mass use of computers. Finally, currently, Industry 4.0 is implementation of automation to replace many functions currently done by people and create mass real-time integration of data and processes.

Like all the previous revolutions, the progress of automation has been very uneven. Smart factories, houses and even towns have been built but they represent an extremely small part of the total picture. In industry, as one speaker mentioned, in many factories, workers still manually carry out the quality control process. Even when automated systems are used, they tend to send the data to a cloud for further analysis instead of being available real-time, often due to the multiplicity of systems and data types. Education is still stuck somewhere between the second and third revolution with chairs, tables and markers co-existing with tablets, laptops and Moodle. The temporary ceasing of frontal lessons due to the Corona virus has given the development of remote learning techniques an incredible boost but afterwards the natural conservatism of the system, among other factors, will at best lead to some type of hybrid teaching structure. If someone has any doubt regarding the resisting power of tradition, the French were still making planes one at a time in 1939, some 30 years after Ford began mass production of the Model T. Thus, it is reasonable to believe that this fourth revolution will take a long time before it becomes the norm even under the pressure of the Corona and its aftermath.

Another aspect of this process that struck me was how difficult it was to simplify processes in order to allow automation. One presenter after another emphasized the need for commitment, patience and outside experts to patience create patience effective integration. In education, this same multiplicity of systems is currently complicating life for both students and lecturers, who are struggling to manage the various means of communication, each with its own logic and combination of features. However natural the revolution may seem (as in Marx and Engel’s theory of political economics), in practice, the transition is demanding in terms of physical resources and people.

Listening to the various entrepreneurs and fascinating ideas as well as the presentations on various factories and colleges that have already introduced changes to one degree or another, I noticed the driving power of people with ideas. These pioneers, young and old, see that it was not only possible but beneficial to “do it” another way. They may not fully grasp the consequences of the changes they propose but they know that the old way leads to irrelevancy and bankruptcy. The examples of IBM and Sears as well as the whole education systems pop immediately to mind. While the need to stay in business or to attract students may be the force leading to implementation, the small but growing number of process engineers, industrial and educational, are the creative power behind the revolution. Revolution involves both pushing and pulling.

Yet, as a bit of a dinosaur, I cannot help but ask one question: who benefits from revolutions? It is clear the mill owners of then and the multinational online companies today, including their stockholders, have certainly profited. On a certain level, workers overall face less physical risk and earn more than they did in the past while consumers have much wider variety of affordable items to purchase. Even today’s students have the luxury of attending the lecture when it is convenient for them and even viewing it several times. Yet, it is unclear whether the average worker, consumer or student is fundamentally happier in spite of the improvement of the material situation. This concern may be wistful, too philosophical or even irrelevant but as revolutions do not progress on an even pace, they do not benefit all parties equally.

It is my hope that the Industry 4.0 resembles the evolutions of humans under Darwin’s classic theory: slow but relentless progress. It is probable that in the future all houses and factories will resemble Asimov’s house in There will come soft rains and education will be both online and effective. Until then, I will strive to follow and enjoy the process as well as participate in further conferences.

*Captions open your pictures to the blind. 

Picture: Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/geralt-9301/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=3885331">Gerd Altmann</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=3885331">Pixabay</a>

Service providers, beware!
Sun, 11 Oct 2020 05:03:00 +0000

[Oliver Twist asking for more*]

Many single-person service providers, like mortgage requesters, face the prospect of having contracts forced upon them. These contacts tend to be several pages long and written in small print. For some, including quite a few translators, they may be written in a foreign language. In any case, the offering party, often agencies, have gate-keeper power to provide or not provide work. Given the difficult financial times and lack of knowledge of legal matters, most service providers sign these agreements blindly.

To be fair, most of these contracts are boiler-plate and define the necessary conditions for a work relationship, albeit using a plethora of fancy words. These matters include the type and quality of work, payment procedures and definition of the employer/employee relations or a lack thereof. These terms are legitimate and mandatory. Occasionally, the agreement creates an unreasonable period without direct competition or direct work with the end client. These points can be negotiated or even accepted if the service provider does not care.

However, of a more serious nature, before signing any such agreement, freelancers and even very small companies must read the liability section very carefully as it is a matter of potential financial disaster. I am not referring to the data security clause, whose risks is manageable, but instead to the general liability section.  In far too many agreements, the service providers are made liable for ALL direct and indirect losses that may arise from breach of ANY of the provisions of the agreement. Note that this liability is applied to each and every term and explicitly vague. This is dangerous because theoretically these small service providers could literally lose their house if an error in their work caused damages in the millions. I know of one case in which a translator had to pay for reprinting an entire run of brochures when a translation error was discovered. In simple terms, signing such an agreement exposes the business to bankruptcy.

The risks may seem very limited. Clearly, this clause is very rarely enforced and not even enforceable in some cases due to the doctrine of inequality of bargaining power. Neither do double sixes occur often in backgammon but why would a person choose to risk losing their house? Admittedly, professional liability insurance is available in many but  far from all countries. However, its cost may be prohibitive to many freelancers and small businesses. Finally, many entrepreneurs balance the risk versus the potential benefits and revenue and decide that the latter heavily outweighs the former. However, it is difficult to properly assess the strength of each factor as they are based on the future. Therefore, in my opinion, agreeing to such an option is poor judgment.

The best response is a polite request to add one sentence to the liability clause: Service provider liability is limited to the amount of the invoice. This limit expresses the service provider’s willingness to accept responsibility, i.e., lose the value of the entire project, while keeping the amount in proportion.

My wife and I have several years of experience insisting on this term with good results. First, many project managers actually have never read the service agreement themselves. Also, as professionals in the same field, they can relate to our concern. In small companies, the agreements were often taken from online boiler plate contracts without paying great attention to the details. So, the agency has no problem adding the requested proviso. For bigger companies, their legal department may enjoy the original wording but the business department quite often but not always persuades them that hiring is a trained professional is more important than a uncertain chance of collection. The limited liability clause has been mutually acceptable in a vast majority of the cases.

This success could be even further improved with more awareness by service providers. Given the relative power of a single agency as compared to single freelancer, the loss created by not attaining the services of a single service provider is quite minimal. However, if an ever-increasing number of freelancers so insisted, the current loss of insisting on complete liability would exceed its potential benefit. There is strength in numbers.

However, to create this power, service providers must be like Oliver Twist and ask for more. Like him, we are entitled to reasonable conditions and freedom from the threat of losing our home. Service providers, beware: do not agree to unlimited liability to all breaches of agreement!

*Picture captions are vital for the seeing impared. 

Roamin’ roads -the many paths to success
Sun, 04 Oct 2020 06:52:00 +0000

[House by junction*]

This week, I had the pleasure of participating on a panel discussion presented by Proz.com, an important international translation portal, on the subject of attracting new customers. Organized and hosted by Paul Urwin for International Translators Day, the other two panel members were Daniel Coria and Martina Russo, both experienced translators. The discussion was interesting and, based on comments received afterwards, helpful to the audience. To paraphrase Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, we could have talked night.

For me, one of the striking dynamics of the conversation was the diversity of approaches. Mr. Coria is a highly experienced English to Spanish translator comfortable working in the corporate world. Ms. Russo works from German, English and Spanish to Italian, including Swiss Italian, and focuses clearly on her two fields of knowledge, digital and marketing on one hand and sports wear on actions sports on the other hand. She identifies and attains her ideal customers, often medium sized companies. By contrast, I focus on legal and financial material as well as official documents, working from Hebrew, French and Russian to English, both US and UK, and cultivate a wide network of small businesses, end clients and boutique agencies. Each of us taken a different tack but all of us are successful.

The source of these differences is our varying background. Mr. Coria has a formal academic background in legal translation and worked in Argentina, a country with a government-regulated translation industry. By contrast, Ms. Russo, aside from her translation degree, applied her background knowledge in marketing and sports to create her own niche. “Eclectic” is the word describing my background with a BA in Russian Studies, teaching credentials in French and an MBA as well as legal studies and several years of selling and 25 years of teaching English. Each of us brings an entirely different background.

The “moral” of the story for translators and all freelancers is that everybody begins at a different starting point. No two people are identical in any matter, including their professional qualifications. Yet, all of us must capitalize on those assets and qualities life has given us and make them our competitive advantage. Formal education and job experience only two of these assets. Exposure to different cultures and business sectors as well as relatively high social skills in one type of interaction or another are also important. Entrepreneurs must be no less aware of their strengths than their weaknesses in order to determine their best strategy.

At the same time, the world in general and the business world in specific is very dynamic, expanding and shrinking in different directions depending on the sector and time. In this discussion, it became clear that regardless of the strategy we took at the beginning of our careers, we have had to observe and adjust, like big companies. The key to long-term success is that constant awareness of trends even if it is often impossible to identify the cause of that trend. If the great have fallen because of the failure to adjust, the smaller are no less vulnerable.

The goal of all entrepreneurs is to make a living. However, each person defines that in a different manner. The paths to that objective are many and depend on the starting point and circumstances of each person, which by definition vary. Clearly, some roads to Rome are better paved and smoother than others but, as Frost would say, the road less traveled is no less worthy.

*Picture captions are important to the blind. Picture by ariesjay castillo - Pixabay

The inner struggle of entrepreneurship
Sun, 27 Sep 2020 04:29:00 +0000

[Brain in lightbulb*]

Being an employee is essentially a carrot/stick psychology, sometimes reaching Pavlovian proportions. People go to work and do their best regardless of their mood or internal needs. The ability to ignore those factors comes from the desire for positive results, whether it be verbal phrase, financial bonuses or promotion, and acceptance from fellow workers, and fear of negative consequences, such as being fired or fined. Internal and cultural values may reinforce these external forces but the maintenance of “proper” work habits over a lifetime essentially is based on the reward principle to the point that many people don’t even consider why they are working so hard.

Freelancers have neither bosses nor co-employees and have to “Zen” it themselves. Faced with never-ending series of tasks each and every day, the discipline must come from within and sometimes fails, each person having a different fault line. Without the outer structure, freelancers have to manipulate their own mind in order to overcome emotional minicrises. This struggle is a part of being an entrepreneur and is winnable.

Procrastination is a human but harmful trait. In simple terms, everybody has certain tasks that create mental resistance in the mind even if they are not difficult in themselves. For children, this can be doing dishes or cleaning up the room. Many freelancers simply avoid bookkeeping tasks, including invoicing and collecting, planning and implementing marketing, and customer follow-up, to name a few. Clearly all these tasks are vital for any business. However, lacking background in the area, these tasks become energy intensive and even frightening in some cases. The best way to overcome that fear is to first recognize them as personally challenging tasks and accomplish them first before beginning the more natural aspects of the business. It is like drinking the medicine and then having a chocolate. The entrepreneur practices self-rewarding and promotes the business at the same time. In practice most of these duties can be accomplished in a few minutes and are quite profitable. Their weight is in the mind and can be thus eliminated.

Occasionally, the brain goes on strike, simply refusing to work on anything. Regardless of the amount of energy and discipline, the freelancer is incapable of doing the job at hand, period. Energy and will fail to change that reality. Of course, people become frustrated at this inability to move forward, especially if they have chosen the task and made a commitment. Psychologically, no man’s land is the worst place to be as a person can neither work nor relax. The solution is to accept and adapt. In practice, that means understanding that, even if it is somehow possible to overcome the inertia, the quality of the work, will be so low that it will probably have to be redone in any case. The next step is to direct energy and thought to rescheduling the task timeline and deciding what type of mini-break will best allow the re-start mechanism to work. Sometimes, the customer will agree to a later deadline. If not, ideally, deadlines should always have some “fudge” time Still, a few hours can be gained by working in the evening or getting up early in the morning. Options for relaxing include a nap, gardening, baking, cooking, running and talking to a friend, to name a few. The ideal break activity depends on the person. It is important to limit in advance the duration of the break as it tends to extend itself somehow. Upon return to the desk, the task no longer seems so daunting. As in most types of pain, acceptance, not denial, is the best method.

The silent killer of entrepreneurs is burnout, a slow-forming calcification of the motivation to work and succeed. Freelancers have great incentive to work hard and succeed as they started the business and enjoy all of its financial fruits. Unfortunately, they do not enjoy paid vacations nor are they prevented from working on weekends and holidays. Thus, the direct road to burnout involves a permanent 7 day a week schedule and no real vacation time. By contrast, a scheduled weekly day off, except for very extreme emergencies, coupled with aoccasional complete vacation from work leads to long term success. Many freelancers fail to realize that they will almost never lose a customer if they take a week off to go skiing or visit family from time to time nor do clients expect them to work on holidays. This life balance not only does not harm business but significantly increases productivity as a refreshed mind has more perspective and is more enthusiastic. People do not choose the way of freelancing in order to become robots.

Doubt is a more insidious challenge. Success is often neither immediate nor constant. Everybody loses customers, faces criticism and lacks uncertainty about the present and future at one time or another. As freelancers have no marketing or strategic planning department, they must depend on their instinct, initial plan and faith in their judgment of the situation. Even the most confident sometimes can momentarily lack faith. To overcome this crisis, it is necessary to switch modes from the emotional to the rational, identifying the reasons for the loss of customers, lack of success or change in reactions by seeking information. With that data, it is possible to make logical changes to the operating mode. Thus, the energy created by the legitimate concern for the future is productively directed to understanding that future. Once again, negative energy is directed towards progress.

The secret of success is in the mind, more so for a lone entrepreneur. The temptation to delay, avoid, stop and question will occur at one time or another. Freelancers simply have to know how to overcome it as much as possible. That is the inner struggle of entrepreneurship.

*Captions help the blind read posts. Picture for Pixabay

Rezooming the academic year
Sun, 20 Sep 2020 05:43:00 +0000




In a one month, after the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, I will begin another year of teaching English to engineering students, my 28th year, at the Braude School of Engineering in Karmiel, Israel.  Unlike last autumn and those previous, I will not be meeting them personally as circumstances require remote teaching through Zoom. Last semester, both students and teachers worldwide got acquainted, as intimately as possible, with this technology but it was like a first date, fraught with tension and nervousness. This time, we will be meeting as old friends, with some knowledge and comfort with each other. As it is considered wisdom to focus on the blessings you enjoy rather than the momentary shortcomings, teaching through Zoom does have its advantages for teachers and students.

Teachers will certainly enjoy the both the familiarity with the technology and distance from the students. After one full semester experimenting with the options and techniques for presenting various types of material, it will be a pleasure to begin a semester with reasonable certainty in regards to the pedagogical approach. In simple language, starting every lesson fearing potential technical issues is quite tiring. Teachers now have the basics down. Furthermore, while non-traditional, the physical distance from the students is also non-emotional. Zoom teaching is vedi, vici, exii, I came, I conquered, I exited. Teachers have very little emotional contact with the students. While this lack of human touch reduces the effectiveness of teaching, it also significantly reduces the weight of personal preferences in issuing grades, i.e., the students are mainly just faces. On a more important note, at least for college students, it places almost the entire responsibility for learning on the students in terms of their focus during and beyond the Zoom sessions. The role of the teacher is heavily limited to preparing proper explanatory material and providing understandable explanations. The rest is on the students.

They also gain in terms of being allowed to study according to their personal style. Every student has a preferred way of learning and reviewing material. Some requires extreme focus to grasp and remember while others learn more through osmosis, their brain absorbing the material as they play with their phone or do crosswords (the latter was my particular style). In the latter case, as this seeming distain tends to annoy flesh-and-blood lecturers, Zoom lessons allow them to do whatever they want during the lesson without causing offense. Moreover, they are able to go to the bathroom or get a sandwich without asking permission or disturbing other students. For slower-grasping learners, the recorded Zoom lessons create an opportunity to absorb one point at a time or reinforce key points. Clearly, Zoom is a boom for certain types of learners.

Both teachers and students benefit from the convenience and economic impact of Zoom. Nobody can argue that commuting to college is fun, whether in terms of time or parking spots. Most colleges suffer from a terrible lack of parking spaces. As for the hours, how many students really enjoy 8 o’clock classes, morning or evening? Even when the classes are being given at those hours, once the camera is turned off, students do not have to be present, whether physically or mentally, nor do teachers have to enforce active presence, a relief for both parties. Most importantly, Zoom allows the show to go on despite the Corona.  Even one year without schooling, regardless of the level, would be an educational and professional disaster for students and financial disaster for teachers. Zoom allows a semblance of continuity.

I am fully aware of the disadvantages and difficulties involved in Zoom teaching both for teachers and students. However, I am also aware of the millions of people that have lost their livelihood and businesses due to the Corona virus. I therefore choose to join Bing Crosby, the Andrew Sisters and Johnny Mercer, to name a few, and accentuate the positive and resume teaching with a smile.

* Caption pictures to allow the blind to fully enjoy your posts. Picture: Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/PhotoMIX-Company-1546875/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=3151078">Photo Mix</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=3151078">Pixabay</a>

Say it again, Sam or syntactical repetition
Sun, 13 Sep 2020 05:01:00 +0000


[Humphrey Bogart*]

Redundancy can be both positive and negative. In legal terminology, terms and conditions are the same as are cease and desist and thus merely add superfluous complexity to the language. By contrast, on airplanes and space vehicles, redundancies save lives. In grammar, redundant structures are quite frequent but from far from universal. Comparing examples from English, Hebrew, French and Russian, I will present some linguistic double-takes in the use of prepositions, articles, subjects, possessives and negations.

All languages use prepositions in conjunctions with verbs but the difference appears where they are multiple objects of the preposition. Most languages repeat the preposition before each noun. For example, in French, you would say “Je suis alléau cinéma, au café et àla piscine” meaning I went to the movies, coffee shop and pool. Note that the preposition à meaning to in its appropriate form (à and au) appears before each noun. This is the practice in most languages but not in English. The word to is only used once before the first noun in the English translation.

To be fair, in the case of a particle, a word without any lexical meaning but serving a grammatical function in the sentence, repetition can matter. Take the following Hebrew sentence:

הם הכירו פה את כל סוגי מזג האוויר, אתהחברה ואת הים.

The word את is a particle indicating the presence of a specific direct object. Translating the phrase literally into English, it comes out “They knew all types of weather, the society and the sea.” In Hebrew, the particle is placed before each noun, clearly indicating that types of weather, society and sea are all direct objects of the verb “to know”. However, in English, because of the intervening presence of the words “types of”, it could be understood that they knew types of weathers, types of society and types of sea, not the writer’s intention. Thus, a lack of a repeated article or particle can create ambiguity. The sentence as translated came out: “they are familiar here with weather of all types, the society and the sea.”

This example leads to the matter of articles, the and ain English. Since in most languages nouns have a gender, i.e., masculine, feminine and sometimes neuter, it is necessary to insert the gender identifying article before each noun. In the following sentence Le pėre, la mėre and les enfants ont tous les droits., meaning the father, mother and children all have rights, each of the forms of the French article leis used in accordance with gender and number. However, as English nouns do not have gender unless it is natural, e.g. girl and boy, there is no need to insert the word the before the two last nouns as the first use implicitly applies to each of them. Reverting back to the translation in the previous paragraph, it is not a mistake to repeat the article if it adds a certain required emphasis or stylistic element. As English stresses conciseness, the repeated articles are usually omitted.

Certain languages lack a commonly-used form of the verb to be in the present tense, notably Hebrew and Russian. They simply write the subject and predicate without that verb. For example, in English, in identifying someone’s profession, a person would write Mr. Jones is a teacher. In Hebrew, due to the lack of a register-neutral form of the verb, it comes outs Mr. Jones, he teacher. In effect, the subject, Mr. Jones and he, is repeated to allow use of the accepted grammatical structure, pronoun – identifier, without a verb. Here the redundancy is required by syntactic rules that do not apply in most languages.

Possessives are often doubled, albeit for different reason. In French, the form of the possessive is determined by the gender of the noun it describes, not that of the person that owns it. For example, in the sentence “Son chien est laid”, which means his/her dog is ugly, the use of the masculine form son is indicated because the noun chien is masculine. In order to clarify the matter of ownership, it is necessary to write Son chien à lui or son chien à elle in order to indicate his or her, respectively. In Hebrew, for syntactical reason, a possessive declination is added to the noun in addition to the actual possessive element. To demonstrate, בעלה של נינה [baala shel nina] translates literally as her husband of Nina.  The ה at the end of the word בעל turns “husband” into “her husband”, which, according to English thinking, is obvious due to the word of. English does not require such doubling up.

Finally, there is strange matter of negation. Most languages a no is a no, i.e., one word of negation does the job. You don’t need to add any other element, an example in itself. Even Russian is satisfied with one word: он не нужен большее [on nye nujen bolshe]. It does not need more, literally. However, French takes an additional step, i.e., an added pas, because the negating ne is not sufficiently emphatic: ça ne suffit pas. Neis not enough. If you only use ne, it suggests an explanation or fear: je crains que il ne soit trop tard. – I fear that it will be too late. Like in backgammon, it is double or nothing in French.

Good reasons exist for redundancy in language even if they do add words. By nature and training, I value conciseness and efficiency in language. On the other hand, these repetitions are part of the language and add a certain charm as well as precision. So, to paraphrase Humphrey Bogart, say it again, Sam, but only at the right time.

*Always add captions to pictures to allow the blind to enjoy your posts.

The not-so-fine art of discouraging customers
Sun, 06 Sep 2020 05:15:00 +0000
                                        (Man at desk surrounded by Darth Vader figures*)

As the expression “a word to the wise is sufficient” suggests, it is always advisable to learn from others, including their mistakes. I wish to provide a personal precautionary tale that demonstrates even in the Corona-period hunger for customers, old habits don’t die as well as remind all sellers of both goods and services of some important basic principles. 

To make a long story short, a phrase that indicates that a long story will follow, I am considering taking a law course, not program, to improve my contract writing skills. To explain, I attended law school more than 30 years ago but never completed the full program or obviously became a lawyer but have been translated contracts for some 16 years now from French, Russian and Hebrew to English. While my current level of legal writing is sufficient, I have no doubt that there is room for improvement. I was contacted by a reputable on-line law school and was intrigued to know that non-degree seeking students could take individual courses for an appropriate fee. I decided to investigate the matter. That is where the fun began.

 My first contact was with the on-line chat. The representative, despite all my direct questioning, was unable to provide me a list of available courses, forcing me to ask about them one by one, with time in between for him to check. He clearly knew nothing about this program nor understood what the difference between a course description and syllabus is. All he could do was to send me a link to the program site and say that he would send me more information by email, which never arrived. After 30 minutes, I ended the “chat” frustrated and still knowing nothing.

The next day, a Monday, I tried to call but was kept on hold for 30 minutes without reaching an advisor at long distance rates. I again tried the chat and unfortunately reached the same clueless representative, who ignored my requests to pass me on someone that understands. We chatted for some 30 minutes but this time I managed to receive a list of available courses but no additional information. The same promise to send material was made with the same result. 

Many years ago, I learned to ignore unpleasantness and focus on my goals. On Wednesday, I called again and was immediately answered by a pleasant and knowledgeable advisor. She apologized for the issues, answered my questions, took my email and sent me all the material I requested. She even gave me her direct number should I have any further questions. I am now seriously considering enrolling for the course. 

This tale of woe with a happy ending, Disney style if you will, is not intended as a complaint against this honorable institution in particular as the problem is far from unique. To demonstrate, I have yet to receive replies from two other law schools to which I sent requests for information. The Corona crises, among its many effects, should have made all businesses, regardless of type, further appreciate all existing and potential clients as the margin for error for business survival is very small today. Most unhappy customers do not complain; they simply do not buy, a silent killer. 

The essential error was committed by the college, not the representative regardless of how incompetent he may be. The college was aggressively marketing its programs. It is clear that all front-line personnel, those that directly recruit the students, must be thoroughly familiar with the programs. Furthermore, if the latter is not possible, the college must provide immediate expert backup and train the employees when should they pass customers on. Finally, during high demand period, it should increase the number of personnel and phone lines to properly answer requests for deadline. On the positive side, the higher-level personnel, the advisor in this case, knew how to diffuse the negative feeling and go forward. However, a company is only as good as its weakest front-line link as most potential customers will simply look elsewhere. 

My father used to say that anything worth doing is worth doing well. Unfortunately, the college in question did a very solid job pushing me away. It is not alone as many business, large and small, are equally proficient at making the buyer feel unwanted. It is not a fine art by any means as it can lead to bankruptcy. Let the seller beware.

* Label your pictures to allow full access to the blind. Picture creditd: Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/www_slon_pics-5203613/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=2539844">www_slon_pics</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=2539844">Pixabay</a>
In praise of project-based pricing in translation
Sun, 30 Aug 2020 05:36:00 +0000

[Fiddler on the roof*]

Tradition is the last justification for continuing long-established business practices long after they are no longer relevant. As an example, translation prices are generally quoted in price per word, just as Dickens and Melville were paid for publishing chapters of their books in newspapers two centuries ago. Yet, although writing by pen and typewriters have essentially become curiosities, every request for translator still involves those classic words: “What is your rate per word” as if this measure is still relevant and fair.

To be clear, uniform unit measures can be relevant if all goods are equal and randomly variable. For examples, today in most industrialized countries at least, all supermarket potatoes of the same kind are more or less equally tasteless. The difference between them is natural and unpredictable. It is impossible to make any connection between the farm and potato. Thus, comparing the cost of a pound or kilo of potatoes is legitimate and reflects the sole actual value difference, cost.

By contrast, the per-word price comparison in translation is illogical, as Spock would say. Even if the field of the translation is identical, e.g., medical or legal, all words, or texts to be more precise, are not created equal. Aside from the quantity of words, format potentially adds hours to a project. If the document is in PDF, it requires preparation before it is useful for CAT (Computer Assisted Translation) tools, which almost all translators use. Charts and special formatting add time after translation as they often only can be arranged after translation especially if one language is significantly wordier than another. In additional documents, more technical document require research as a professional translator must be 100% sure that the term is correct, a time-consuming process even for those who are expert at searches. For larger projects, QA can take no less time than the translation as it is impossible to properly reread 10,000 words without frequent breaks. Finally, every translation, including the most technical ones, reflects the language and expertise of the translator, i.e., no translations are identical. As such, a higher price may result in greater value if the result is more effective. So, unlike potatoes, the price comparison by itself is meaningless.

Project-based bids are fundamentally good for translators. Obviously, the quoted price better reflects the total effort of the translators as it includes all the factors specific to that project. The psychological effect of translators setting rates according to their reality is greater productivity as they “own” the project. Furthermore, overall quotes allow for invisible and seamless rate increases over the years, solving the issue of how to raise rates with long-term customers that act as if inflation does not exist. An additional benefit is the ability to create win-win situations for unpleasant work. All freelancers have certain type of works that they find very tedious and/or unpleasant. By factoring this element into the price, as plumbers do with sewer work, the service provider either avoids the project or is highly paid, both positive outcomes. Finally, it is not necessary to explain source-word and target word to customers, saving countless emails and avoiding unpleasant misunderstandings. Thus, translators gain in terms of effectiveness, efficiency, flexibility and clarity.

LSPs (Language Service Providers) all benefit in terms of price clarity and reliability.  In per-word cost quotes, it is necessary to assess the word count to calculate the price for the end customer. In relations with the translator, the parties must factor in repetition rates, the percentage of the full rate paid for partial or total repetitions of the same sentence. By contrast, in a project-based quote, after review of the document, the translator provides a single quote, which provide a basis for the agency quote, a much simpler process. Furthermore, translators meet deadline more often as they have carefully reviewed the document in order to prepare the quote. While it may delay the LSP quoting process, that period of time is minimal. LSPs also gain from this pricing method.

In all cases, the end customer finds project-based quotes much simpler. Most end-customers do not understand industry jargin. They do not know that a page is 250 words, not all the words on a A4 piece of paper nor can they grasp why there may be a difference, sometimes up to 50%, between the number of words in the source and target. They simply want to know how much the job will cost. One sentence with a cost and deadline answers their main question in short work. That is the art of keeping it simple.

There are at least two ways to calculate the total amount of a translation project. It is possible to multiply the total number of words by the base rate and then add or subtract elements that affect the total time. For example, on a project of 1000 words at rate of .10 USD per word, the base rate is 100 USD but the quote will be higher if the document is in PDF form and requires another hour of work. Another method, especially relevant for a multitask project, is estimating the total time for each section or task, totalling the amount,  multiplying it by the hourly rate and adding a “fudge” factor to reflect unpleasant surprises. Of course, the amounts are adjusted for local factors, i.e., how much the paying party is willing and able to pay and to what degree the project is desirable. In either case, the final offer should reflect the total time that will be invested and cost of living of the translator.

I have been using project-based pricing for four years now with both end-customers and translations agencies. The former finds it much simpler while the latter accepted it rather quickly. I am never automatically out of the consideration for a project due to my price since they first need to query me nor do I turn myself into a “potato”. I admit to have miscalculated a few quotes but the overquotes have easily compensated for the underquotes. Using project-based quotes, I “own” my prices while simplifying life for others. Tradition makes for a good song but poor business practice.

*Picture captions allow the blind to enjoy your posts. 

Everybody and his third cousin
Sun, 23 Aug 2020 04:47:00 +0000



If you got it, flaunt it.  The English language simply has an incredible number of words. Almost every concept is covered by a multitude of options, each word with its own nuances and register. Grasping and recalling each option is probably the most difficult challenge for non-natives, not the English grammar system. As an example of the generosity of English is the universal concept of people, derived from a Latin-based word that William the Conqueror brought to English with his French-speaking Vikings in 1066. Since then, matters have become much more complicated.

For the generalists, it is possible to emphasize the parts of the whole. Individuals or persons, refer to the mass but personalize it. On the other hand, if there is a need to zoom out, humanity or mankind, not to mention the whole world, blurs individual distinction. Once the term men was understood to include everybody, sort of. To clarify, the American Declaration of Independence, written in 1776, states that “All men are created equal”, an extremely radical idea in its time whether or not it included women and blacks. Today, it is necessary to say men and women. That brings up the issue whether the latter phrase necessarily includes children as the phrase men, women and children is used in certain contexts. Admittedly, people is so much simpler.

Researchers, being researchers, have their own terminology. Paleontologists refer to homo sapiens while sociologists choose mankind or the human race, not to mention society. Psychologists like human beingsor so they say. Politicians, who finance quite a bit of research, must please their public but don’t like the populace, which does not understand them. Romans and American Republicans love their citizens and prefer to ignore the existence of those who do not have that status. There is no room for people in these worlds.

The tribal approach can be practical. The peoples of the earth include all national and ethnic groups while the use of the term human racestakes a more colored approach. By contrast, the whole population of a country includes everybody (even those that cannot vote) while the inhabitants of the planet also include that are not listed on any computer file. There are still a few of those, mainly in isolated tribes.

So, people, it is not hard to avoid repetition in English. Everybody and his third cousin can do it, granted not always correctly or with the proper register. Live and learn, especially with language. As Porky Pig said so eloquently, “that’s all, folks!

*Label captions to allow access to the blind. Picture credit: Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/8385-8385/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=2152653">Reimund Bertrams</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=2152653">Pixabay</a>

Literary refusal in translation
Sun, 16 Aug 2020 04:58:00 +0000


[Man writing*]

One of the great pleasures of being a freelancer, its greatest perhaps, is the right to say “no”. Employees cannot refuse a normal task without risking the loss of their entire livelihood. Entrepreneurs have the privilege on passing on work that we would rather not do for whatever reason. Of course, I do not recommend blunt refusals as it creates as it creates more problems than it solves. Better ways exist as I have written in the past. Still, many a time I have received “inappropriate offers” and thought to myself or said out loud in the privacy of my office “No!”

To my surprise and fascination, I learned from an article in the Canard Enchainė of July 8, 2020 that Herman Melville, in a short story in 1853 entitled Bartleby, the Scrivener:A Story of Wall-street, had already published an extremely elegant way to refuse requests. Readers may be confused for several reasons. Canard is known for its articles, which is why I read it, but not necessarily regarding ideal business practices unless by negative example. Secondly, I had no idea that Melville wrote short stories as he is famous for endless novels, most famously Moby Dick. To be fair, he was paid by the word, like Dickens, rendering the writing of short stories even less probable. I was indeed amazed that the response formulated by Melville some 170 years earlier in a completely different word both technologically and industrially.

To explain, in this story, a recently-hired clerk at a stock exchange office works day and night, literally, copying legal texts. His boss is impressed with his skill and even temper, unlike his three other clerks. However, on his third day of work, the boss politely asks Mr. Bartleby to come over and read a text out loud so they can assure the accuracy of the copying. The clerk’s unlikely response to this request is “I would prefer not to”. He responds to all requests to do anything besides copying in the same manner, including the request to resign and leave the office. The beauty of the British English construction is its clear indirectness. On the one hand, it is fully understood that the clerk will not get up from his desk. On the other hand, the refusal is subtle and almost respectful. The boss, like the reader, find it hard to be angry at the clerk in spite of his behavior.

The Canard article mentioned that French has seven translations of the story and its famed phrase. The latest one, proposed by Noёlle de Chambrun and Tandrėde Ramonet, is j’aimerais autant pas. Previously, translators wrote Je préfėrais ne pas, je préfėrais and j’aimerais mieux pas. The autant in the new translation means as much or so much. This element formally does not appear in the original English but, in my opinion, expresses its slipperiness. It flows well in French, a notoriously ambiguous language.

For curiosity’s sakes, I checked the translation in Russian and Hebrew. In the Russian version translated by Maria Federova Loria in 1987, the clerk’s answer is Я бы предпочел отказаться [ya bae predpochel otkazatza] , which literally means I would prefer to forego. Note that Russian version includes a verb while the English one is elliptical. The Hebrew version, translated by Dafna Levi reads הייתי מעדיף שלא [haiti ma’adif shello], is word for word like the English. I have to admit that the Hebrew phrase that entered my mind was הלוואי שכן [halavai sheken], which literally means it would be wonderful if I could. I admit this comes from the opposite direction but somehow also expresses the indirect but clear refusal.

It is amazing how decisive passive resistance can be not just in great political movements but also small human dramas. As a technical translator, I work on nuts and bolts, occasionally literally, but the art and beauty of literary translation fascinates me due the challenges of transmitting the subtleties of simple but powerful words from one language to another. I am so inspired that I plan, one day, on an appropriate occasion of course, to write the following words to a project manager: I would rather not to. The question is how the project manager will take it.

*Add caption to picture for the benefit of the blind. Picture: Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/Barbara-Iandolo-732060/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=4134455">Barbara Iandolo</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=4134455">Pixabay</a>

Game of thrones – Special political traditions in France, Israel and the United States
Sun, 09 Aug 2020 05:05:00 +0000



The art of translating goes beyond knowledge of language and encompasses comprehension of culture. A professional translator must know how the societies of the source language handle a given situation and translate the whole concept in such a way that the speaker of the target language can understand. For example, while the United States uses the common law system of law, France uses Droit publique, thus requiring the legal translator to understand the function of each court level in both systems in order to properly translate court documents. Similarly, while many democracies exist, fortunately, each has its own peculiarities. Thus, translators of political and journalistic materials must be familiar with the electoral processes in order to transmit them from one language to another. As an example, I will present a special, sometimes unique, aspect of the French, Israeli and American democratic processes.


2nd tour or strange bedfellows - France has multiple political parties, with ever changing names. As a result, all French elections, from municipal to the presidential, are conducted into two rounds. To clarify, in the first round, any person, with or without party identification, may run for a public position but only the top two finishers appear in the ballot for the deuxieme tour. So, the deuxieme tour does not refer to the 1904 running of the Tour de France but instead to the second round of voting. This reduction to two candidates requires the losing local representatives and national parties to choose whether to remain neutral or recommend a vote for one of the two remaining candidates. Given the fluidity of modern French political alignment and the interaction between personal dislike and future ambition, the result is rather comical to an outside observer as personal and/or ideological enemies suddenly unite because they both despise or fear the challenger even more. The recently completed round of municipal elections in France provides numerous examples with a potpourri of local ideological alliances. Thus, the 2nd tour exemplifies that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, at least for the moment.

[Bread and crumbs]

Remainders or waste not, want not – Israel also has a multiparty parliamentary system. In fact, Israel has never had a non-coalition government. Thus, the distribution of seats in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, is of vital national interest. To determine the final result, the national election committee calculates the total number of actual, not only registered, voters and remove all votes for parties that did not meet the legal minimum for a seat, currently 3.25% of the total vote. The resulting number is divided by 120, the number of seats in the Knesset. For example, in the latest national election in March of 2020, each seat was equal to 37,943 voters. The interesting issue is what to do with the votes from 37,944 to 75,885. To avoid throwing them away, each party signs a heskem odefim, an agreement on how to distribute the remaining, unused votes, right before the election. The goal is to help the party closest to gaining one more seat, which may be the difference between being the government or opposition. The how and why of these agreements are for the politicians but the result is that the official results take up to three days so that some ballots can be checked and the heskem odefim can be applied. Every little vote counts.

[Jigsaw puzzle]

Gerrymandering or scribbly lines – The United States is a federal government and has effectively two parties. Individual elections are much simpler, i.e. the winner of hte one and only election is the person getting the most votes. However, the U.S. Constitution, written with its typical ambiguity, creates a unique process for defining the voting district for a member of the House of Representatives, which is legislatively limited to 435 members. Article 1 of the Constitution merely states that a representative must be elected every two years by a district with no more than 30,000 registered voters. Having observed the dead borough phenomenon in the UK, i.e., districts where most of the voters has long died, the Congress allows the redistricting every change of decade after the census. Now the fun begins. Whichever party controls the legislative branch in a state gets to redraw the map, guided only by the Constitutional limit of equal districts of no more than 30,000 voters. The considerations are not administrative but electoral. To clarify, as a rule, most minorities tend to vote Democrat while many white suburban voters tend to vote Republican, depending on the local politics. So, if a party wishes to diminish the impact of a concentrated voting bloc, it divides up its voters among several districts while the opposite is true if the goal is to maximize electoral impact. The district lines do not have to resemble any known geometric shape. In recent years, the courts have started to reject extreme gerrymandering but it is clear that one of the strengths of the Republican Party has been its control of many of the state legislatures for several decades. The devil is in the details, even in politics.

Seen from the outside, these traditions are curious, even amusing, a bit like reading or viewing the Game of Thrones.  However, from the inside, they have a huge impact on the residents of the country. A customer requiring translation of an economic or political text must make sure that the translator understands the concept and can transmit it to the target audience. Unlike the series, this game is real.

*Caption pictures to allow full access to the blind. All images via Pixabay.

Back to the legal future
Sun, 02 Aug 2020 05:00:00 +0000

                                                                 [Polar bear on iceberg*]

On Friday, 24 July 2020, I participated in the virtual 7thAnnual Access to Justice Conference organized by the Concord Law School in Los Angeles. It was an eye-opening experience for me in terms of the observing the extent of change in the legal services profession over 35 years. To clarify, I attended the University of Oregon School of Law in 1985, studying one year and finishing in good standing. I chose not to continue my studies as I did not see my future in any of the traditional specializations provided by the University but later became a legal translator, thus applying that knowledge. Notwithstanding my decision, I have been always attracted by the law and its goals. As I listened to the presentations and heard the practicing attorneys, I understood that today I would happily become a lawyer.

The first major eye-opener was the variety of business options available to new and experienced attorneys. Just as freelancing and cooperatives were underground in the general business world back then, it was especially true for law.  Law students assumed that the way to success was to work incredible hours at low pay for many years at an established firm so that one day they could become a partner and own a Porsche. If those conditions or results were not personally relevant, the person had no future in the profession. Those rebels who wished to strive for social justice were smiled upon and had their illusions quickly corrected. At this conference, established attorneys talked about incubators, cooperatives, freelancing and small independent firms as viable professional options. These options probably existed then but they not only have broken the surface but have now made a mark on it.

Another major change in approach I noticed was the destruction of the barrier between law and business management. When I studied law, there may have been one course on managing a legal business and its components. In other words, fresh lawyers were completely ignorant of the most basic tasks of billing, customer relations and business planning. It is no wonder the vast majority did not consider going out on their own. The conference showed that in today’s legal world, knowledge of billing options and price scaling are no less important than tort law for success. On the marketing side, the discussions of understanding customer needs and wants would be equally at home at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business (or the Leicester University Business school, where I got my MBA). Today’s lawyers are much better prepared for real life.

The greatest pleasure I received from the conference was in regards to the enthusiasm, not idealism, of both more and less experienced attorneys to attain justice. The keynote speaker, Jack Newton, used the allusion of an iceberg to describe the mass of people without access to legal services and its significance for social justice and professional success. In other words, he emphasized that it was for the mutual good of both clients and attorneys to make law available to the large mass, more than 60% of the public, that cannot afford legal services and are ignored by traditional law services. In the presentations that followed, speakers detailed how to attain this dual benefit, public and personal, and help the people really in need. It is possible to make protecting people’s rights a full-time profession.

As I turned off my computer, I could not but help feel a bit of pain for not having taken that route although I know it was the right decision at the time. For some, the motivation to become a lawyer - to work hard to complete law school, pass the bar and learn the ropes – is the passion for justice. It is clear today that that passion is no longer mere idealism but an attainable dream. With all the current economic problems and social problems, attorneys can help create a better society in the present and future.

*Always caption your pictures to allow blind people to full access posts. Picture: Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/cocoparisienne-127419/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=2199534">Anja🤗#helpinghands #solidarity#stays healthy🙏</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=2199534">Pixabay</a>

Belatedly bilingual
Sun, 26 Jul 2020 06:30:00 +0000

                                                                        [Fern tongue*]

Like many immigrants and translators, I became bilingual as a result of life, not education. In the latter case, people learn two or more languages in school and use them at home or in the street, creating a strong base of both languages in the mind. On the other hand, those who acquired this skill later in life moved to another country, spoke the second language at home with a partner, maybe raising children in that language, and, most importantly, worked and socialized with people in that second language. Thus, the adopted language was superimposed on the mother tongue.

I can claim at least three generations of wandering Jews in my family, all who became bilingual. My maternal grandmother immigrated from Poland to France, then to Canada and finally to the United States. She spoke French, Yiddish and English, all quite well. My mother immigrated to the United States in the early 1950’s from France with no English at all. Some 70 years later, her English is quite good. I moved to Israel 30 years ago and fully function in Hebrew. Thus, on this subjective and limited sample, I can make several generalizations on the war of the words between L1 and L2.
It is clear that the acquired language never reaches the level of the mother tongue. First, certain syntactical errors never disappear, especially with prepositions, which vary by language and defy logic. See the Ziva effect in NCIS.  For certain words, pronunciation is problematical either because it involves a difficult sound, such the English th or Hebrew and Arabic voiced ch, or the word in both languages is so close but not quite the same either in terms of a letter or accented syllable. Finally and most annoying, it becomes frustratingly difficult to form a sentence or remember a word when tired or under stress. Suddenly, it becomes impossible to say what you want to mean even though normally there would be no problem because the brain is not functioning properly at a given moment. The second language almost never becomes as accurate and natural as the mother tongue.

This deficiency has several annoying results. First, people often believe that your accent and apparent language deficiency means that you are stupid and treat you as such. The reality may be that your knowledge of their language may be far superior to theirs but rien à faire, as they French would say, i.e., there is nothing to be done about it. Also, due to the fact that adult emigres never studied in school, their writing skills are probably below the level of other language skills. This means that there is a tendency to ask native speakers to handle important writing tasks. Thirdly, depending on options, other family members tend to handle the administrative telephone tasks that are so part of daily life, including discussions with the various utilities, municipal functions and tradespeople. These “blind” conversations are simply less stressful for them. Also, curiously, phrasing from the acquired language start entering the mother tongue over time, creating the unpleasant situation that a person speaks neither of the language completely properly. As my grandmother and mother would say, in terms of perfect language, you are nisht ahin, nisht aherr, neither here nor there.

In fact, despite the ridicule from friends and family, being bilingual is an enriching experience. Learning and applying any new language opens the world to more people in terms of millions. Knowing Spanish alone allows direct communication with almost 500 million people. The language also opens up a new culture, which includes tastes, ceremonies and beliefs. It is amazing how different weddings can be. Most importantly, it opens the eyes to different and maybe better ways of living life. Just as people do not have to live exactly how their parents lived, nor do people have to live as the society in which they were born defines as normal. People have choice in almost all aspects of their lives. They often only need to be exposed to the options. Learning a second language at any age is the window to those opportunities. The world expands as we learn languages and gain access to cultures.

Thus, for those who have forgotten the foreign language they studied but still dream of moving abroad, it is never too late. People, especially children, may laugh at your mistakes but that is a small price for immersion in a completely different world several hours away by plane. If that is the dream, better late than never.

*For the sake of the blind, add picture captions. Picture care of pixabay: Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/adege-4994132/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=5133721">adege</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=5133721">Pixabay</a>

The Generation Gap –Social media and business mentality
Sun, 19 Jul 2020 05:16:00 +0000

                                                         [Old-style clock with pendulum*]

On a recent episode of Kobi and Lital, a docucomedy series in Israel examining various life issues, the two comedians, each around the age of 40, were given expert advice how to increase the number of their followers on Instagram. These experts were half their age or less. It was quite striking and entertaining to see not only how unfamiliar and incompetent the hosts were with new media forms such as TikTok and Instagram, but also note the gap in mentality between the two generations. This difference is also increasingly evident in the business world.

“Facebook is for old people” was a phrase repeated several times during the show. It is apparent that many younger people consider raising and responding to an issue in a written text, even a single picture, passé. The under-20 group values 30-second clips. For those that, to paraphrase the Genesis song, can’t dance and can’t sing and can’t invent a story every day, these media forms are very uncomfortable and almost inaccessible. Posting a daily story with trivial pictures with captions seems much ado about nothing for older people. The generation gap is clearly evident in the use of media.

This discrepancy in technology is partly a reflection of a difference in worldview. Almost 60, I grew up in a United States where the “I” was subordinated to the “we”. While children had individual needs, they were part of a class, family or team. This distancing from the ego was even reflected in writing where the use of the first-person singular form was discouraged, even forbidden in formal writing. As adults, it was generally we or the companythat sold the product or provided a service even if it was a sole proprietorship. Even in autobiographies for conference program, it was accepted practice to use the 3rd person singular form: John Doe has more than 30 years’ experience. By contrast, at least in Israel in 2020, children and young adults are encouraged to promote themselves. What is more shocking than the number of people that film themselves doing banal tasks is the number of people that watch them, to the tune of the hundreds of thousands, if not more. What my generation considered egocentric, even crass, is now proper self-esteem.

This change has already affected the business world. First, younger executives tend to feel less need to learn the ropes from older workers and wish to become entrepreneurs at an early age. Moreover, these business people under the age of 25 are native to most if not all of the current mass media forms and therefore comfortable with their use. By contrast, employees aged 40+ often struggle with the how and why of these same forms. Furthermore, many older workers find the blatant personal approach a bit too much and beyond their personal comfort zone. Age is becoming like East and West as Kipling would say.

The clock keeps on ticking, creating natural generation gaps. One omnipresent form of this change involves media use, not only in the technical details but also the raison d’etre of their use. In this sense, the world, including the business world, belongs to the youth.

* Always add a caption to pictures to allow full access to blind people. Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/hrohmann-848687/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=700874">Hans Rohmann</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=700874">Pixabay</a>

The Artful Dodger – From no-win to win-win on offers you can refuse
Sun, 12 Jul 2020 05:50:00 +0000

                                                                  [Black pebbles]

Freelancers live by projects, long-term and short-term, which almost always involve providing a price proposal. Unfortunately, many of these requests are irrelevant due to the task, scope, price, deadline or nature of the job. On the surface, it appears that these situations provide no real opportunity and are simply a waste of time and energy. However, with some lateral thinking and proper communication, any request for a proposal becomes a real opportunity.

The most objective reason for not being able to take on a project is the lack of appropriate skills. Professionals know that discretion is the better part of valor, i.e., if you cannot do it right, don’t do it. So, freelancers faced with requests beyond their skill set tend to write polite refusal notes, hopefully explaining that the task is not in their realm of skill. However, since the requesting party has your undivided attention, it is a great opportunity to market your actual specialty. It is quite possible that the people reading it or any of their friends and acquaintances may need those services now or in the future. This request, however irrelevant, is an ideal opportunity to market as it is requested, does not cost a penny and allows freelancers to express their uniqueness to an attentive audience. Not only that, if you can refer another freelancer with the required skills, the reference will create a wave of goodwill for all parties, which may bear fruits in the future both from the prospective customer and the other professional. Thus, the presented opportunity for future business is just as important as the actual proposal.

In other cases, the requested proposals involve some elements that are beyond the scale or scope of the freelancer. In this case, an opportunity is still present. First, freelancers need to explain simply and clearly which aspects of the project are relevant to them. In regards to the other elements, a freelancer can offer to manage the project or have the potential customer handle the management. Again, if you can provide any referrals, it saves time for the customer and creates a future referral to you. Therefore, it is always good to be aware of professionals with complementary businesses. If the customer should opt for you to manage the project, the management fee provides supplementary income even if it does sometimes complicate life. With or without the management aspect, the freelancer creates a positive and professional impression.

The most common reason to dismiss a request for a bid, at least in translation, is the budget limits. It is often clear, explicitly or implicitly, that each of the parties is on a different planet in terms of price. There is a natural tendency to laugh or scowl and then ignore the request. Even this bottom-fisher type of request is a marketing opportunity. It is worth answering and even preparing a template that states your rate, justifies it in terms of the quality of your work, suggests that it may be possible to collaborate on a small project in the future where the price difference may be less meaningful, and plants in the mind of the customer the idea that you are the person if they need your special set of skills in the future and have an appropriate budget. It is quite probable that no immediate project will arise but business success is a matter of both the quantity and quality of marketing exposure.

In many projects, the major problem is the deadline.  As too many businesses do not or cannot plan ahead, they find themselves needing to outsource a task at the last minute. Here, the freelaner faces a dilemma. This request for a bid is an actual, even quite profitable opportunity. On the other hand, it carried great potential for short-term and long-term disaster in terms of work effort and poor quality. To avoid the danger, it is necessary to carefully consider whether the project can be properly executed within the allotted time. If so, the freelancer can and should add a hefty rush fee to justify the extreme effort. If not, the reply should include a realistic deadline that reflects the time required to provide a professional result. Curiously enough, the deadline is frequently not as firm as it was stated. Therefore, either the potential clients adjust their deadline or refuse the offer this time. The freelancer wins in all cases as maintaining a reputation is as important as gaining a project. Furthermore, the professional approach may bear fruit in the future.

An emotional reason to avoid a project is the unpleasant nature of the work itself. Just because a given task is part of the job description and within the skill set does not make it attractive and tempting. Every profession has its “dark side” of time-consuming and boring tasks. At certain times, freelancers simply “don’t feel like” doing them. In terms of business, this is often a poor choice but even freelancers are human. One way to alter the situation is to offer a price that takes the drudgery into account, i.e., provide a high quote. In such a case, freelancers win regardless of the result as if the bid is refused, a better job will come soon, while, if accepted, a handful of sugar (money) makes the medicine (job) go down, to paraphrase Mary Poppins. Just ask plumbers how much money they take to handle blocked piping from the toilet. Thus, unpleasant work creates an opportunity for higher pay.

In the famous story about lateral thinking, a girl facing the choice of two black pebbles changes a no-win situation to 100% probability of a positive result. Likewise, even faced with completely irrelevant project proposals, it is possible and desirable to answer and gain from them. As Mr. Buffet has often explained, opportunity comes to those who seek it.

*Label all images in order to allow blind people to access your blog.  All pictures via the pixiebay site.

Up and Engagė in Paris and Washington
Sun, 05 Jul 2020 05:14:00 +0000

                                                             [person facing a heavy wind*]

Words often taken on a wide variety of meanings and applications. Thus, their actual usage and frequency generally varies from language to langauge. For example, the verb to engage is a powerful verb both in English and French but is more common in French due to its importance in the political culture.

The dictionary definitions mainly mention its financial or mechanical aspects.Webster’s English Dictionary defines engage as the actions of offering, supporting, entangling, securing a financial instrument and operating with the past participle referring to the announcement of a future wedding. Little Bob (Le Petit Robert) mentions pawning, promising, activating and securing. The idea is that to engage is take an active step, whether in terms of money or action.

Beyond those technical acts, the French have a long tradition of being engagé, i.e., their cultural leaders being actively involved in ideological or political matters. The tradition dates from the time writers achieved independence from the Church. Voltaire advocated enlightenment ideas and vegetarianism (no connection), albeit from the safety of Prussia. Later, Emile Zola wrote J’accuse to protest the actions of the French military in the Dreyfus affair and Jean Paul Sartre actively challenged proper bourgeois thought. The right has had its share of active ideologs, including Louis Ferdinand Céline and Pierre Drieu La Rochelle. Some were even elected to the Academie Francaise, the elite club of French writers, both before and after World War II. Of course, singers have also expressed their opinion, generally anti-war, such as  Jacques Brel, who sang La Columbe (the Dove) against the War in Algeria, and Jean Ferrat, Un air de liberté, against the Vietnam War, not to mention Miss Maggie by Renaut Even if many people disagreed with their stance, their political activism added to their status as they were perceived as contributing to society and acting as leaders. An “unengaged” artist is in some way not fully contributing.

By contrast, being politically involved in the United States, the English equivalent of the French engagé, is a risky path to take. For example, Mohammed Ali and Colin Kaepernick paid heavy prices, the loss of freedom and career respectively, for their courage in standing up to the establishment. Many dispurged the Woody Guthrie as a communist due to his politcally pungent songs about the effects of the great depression of the 1930's Certain radio stations did not play the songs of anti-war singers such as Bob Dylan, famous for the answer is blowing in the wind, and Joni Mitchell, who sang Fiddlesand drums. Not only are American celebrities cautious about expressing their political opinions, in retrospect they are not especially appreciated for candor. The actors George C. Scott and Marlon Brando are not any more esteemed today for having refused their Oscars as a political statement. It is no wonder that James Lebron is very cautious in his support of Black Lives Matter. To paraphrase the French term for a dumb blond, play a sport or sing songs but shut up.

England has a long tradition of writers with strong political opinions. Rudyard Kipling was a staunch imperialist to the bitter end of the empire while George Orwell was a critical socialist. Musicians have taken stances. Even the Beatles criticized American involvement in the Vietnam War. Yet, they neither lost nor benefited from their activism. Their opinions are mere side notes to their achievements much like Dostoevsky’s rabid antisemitism does not distract from his reputation as a writer.

Curiously, in some Arab countries, such as Egypt, political expression by intellectuals tends to be of the nationalist variety. The reason is historical. When the Turks started to allow Arabic language teaching and publications, the right to speak Arabic and be a nation were radical thoughts. This nationalistic tendency is still evident and even encouraged by governments. So, many other countries also have a tradition, albeit limited in numbers and direction, of political engagement by its intellectuals.

Worldwide, drivers engage their gears while financiers engage their money without fear of their political future. However, most of the world, cultural leaders become engagéin political causes at great immediate and long-term risk, especially in the United States. However, in France, going against the wind is almost an obligation for any cultural icon that wants to be considered serious.

*Always add a caption to pictures to allow blind people to enjoy posts.

Picture credit: Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/Anemone123-2637160/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=3322112">Anemone123</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=3322112">Pixabay</a>

Writer’s block
Sun, 28 Jun 2020 05:10:00 +0000


At the college where I teach, the Braude School of Engineering in Karmiel, Israel, we have changed the curriculum of the required English classes to include writing of paragraphs. The students are high achievers as getting accepted to engineering school requires high grades. Ranging in age from 18 – 28, they are highly motivated to learn. They are required to take two or three English courses, depending on the department but may have to take more if their starting English level is too low. In terms of vocabulary and comprehension, they have little problem handing general and even specialized texts but often initially struggle in writing a simple sentence properly. Yet, in practice, the main challenge in teaching them writing stems not from transmitting the technical aspects of the art but in overcoming the varying degrees of starting ignorance suffered by the students.

One serious deficiency created by the Israeli educational system is the lack of ability to organize ideas and thoughts.  In order to be efficient with the limited class time and the collective need of the students, teachers and school administration to achieve high scores on the Bagrut exam, the Israeli national high school matriculation exam, similar to the French Bac, teachers tend to feed summaries of the material to the students. As a result, most students get little practice in identifying and organizing main ideas. Therefore, when we request a student to write a paragraph with a topic sentence including three subtopics, many find it difficult to hit the nail on the head, i.e., write a topic sentence without any distracting elements. The issue is not their English, which is generally quite good, but instead the lack of skill in identifying the essential elements and expressing them. It requires significant work by both the student and teacher to overcome this obstacle.

Engineering students often are victims of the European academic distinctions in high school. It appears that science track students are supposed to be expert with numbers and formulas but don’t need to know how to communicate while humanity track students must know how to express themselves but are not required to understand science. Both assumptions are entirely false but so are many other assumptions of traditional education systems, frequently based on 19th century ideas. One of the results of this tracking is that many science students seem unaware that spoken and written language differ. It is necessary to reiterate several times that written text is expected to strictly comply with the rules of grammar, syntax and flow as well as employ a wider and higher variety of vocabulary. These students tend to write as they speak and often fail to understand why that is not acceptable. For example, they suffer from the ubiquitous use of the word and as a connector, a major no-no in written English. Students whose native language is Russia and Arabic have an increased tendency to insert the period at the end of the idea regardless of how many subject-verb combinations precede it. Again, only frequent feedback can create the awareness of the singularity of written communication.

Lastly, as most Israeli high school students write so few compositions in their own language, they have no awareness of the writing process.  Granted, it is more difficult to write a nice sounding sentence in English because it is a non-homogenous language, i.e., its roots are derived from many languages. Yet, as I tell my students many times and create long deadline to reflect, there is no such things as good writing, only good rewriting. Under extreme pressure from the heavy load of the first-year engineering program, they initially tend to write a first draft of a paragraph and believe they have completed the assignment. Only after several “bloody” paragraph feedbacks (from my corrections) do they start to apply the various QA techniques I suggest for polishing. Once again, these intelligent students lack understanding of the writing process and must be taught it.

Thus, writing, a new “can-do” task mandated by the Ministry of Education and Council of Higher Education in Israel, involves more than teaching English as a language, whose level varies significantly. Just as significantly, it requires an increase in the students’ understanding of the whole writing process, regardless of language, in terms of logic, form of expression and process. The key to achieving this goal is, fortunately, practice and feedback, which involve hard work by all parties. I personally de-emphasize grades in the practice stage in order to encourage students to go beyond their comfort zone. Strong feedback, including praise for successful elements, is the engine for change and improvement, however painful that may be. Furthermore, the rod should not be spared as students need to grasp and internalize that negligent (not poor) work will result in harsh but constructive criticism. In other words, the teacher must explain the rules and guidelines thoroughly but expect students to apply them. The reward for everybody’s hard work is a good grade on a final project in the short term and attainment of an important life skill in the long term.

The basic difficulties faced by these engineering students are not a result of a lack of intelligence but instead lack of training. As such, it is possible to overcome their lack of background and instill an understanding of organization, language and process through practice and caring. I am proud of the progress made by my students in the last 13 weeks despite (or maybe because of) the Zoom teaching. They worked hard and learned how to communicate a developed idea in English clearly and succinctly despite their initial writing blocks. Chapeau to them.

* Always include a picture caption to allow the blind to enjoy. Picture - Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/OpenClipart-Vectors-30363/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=157581">OpenClipart-Vectors</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=157581">Pixabay</a>

Cultural variety
Sun, 21 Jun 2020 05:31:00 +0000
                                          (Japanese picture of man in boiling water*)

As a continuation to two previous posts about words and cultures, cultureis relative to a specific society not only in form but also in connotation. Formally speaking culture includes the artistic achievements of a group but also the mechanisms of daily interaction. So, the type of music loved by people is an example of culture but so is the manner of saying hello, whether that is by shaking hands, bowing, kissing cheeks, or using words alone. Thus, it is clear that all human languages must include some way to express culture.

For a linguist, an additional distinction is the attached connotation. For example, the word “culture” when applied in the United States, France, Israel and Russia can imply very different purposes. Modern America was settled by immigrants that were poor and quite often uneducated, even illiterate... Thus, a reference to culture is a way of distinguishing one person from another, generally negatively. Describing a lover of opera as cultured can either be praise or derogatory, i.e., elitist, depending on the point of few. Not only that, its multiethnic society has espoused a vision of blending as compared to maintaining traditions. Thus, the expression “they come from another culture” is an alternative phrase for “they don’t behave like Americans”. The American ethea of anti-intellectualism and melting pot, notwithstanding the existence of exceptions to these tendencies, adds a connotation of differentto the term culture.

By contrast, France glories in its Culture. French people are proud of its artistic icons, whether in literature or the visual arts.  The country even has a special institution for them, the Pantheon. The average French person mentions Victor Hugo, Marcel Proust, Claude Monet and Edith Piaf with pride. Even those that would never read any of their books beyond what is required for the Bac or go to a museum would think twice before stating so. France is the cultural leader of Europe, at minimum, in terms of literature, art and food. Unlike the United States, culture in France, or at least its appreciation, is a unifying factor.

Israel too was founded by immigrants but they came from many communities, each with its own Culture and culture. The dogma of wiping out the diaspora and imposing the new Israeli stamp on all of its citizens, applied for its first 25 or so years, is slowly but surely disappearing. Today, Israelis talk about culture to explain differences in food, music and wedding arrangements. In practice, most couples reflect mixed ethnic background except for the ultra-orthodox. This requires negotiation of cultural issues such as which foods to eat on holidays, the level of spiciness and frequency of family visits, to name just a few matters. Culture in Israel is of part of the dialogue of everyday life.

The Russian use refers to both the high-brow and, more commonly, the communal aspect of culture. As the French, Russians are proud of Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky, to name a few. However, the most common use of the word culture is the negative term некультурный человек  [nekulturni cheleovek], meaning an uncultured person, better translated by the term barbarian. To clarify, this expression does not refer to the lack of familiarity with Shostakovich’s music. Instead, it describes crude (by Russian standards) behavior, a lack of social savior faire and open greed. It is hard for a foreigner to decode this term as it encompasses so many unspoken rules.  For example, to the best of my knowledge, Ivan the Terrible was a некультурный человек but Stalin and Putin are okay.  It is possible to be unbelievable cruel but remain cultured. So, when a Russian accuses you of being uncultured, you have apparently crossed some (ultraviolet) red line.

Dictionaries may agree upon the definition of culture but people stamp their own opinions and perspectives on the term. There is a wonderful scene in Shogunin which several Japanese calmly discuss how they are so much civilized than the shipwrecked English sailors, which are being boiled alive at the time. One person’s culture is another person’s primitivism.

*Insert captions under pictures to allow access to the blind. Picture from wikipedia.

My father – an old newspaper man
Sun, 14 Jun 2020 20:12:00 +0000

My father died this evening. He lived until the age of 95 and some three months, the last 3 months much less so. My mother lives in Los Angeles while I live in Israel. Due to the travel and quarantine limits, I am unable to travel to participate in the funeral and necessary mourning. It leaves a strange and uncomfortable feeling that hopefully will be rectified in the not so distant future. Yet, this non-social distancing is unavoidable and no one’s fault.
On my last visit in January, my father dictated his obituary to me to type. I can therefore tell you how he saw his life. 

Melvyn S. Rifkind was born on March 8, 1925 in the Bronx to the late Joseph and Rebecca Rifkind, née Spector. He served in World War II in the 10thArmor Division, fought in the Battle of the Bulge and Metz and was wounded twice. After the end of the war, he attended the University of Georgia school of Journalism and then worked for the AP in the South. He entered the field of financial and corporate public relations and eventually founded of the largest independent firms on the west coast. He is survived by his wife, Gabrielle, and two children, Jacques and Stephen, as well as two grandchildren.

Those may be facts but children view a different but no less true reality. My father was man of example, not words. He would listen carefully to what I had to say, carefully choose his words and mean them, and then respect my right not to follow his advice. Only as an adult did I appreciate that he would the suggest the way of the mensch in any situation as he applied it to his own life. More amazing, after I had done it my way yet again, like move to Israel, he held no grudges and starting the next day anew. It took great effort to get on my dad’s “shit list”.

As we share many of the same traits, my dad and I never talked much even when we spent time together as adults. This silence was not out of hostility or indifference but the result of unspoken communication. It was a quiet of comfort. As I have no longer “needed” him for many years, we were able to appreciate each other.

As I am unable to sit a proper shiva, I would like to share three of our moments together.  I will never forget the image of my father, at the age of 70, sheepishly eating his first oyster (of the many to come) as we all were devouring a huge plate of fruits de mer in their house in Beg Meil, a village in Brittany in France. I also retain a picture of Sunday evenings struggling through the LA Times crossword puzzle, experiencing satisfaction or frustration depending on the result. Finally, after he completely retired, we would watch NY Yankee games on TV. He never failed to praise Didi Gregorius, whether for his hitting or his name. These typify our moments together.

I was lucky to enjoy my father for many years. I wish he had had as much luck dying, as my great grandmother would say, as he had living but we don’t control either. In a certain sense, he would appreciate receiving a written eulogy from his son as, after all, he was an old newspaper man. He would probably do some redlining for the same reason. May his memory be blessed. He will be missed.