Tip of the Tongue
Render unto Caesar – A businesslike approach to freelance business
Sun, 18 Apr 2021 07:45:00 +0000


[Roman coin*]

Max Weber, the great German sociologist, discussed the transition from status-based state management in which bureaucratic relations are keyed to the status of the petitioner, to modern citizen-based bureaucracies in which everybody receives the same treatment based on set procedures, at least ideally. He linked the transition, which occurred over the 19th century in Europe, to the increase in State power and efficiency. Freelancers and small business owners often face the same situation, i.e., personal vs objective, when running their business. While natural when people work outside their house for strangers, it is difficult to create a divide between personal and business when the distance between the kitchen and office is only a handful of meters. Yet, in practice, great success as an entrepreneur is dependent on this differentiation in that it determines our approaches to people, tasks and money.

[Anonymous people]
Effective business practices require entrepreneurs to ignore the “person” with whom they deal. B2B and B2C relations involve the exchange of goods and services, not friendship. While it is a pleasure to meet like-minded clients and even befriend them, that relationship is rare, unnecessary and sometimes even undesirable. Both purchasers and providers both essentially desire to complete the transaction as efficiently as possible, i.e., with as little effort and time as the matter allows.  It is clear that certain businesspeople and consumers are argumentative, overly suspicious or even antagonistic. Like modern government employees, business people need to provide the same level of service as they would to pleasant people, sometime even better. Often these challenging customers, once they are satisfied, provide the best source of references as they believe that if we satisfy them, we can satisfy anybody. By contrast, emotional reaction to obnoxious behavior only fuels the flames and loses the customer. Business is not personal.

[Donkey with load]
In business, to quote my father, anything task worth doing is worth doing well. Freelancers are obliged to wear many hats regardless of their initial ability and inclination. These essential tasks include accounting, marketing, bill collection and putting out fires. Without proper execution of these tasks, a business cannot fulfill its potential. Unfortunately, few of us are born with the natural skill for some or all of these nor truly wish to achieve mastery in them. Successful entrepreneurs perform these tasks as if someone else were paying them well to do them, like a clerk at the bank. Once of the tricks is to do them first so that you can go onto to more enjoyable tasks. Avoidance and half-measures directly lead to failure, including bankruptcy. Freelancers must prpoerly execute the tasks while suppressing their emotional reaction to them.

[Currency symbols]
As Joel Grey and Liza Minnelli sang in Cabaret, money makes the world go round. Furthermore, as accountants remind us, income and costs have to balance. Complicating the picture, nobody can predict the future in terms of economics and technology. Combining the three, a sustainable business invests in itself, controls its spending and provides for changes in fortune. Unlike personal finance, which is often a matter of individual whim, business financial decisions must be rationally based even if they are also intuitive. To paraphrase the song, “it’s my business; I can do what I want to” may be technically true but success is governed by hard (or not so hard) reality. A good technique for distinguishing intuition from whim is to consult trusted and knowledgeable outsiders. The entrepreneur may not like their answers but they can prevent much sorrow. The main purpose of any serious business is to make money for its owners, which of course does not preclude enjoying one’s work. Therefore, it is vital for entrepreneurs to astutely manage their business finances.

In Mathews 22:21, it is written "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's”. The quote is in reference to the issue whether paying taxes with coins with the head of Caesar stamped on them (no credit cards then) is a form of worshipping other gods. The answer is that every obligation has its manner of payment. Even if the office is only across the hallway, entrepreneurs need to render unto it the respect it deserves and separate it emotionally, as much as possible, from personal life. Granted, it is easier said than done but it remains one of the keystones for freelancer success.

* Picture captions help the blind access the Internet. Pictures via Pixibay.

LA signing and the art of the translation
Sun, 11 Apr 2021 06:14:00 +0000


[Ventura Blvd, Encino with light traffic*]

I took a two-week break from posting blogs due to a family visit to Los Angeles. On my twice-daily trips to my mother’s house from the hotel in the San Fernando Valley, I had plenty of time to notice interesting billboards along the way and even consider how they would be translated. On the flight back, I realized how these signposts illustrate the craft of translation.

Mental Health Matters – This simple three-word text is subject to interpretation depending whether the word matters is a noun, verb or part of a name. In the first case, it would mean issues of emotional stability, which would refer to some counseling service, quite necessary in these Corona times. In the second case, it states that emotional health is important, which is obvious, without saying what should be done about it. In actuality, the text plays on the well-known group Black Lives Matters, and states the name of a charity. “Mental Health Matters” demonstrates why context and cultural knowledge matter.

Corky’s We Control Pets – The advertising message is completely clear in the American context but poses issues in translation. Since the company deals with rats and other nuisances, it is obvious that people pay Corky to get rid of their pests. Yet, the word “control” is translated in most languages as to limit, master or expertly use, none of which applicable in this case. The translator that sticks closely to the dictionary translation, at least in many languages, loses the main point of the message. Professional translation goes beyond word-to-word replacement and requires complete control of the vocabulary nuances.

Serious injury lawyers – The nature of the English language renders this sentence ambiguous, allowing a double meaning. In contrast with most languages, the only English nouns that have gender are natural, e.g., boys, girls, men and women. Thus, adjectives have only one form and do not reflect the gender or number of the noun they describe. In most other language, an adjective in a plural, feminine form must be used with plural, feminine noun, as in les grandes villes in French. In this sentence, we start with the adjective, serious, which is followed by a singular noun, injury, and a plural noun, attorneys, with no grammatical clue to which noun the adjective refers. So, it is possible that the attorneys handle matters of a serious injury, the attorneys are serious or both.  While the first is probably the primary meaning, as a marketing text, the additional implication of legal competence is vital to the message. Thus, the translator must be aware of the purpose of the text so as not to injure its message.

Thus, even a routine drive down Ventura Boulevard can provide food for professional thought. For purchasers of translation, it is vital that the chosen translator is aware of the cultural context, lexical complexity and intended purpose of any text. As for translators, they ignore any of those at their peril. By the way, it is good to be back home in Israel.

* Caption pictures to allow the blind full access to the Internet.

Work-life balance – The Melo example
Sun, 21 Mar 2021 07:25:00 +0000


[Magic Johnson*]

I have always read the “Sports” section first, whether of the morning newspaper of my youth or the websiteד of these years. I really enjoy seeing my favorite teams win, which they unfortunately only do occasionally, but I am not overly upset if they lose because sport is only a game. This week, an article posted in Yahoo Sports discussed LaMelo Ball, the rookie guard for the Charlotte Hornets of the NBA, for those not in the know, like me [link]. The gist of the article is that he is having a fantastic season, is incredibly talented and looks like he is having the time of his life playing basketball. Furthermore, he is as successful and happy as he is specifically because he treats basketball, i.e., his career and livelihood, as a sport only. In other words, he strives to be successful and make lots of money but knows that the real life is elsewhere, quite a bit of wisdom for someone only 19 years old. His successful approach is also relevant to non-NBA basketball players and older folk in terms of commitment, attitude and perspective.

It is clear that there is a strong correlation between success and effort. The more time and effort you invest in your profession, the more skillful and profitable you will become. As I heard in a recent webinar by Corinne McKay, she set a specific financial goal, a rather high one at that, and then sought and found the manner to attain it. To stand above the rest, it is necessary to consider a strategy and then apply it with discipline. In other words, to be a professional, you have to act like a professional, whether you are an NBA star and a freelancer. Commitment is a key.

The “secret sauce” of success is enthusiasm. People are instinctively attracted by positive energy, a factor much easier to identify than skill. Professionals that broadcast the image that they enjoy their work are simply more successful in engaging customers and colleagues, creating a form of synergy. By contrast, unless due to inertia or forced by a lack of choice, we avoid people that hate their job. Therefore, it is vital in invest your person in your job to succeed.

Yet, even our careers, our livelihoods, are essentially a game. Most people want to succeed, be promoted and make more money. Yet, regardless of their achievements in those areas, happiness is fundamentally derived from internal tranquility, friends and family. In other words, the correlation between income and happiness is fundamentally low, removing the outliers such as homelessness and lack of food. How many people found themselves renewed and happier as a result of the Corona crisis, which upturned the professional paths of countless people? Ideally, work is a serious game but only a game.

I admired the skill and dedication of Kobe Bryant whose drive to be the best was unchallenged but believe that his approach is not practical, relevant or even healthy for the vast majority of people. By contrast, Magic Johnson (of my time) and LaMelo Ball were and are must- sees, as the article states, not only because of their skill but also because of their approach. It is desirable and possible for any person, great or small, to invest in and enjoy their work and still lead a balanced life by remembering that, as the Israeli singer Dafna Dekel sang in the 1992 Eurovision contest, זה רק ספורט [ze rak sport], it is only sport.

* Help the blind access the Internet by inserting picture captions.

Prostituting words in English, French and Hebrew
Sun, 14 Mar 2021 07:53:00 +0000


[All pictures in this post are of various sex industry workers*]

There is an old joke about a discussion between a prostitute, engineer and lawyer regarding what the oldest profession is. The prostitute begins by stating the obvious, namely, that as long as there has been human civilization, there have been prostitutes. The engineer then mentions the biblical story of creation, which is in fact engineering. The lawyer then trumps [as in cards] everybody by reminding everybody that before there was creation, there was chaos, his contribution. Today’s post relates to the youngest of the three, prostitution, a word derived from Latin and originally meaning exposing yourself to the public. As this is a taboo topic in most societies, many code words exist for the women employed in it. While it is almost impossible to relate all the terms, with English alone having more than 60 words or phrases, probably because you are not supposed to talk about sex, languages approach this not-so-noble profession in many ways, including the time and place of its activity, the purpose and manner of its activity and positive and negative attitude about its morals.

A practical approach to nomenclature is to relate to the when and where of prostitution. An English lady of the night would be a French belle-de-jourand belle-de-nuit, depending on the shift, while Hebrew יַצְאָנִית [yatzanit], derived from to leave, emphasizes that these girls leave their houses, especially at night, an audacious act for females then and even now in some places. Their place of work is the street as reflected in the English word streetwalker and French asphalteuseand pierreuse. These words may not be compliments but do describe facts.

These women are in fact trying to make a living by attracting customers as recognized by other terms. The English term working woman, the French gagneuse and Hebrew
זונה [zona] all relate to making a living or bringing home the bread as in the last term. They do so by attracting their customers by being a hooker, a word made famous by General Hooker of American Civil War fame and his soldiers, being available as a call girl or even providing an escort, or as the French would say, just being a sirène, as in those entrancing ladies made famous by Homer. It may be not be a noble profession but it is a business.

Some cultures had respectful words for the profession but some soured over time. The French once called them girls, putains, but that word lost all of its shine. Fortunately, they have positive terms, including fille de joie and femme galante, meaning a woman of joy and a gallant woman. The English terms whore and tart originally meant someone that enjoys and a sweetheart, respectively, but, alas, these lost their status a long time ago. As for the Hebrew, גַּחְבָּה [gachba] and נַפְקָנִית [nefkanit] are both derived from producing, pleasure presumedly. On a positive note, the Japanese language has a respected place for these women, a bit like the official mistresses of the last French kings, referring to them as courtesansand geishas.  

However, the vast majority of morally defining terms are negative, emphasizing the light morals of these women. The English have called them loose women, floozies and scarlets, depending on the period. Less tolerant French would call one une fille lègére, a “light” girl, not referring to her weight. Hebrew identifies their broken values in the word פְּרוּצָה [prutza], relating to broken, and שַרְמוּטָה [sharmuta], the last derived from Arabic. Clearly, most of the morally-charged terms for prostitutes are negative.

This list of nomenclature is just a sampling. However, the sheer number of terms and their wide variety of approach show how prevalent and successful the third youngest profession is as well as the spectrum of perspectives in regards to its existence. As for any phenomenon, whether constructive or destructive, the importance of a concept can be ascertained by the number of words describing it. By that standard, the other two ancient professions have been far less successful.

* Captions on pictures are just one easy way to help the blind. All pictures are from Pixibay.

Giant steps – Head in the clouds and feet on the ground – the 2021 Online Conference of the Israel Translators Association (ITA)
Sun, 07 Mar 2021 07:17:00 +0000


[Winston Churchill*]

One of the purposes of any professional conference is to get people to dream while showing them how to make the dream a reality. In that sense, the 2021 ITA conference was a great success. Spread over three days from March 1-3, the attendees profited from the variety of visions in regards to translation and its significance as well as practical steps for success in these challenging times. When the lecturers speak with enthusiasm and authenticity, it is the icing on the cake. I would like to present my personal highlights (with apologies to those speakers I do not mention).

Starting with Yves Champollion, we were taken to the start of the modern translation, the process of the deciphering of the Rosetta Stone, which exemplifies the required skills and challenges of today. Later that day, Douglass Hofstader discussed the relative merits of transposing contextual language, whether description or dialogue, from one culture to another, citing the translations of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and David Grossman’s A Horse Walks into a Bar, among others.  He discussed the degree to which the readers’ culture should be reflected in the choice of words. The next day, Prof. Yehuda Shenhav-Shahraban spoke about the problem with translating from a language without solid knowledge of its culture and how working in groups, i.e., through dialogue, can overcome this limitation. Later that day, David Chrystal took us on a rapid and fascinating trip through the history of linguistics, a challenge in itself, and enlightened us on its latest focus, pragmatics, crystallizing (pun intended) our intuitive knowledge that context is almost everything in determining the actual meaning.  Fabienne Bergmann and Eliezer Nowodworsky discussed the problem of censorship even when the translation is clear, using the Little Prince as an example. These lectures brought out the extasy of translating a word.

No less importantly, other lectures provided guidance for business success in the changing world translation. Regardless of your current specialization or future area of growth, lecturers provided a gold mine of information. Nina Sattler-Hovdar broke down the ins and outs of transcreation while Joseph Kovalov demystified machine translation. Michel Norman shared his wealth of knowledge on financial translation, which I personally profited from, while Maria Victoria Tuya provided a detailed presentation on medical translation. Paige Dygert gave excellent advice on why and how to find legal clients while the challenges of remote interpretation were addressed by several speakers, including Francesco Saina as well as Myriam Nahon and Gisèle Abazon of the AIIC. I personally led a discussion on communicating with customers when problems occur for the purpose of both limiting damage and building customer loyalty. The conference provided plentiful practical tips.

Maybe the most valuable  contribution of this conference was the inspiration and hope it gave after this last difficult year. Anna Lewoc presented the why and how to achieve the proper balance between work and happiness, an art that especially tends to be lost in tough times. Armenise Guiseppe Alessio spoke with enthusiasm and specific about how he succeeded in starting a freelance translator business in the middle of the Corona crisis. Finally, and most inspiring, Marguerite Strom showed how us how she reinvented her business in that period, overcoming all the psychological barriers, including being non-native to technology and uncomfortable with marketing, and is thriving. She especially cheered up those generalists, who have been feeling underappreciated  in  recent years. Whether we are new or established, their messages rang a bell.

The best testimony of this conference is that I was able to sit on my sofa for three days without suffering, an abnormal act if I  am healthy. The combination of relevant topics and effective speakers made it easy to do nothing but listen and learn. The ITA chairperson, Uri Bruck, deserves a whole haberdashery of chapeaux for the organization of the conference and keeping it on schedule. Churchill said that if you are going through hell, keep on going. This conference was a giant step to better times.

*Use  picture captions to assist the blind. 

Picture credit: 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=1299836">OpenClipart-Vectors</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=1299836">Pixabay</a>

Courting disaster – Why poor quality and use of machine translation are serious legal issues
Sun, 28 Feb 2021 06:41:00 +0000



A post in JurTrans shared an article by John Shea entitled A cautionary tale about machine translation: a recent Polish court ruling. As a longtime professional translator, I was pleased to see a legal bottom being laid in the rather deep hole of cheap translations, in both meanings of the word cheap. The case itself is rather extreme and involves a single language service provider (LSP), but is relevant to all parties in the translation chain: translators, agencies and end customers. The bottom line is that there is a financial price for ignoring quality to achieve a low price.

The incident, which occurred in 2013, involves a company that ordered the translation of a technical booklet (IT) from Polish to English from an agency, which contracted a supposedly professional translator to carry out the project. Interestingly enough, the company itself approved the specific translator after viewing a sample of his writing. The individual had excellent high school English and was studying IT in college but had no translation experience nor was an expert it in the field. He produced a translation that, by his own admission, besides being delivered late, was 92% machine translated using Google Translate with insufficient post machine translation editing with the remaining 8% MT not receiving any editing at all. The company did not find the result satisfactory and requested and received review and amendment but ultimately was forced  to pay a real professional translator to do the job properly. The agency, rather full of chutzpah (gall), then demanded payment from the company for the job not so well done. The Polish court rejected its request and required it to pay legal fees.

The court discussed several issues but I would like to mention three aspects relevant to all in the translation business. First, while the term “professional translator” may lack a single coherent definition, it can be defined, albeit by elimination, and is of legal importance. With the exception of a few countries, translators are not licensed by any authority. A few professional associations, notably the American Translators Association, certify translators using tests or other objective criteria but technically speaking, anybody can hang a shingle claiming that they are professional translators. In practice, most translators have degrees in a language or a professional area and significant experience in translation and/or a technical field. In other words, they have knowledge of how to transmit specific information accurately from one language to another. This skill is not shared by the vast majority of high school or even college students, no matter how intelligent, hard working or well-read they may be as the knowledge and skill required to produce a proper translation takes many years to acquire. People, even long-term translators, that are unable to properly express the content of specific source document into target documents may be considered unprofessional in the specific circumstances. Thus, any false representation as such in regards to a specific document may be a breach of contract with its attendant consequences.

On a related issue, the relative cost of a translation does not cancel the implied warranty of merchantability. In simple terms, even if the payment is very low, the translator and agency are responsible for producing a usable product. There may be an emotional attraction to the expression “you get what you pay for” but legally and practically it does not hold up. If employees working for minimum wage (or less even) fail to do their job properly, they are fired. Likewise, regardless of the bottom barrel rates being paid by some agencies, a translator that has accepted them must provide at minimum an adequate product or risk truly working for nothing or worse. On a more serious level, as the rates offered by the mega LSPs keep on declining, they may find themselves in the situation faced by the agency in this case. The court specifically stated the agency has the legal duty to supervise the quality of a translation to ensure its usefulness. Both translators and agencies need to keep this requirement to produce a useful product in mind.

Finally, according to the court ruling, use of public machine translation sites can be a breach of the confidentiality condition of a contract. The issue here is not the quality of machine translation, which has radically improved in the 9 years since the decision. However, the mere act of a translator placing text in a public machine translation service such as but not limited to Google Translate has the effect of putting the content in the public domain, a breach of contract in many cases. Even more so today, it is very tempting to insert problematic section into machine translation for reasons of amusement, curiosity or need. According to the court decision, the translator must be aware of the legal ramifications especially if identifying data has not been removed. Clearly, for general expressions, public online help of all kinds is common and acceptable. The issues arise when exact specifications are entered. Ignorance of the law is not a defense. Translators must think before they insert.

I have presented a brief summary of the original longer article by John O’Shea, a bit like concentrated broth. As in all matters legal and medical, for a complete picture, it is always advisable to read the whole article. In my understanding from both the article and my legal studies, translators and LSPs need to fully understand the express and implied warranties they provide to the customers and comply with them, including in regards to professional status, translation quality and confidentiality. A word to the wise is sufficient.

*The blind need captions to full access your content. 

Picture credit: Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/artsybeekids-392631/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=5660494">Venita Oberholster</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=5660494">Pixabay</a>

Transatlantic transformation - French and American music in translation
Sun, 21 Feb 2021 06:43:00 +0000

[Twins in a wagon*]

The flight from New York to Paris is a few hours long but upon arriving, you feel in a different world whether because of the architecture or the jet lag. The French and Americans, who have had a lengthy love affair since Lafayette and Alexis de Tocqueville, often expressed an appreciation of each other’s music. In some cases, the songs have been imported as is,  such as the songs of Elvis Presley in French and Edith Piaf in English. In other cases, while the music remained the same, the words took on a completely different meaning, even texture, a bit like physically identical twins with different personalities. As a small sampling, I will look at two well-known songs, My Way, Frank Sinatra’s signature song, and the Little Drummer Boy, the classic Christmas classic, known as Comme D’habitude and l’Enfant de Tambour in France.

Claude François and Jacques Revaux wrote a song entitled “Comme D’habitude”, meaning As I always do,in 1967, which was then originally transformed and sang in English by Paul Anka but made famous by Frank Sinatra. While the melodies are identical, the words express entirely different situations and feelings:

Comme D’habitude [link]

My Way [link]

Je me lève

And now the end is here

Et je te bouscule

And so I face that final curtain

Tu ne te réveilles pas

My friend I'll make it clear

Comme d'habitude

I'll state my case, of which I'm certain

Sur toi je remonte le drap

I've lived a life that's full

J'ai peur que tu aies froid

I traveled each and every highway

Comme d'habitude

And more, much more

Ma main caresse tes cheveux

I did it, I did it my way

Presque malgré moi


Comme d'habitude

Regrets, I've had a few

Mais toi tu me tournes le dos

But then again too few to mention

Comme d'habitude

I did what I had to do

Et puis je m'habille très vite

I saw it through without exemption

Je sors de la chambre

I planned each charted course

Comme d'habitude

Each careful step along the byway

Tout seul je bois mon café

And more, much, much more

Je suis en retard

I did it, I did it my way

Comme d'habitude


Sans bruit je quitte la maison

Yes, there were times I'm sure you knew

Tout est gris dehors

When I bit off more than I could chew

Comme d'habitude

But through it all, when there was doubt

J'ai froid, je relève mon col

I ate it up and spit it out…

Comme d'habitude…



The French original is a very sad story of a loveless marriage in which everything is done ritually without feeling, even making love. The husband gets up in the morning, pulls up the cover to make sure the wife is warm and caresses her cheek with no reaction besides her turning her back to him. He gets up, drinks his coffee alone and leaves for work. When he returns, she has left for the evening. She returns later after he goes to bed. They have sex. The day begins anew. Yet, he still keeps on functioning “as I always do”. By contrast, the American version is the proud statement and restatement of independence of an older man who takes responsibility for his choices and voices no regrets. He declares that he made his own decisions and willingly paid the price for them. The contrast between the lyrics and emotional feeling they elicit is rather extreme.

In other direction, the American classis Christmas song, The Little Drummer Boy, is credited to Katherine Davis in 1941 but was made famous by the Trapp Singers in 1951. It was transformed into French by Georges Coulonge in 1960 and interpreted by Les Barclay but made famous by Nana Mouskouri. Again, while the melodies are identical, the messages are not the same:

Little Drummer Boy [link]

L’enfant de tambour [link]

Come they told me

Sur la route parapapampam

Pa rum pum pum pum

Petit tambour s'en va parapapampam

A new born king to see

Il sent son coeur qui bat parapapampam

Pa rum pum pum pum

Au rythme de ses pas parapapampam

Our finest gifts we bring

Rapapampam rapapampam

Pa rum pum pum pum

Ô petit enfant parapapampam

To lay before the king

Où vas-tu tarampapampam

Pa rum pum pum pum,


Rum pum pum pum,

Hier mon père parapapampam

Rum pum pum pum,

A suivi le tambour parapapampam

So to honor him

Le tambour des soldats parapapampam

Pa rum pum pum pum

Alors je vais au ciel parapapampam

When we come

Rapapampam rapapampam


Là je veux donner pour son retour

Little baby

Mon tambour tarampapampam

Pa rum pum pum pum


I am a poor boy too

Tous les anges parapapampam

That's fit to give our king….

Ont pris leur beau tambour parapapampam


Et ont dit à l'enfant parapapampam


Ton père est de retour parapapampam


Rapapampam rapapampam


Et l'enfant s'éveille parapapampam


Sur son tambour


Again, the original American version is cheery and inspiring, relating the story of the birth of Jesus, a spiritual. By contrast, the French interpretation tells the sad story of a child playing his drum after his father marched off to war and dreaming of going to heaven where the angels tell him that his father is returning. Sadly, the child wakes up contrast from the dream with his head on the drum. The music is the same but the aftertaste is not.

Each of the versions has its own merits. It is objectively impossible to say if the interpretation was better or worse than the original. However, as these examples how, it is clear that the transatlantic voyage, or any voyage for that matter, can transform music.

* Pictures are important for the blind to access the Internet. Picture: Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/greyerbaby-2323/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=757404">lisa runnels</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=757404">Pixabay</a>

Celebrating 60
Sun, 14 Feb 2021 14:27:00 +0000


I recently enjoyed my 60th birthday. While many people find this milestone discouraging or even depressing it, I have relished it. Like Hans Christian Andersen’s ugly duckling, I finally looked in the reflection in the mirror and saw a swan. As a child I was full of curly hair, lacking confidence, very shy and felt socially incompetent. I now recognize that none of that is true although I wish the first one was still relevant. I admit that the current body has a tendency to kvetch (complain) much more often than in the past. Still, I see this age as a wonderful time in terms of how I view myself, how others view me, and how I interact the with world.

The wonderful aspect of time is that provides the opportunity to gain skill and acceptance. By this age, people are very experienced at whatever task they have done for many decades. Their methods may not be the most modern or efficient, but the results speak for themselves. It is possible to state without any pretension that you are good at what you do.  I would even say that I am much skillful now that I was 20 or even 10 years ago. I stand with confidence and act as a leader without effort. The major loss is the ability to properly take on too many tasks as the energy reserve drops. In my case, this is mainly to my advantage as I have always suffered from the inability to sit for long period of time. Therefore, as the Chinese and Japanese know so well, age is a blessing in terms of skill and should be viewed as such.  These facts were probably true in the past but I have finally recognized them.

I also enjoy the entrance in the age of respect.  It is matter of both small and great matters. I find it convenient, even charming, when a “young person” helps me put my valise in the upper rack on the train, as occurred in Poland. or people are more polite with me. Of more importance, my voice seems to have more weight than it did when I was younger and always the youngest in the group. As an aside, I suppose that is why it is annoying to still be treated as the youngest sibling. Furthermore, I am expected to be wise or at least wiser due to my age, a heavy but flattering duty. On the other hand, if I cannot figure some function on my phone, it is not because I am stupid but merely not technologically native, a forgivable crime. I am enjoying my stay in the throne of active, contributing citizen worthy of special consideration.

This decade also releases people from the competition game if they allow themselves to do, of course. Most of our lives, we try to match people’s expectations of our behavior and compare our achievements. The opinions of others are important as it signals what we should be doing to advance ourselves and provides feedback whether we have succeeded in life. At 60, unless through an inheritance, very few people will become significantly wealthier or change their family status. To a large extent, we have attached our highest status in terms of job title, income and children. Therefore, we no longer have to please bosses, potential partners or even not-so-close friends. To a large extent, we can finally be who we are, warts and all. In other words, we are free to interact the world without feeling without fear of hurting our interests, within reason of course.

Thus, as I looked at the reflection in the mirror-like water this January, I saw a contented and successful person that has done well with the cards he was given. Clearly, others have been more successful in one area or another but that comparison was and is irrelevant. In regards to 60, As Frank Sinatra sang, with a small change, it is a very good year.

* Captions are important for blind people. 

Picture from pixabay: Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/publicdomainpictures-14/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=18829">PublicDomainPictures</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=18829">Pixabay</a>

Zoom lessons
Sun, 07 Feb 2021 07:04:00 +0000


The first semester of the 2020-2021 is thankfully over. I, like most teachers worldwide, used Zoom from the first day to the last day and never actually met my students. After the shock and confusion of the previous semester, both teachers and students began this semester with awareness of the situation and the understanding of the technology. Thus, an intuitive analysis of this Zoom semester has merit in terms of grasping the impact of Zoom on material selection, student-teacher interaction and student performance.

As a matter of background, I teach advanced English (Levels B2 and C1) to engineering students at the Braude College of Engineering in Karmiel, Israel. I taught two groups of 30 students from all departments. I am thoroughly familiar with the material as I have taught the course for more than a decade. Most of my students are in their first year, with their ages ranging from 19-27. A few of them are even married with one soon becoming a father. They come from all sectors in Israel, including Jewish, Muslim and Muslim as well as native-born and immigrants. Consequently, the background English level is very heterogenous. Despite falling into certain level categories, they have varying degrees of proficiency in specific language skills, with writing generally being the weakest and reading the strongest. Thus, my two groups collectively are a fairly representative.

The limitations of Zoom required an adjustment of the course tasks. First, online teaching does not allow the teacher to see whether students are truly paying attention or learning. For the most part, all see a series of gravestones (names in the grey background) or unclear headshots without facial expressions. Thus, online teaching is like throwing a line in the river and hoping the fish will bite (often with the same success rate). Therefore, explanations were minimized and breakroom session maximized to allow students to actively learn and teachers to better assess actually understanding. Furthermore, it is effectively impossible to prevent students from sharing knowledge during quizzes and tests, especially in regards to objective answers. Consequently, the grading emphasis switched from a statistically important final with an unseen to a minor element involving a seen text with interpretive questions and a writing task. During the semester, more time was invested in writing and, curiously, speaking as they involve individual student activity as compared to general learning. The result for the teachers of the staff was significantly more time work.

Student-teacher interaction on Zoom is defined by the technical limitations that only one person can speak at a time and the time required to get from one break room to another. In a normal classroom, the teacher can ascertain which students wish to participate and encourage others to join them. In Zoom, the first to speak controls the microphone. In practice, I heard very few students while I was in the general group mode, an unacceptable situation in normal times. Moreover, even when I broke them up into small groups, the time and effort required to switch from one room to another is significantly greater than that of moving around a room, where it is also possible to monitor which groups are on task, unlike in Zoom. Given the lack of communication with the vast majority of my students, I invested more time outside the lesson. First, I always opened the session 15 minutes before the start of the lesson and stayed online until the last student left, giving them a chance to ask questions. I also provided much specific feedback on their writing assignments and initiated email where I felt that the students were “out of it” based on their performance. Timely, detailed written feedback partially replaced the personal contact typical of effective teacher-student interaction.

That said, albeit the academic results reflect only one semester, performance was noticeably below the level of previous years. The number of failures was higher but that may be just a statistical anomaly. More seriously, the number of students whose final paragraph reflected a complete or significant lack of comprehension of the course material was unusually high and very distressing to both parties. I had the impression that I truly had been too often teaching to gravestones. Granted it may be one of the causes is my explanations. Also, these students were clearly less advanced having lost most of the previous year. However, it is highly probable that the most important cause is that the 30+ hours that students spend on Zoom, not including their HW, reduces their capacity to absorb, especially given most have none enjoy the reinforcing effect that actual social interaction with their fellow students provide. Not only that, the home environment poses much more threats to their concentration. Clearly, the attention issue must be addressed in some way.

As said, these conclusions are entirely intuitive. Yet, as Zoom will continue to serve as the medium of teaching for the next semester if not longer, it is vital to analyze and strive to overcome the limitations of the tool. These are my Zoom lessons from the previous semester.

* Give access to the blind by providing captions to pictures.

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=995558">Gerd Altmann</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=995558">Pixabay</a>

Who’s the boss? – Social media and business users
Sun, 31 Jan 2021 07:36:00 +0000


[Thinking man*]

At an online meetup session sponsored by the ATA Mastermind group, the moderators noted the importance of managing use of social media in terms of proper time investment. Just as in face-to-face meetings, it is neither practical nor healthy to be interacting with people every waking hour of a day. They noted several factors for a healthy presence on social media, including focus, frequency, feeling and effectiveness. Clearly, the ratio of time investment to benefit should be appropriate.

[Upward chart]
Whatever the media, including Facebook, Tweeter, Linked and Instagram, the participant can attain enjoyment, information, work or strategic position. Clearly, people follow certain sites for the pure pleasure of the content, whether it be pictures of cats or jokes about husbands, to name a few that I have heard of. It is perfectly legitimate to start and even end the day with a smile on the face. Information sites are more practical as colleagues are often the fastest source of help in overcoming the challenges of running a business and solving technical mysteries. Many freelancers actively use social media either to advertise their goods and services or find customers, a practice that has only increased in the last year. Finally, for certain services, a constant presence on social media is a key factor in creating and maintaining a market presence. All these results are potential benefits of social media use.

[Media types]
Given the sheer number of media types and forums, it is neither possible nor desirable to be everywhere even if you are a full-time social media director. The ideal strategy is to identify a few forums where your target audience, whether customers, colleagues or both, are found and continually monitor and participate in them. Not only will the time spent managing the media stay reasonable but the long-term benefit will be substantially higher as you become known or you catch the available job minutes after it is posted. Clearly, identifying the ideal forum is partly a matter of trial and error and may need to be assessed periodically. Still, properly directed efforts are a worthwhile investment of time.

Unlike teenagers during the summer vacation, business people generally have too many tasks to accomplish during a day. This fact creates the need for prioritization and scheduling. Social media management is one of these tasks and should be conducted when and how often as required, depending on the goal. Information and marketing can be on once a day without any loss while lead searching is a time-dependent goal and may have to done more frequently to be effective. However, it is clear that a one-minute scan of new posts should not regularly turn into a half hour break because it means that more vital tasks are being postponed. To attain the best results, scheduling a regular time for business media monitoring ensures proper attention without overinvestment of time.

One of the keys to daily and long-term success is positive energy. In other words, people must strive to eliminate any avoidable factor that saps energy. In practice, any site whose content and discussions mainly contain pessimism, hostility and one-upmanship should be avoided as their damage is greater than any benefit they provide. By contrast, forums that professionally and objectively discuss dilemmas help us form an opinion as if we had personally talked with a colleague. Thus, it is vital not only to consider the content of the media but also its tone. As said, since social media is an alternative, albeit a forced one, to face-to-face discussions, always choose positive people even if they disagree with you. You should feel encouraged after a personally social media exchange.

Bull and bear]

The ultimate test of social media time is the benefit attained. The assessment depends on the desired goal. For example, one or two leads a month may justify the time spent monitoring a certain site while it may be necessary to wait a year before reaping the benefits of a long-term marketing campaign. For information sites, an effective and quick solution for a time-consuming problem may justify a regular scan of the posts as it shows that that the site can be beneficial. As for the sites that makes us laugh, the measure is obvious – it makes us smile almost every morning. By contrast, if the site content is generally not relevant for whatever reason, it would be advisable to search for a better forum in terms of the time investment.

Entrepreneurs can utilize social media to improve their business or allow it to sap their time and energy. A conscious decision of how and where to allocate work time leads to effective use of these media for the intended purpose. These choices need to be periodically reassessed as circumstances change. It is vital that the entrepreneurs make active choices and show that they are the boss.

* Pictures allow the blind to fully access the Internet. All picture via Pixabay.

Much ado about nothing – Contemplations to calm the spirit upon seeing low rate offers
Sun, 24 Jan 2021 08:00:00 +0000

[Volkswagon Beetle*]

One of the dubious pleasures of being a service provider, freelance or otherwise, is the all too frequent awareness of colleagues that have no shame in offering very low rates, sometimes 25% of your rates, and undercut your business. In a business with no entry barriers, i.e., significant capital outlays or licensing requirements, any Joe and Jane can hang out a virtual shingle and offer the same service, as least as far as customers can tell. Since the fixed costs of a providing services are virtually zero especially for Internet-based businesses, the breakeven point for such providers is quite low. Thus, these market-breaking bids are legitimate offers.

However, for those professionals trying to make a living over the long term, these offers are both threatening and infuriating. First, the presence of low bids creates the impressions that your rates are unjustifiably high. This dissonance forces established providers either to lower rates or communicate their added value. On an emotional level, seeing a supposed colleague undercut your prices causes anger and frustration. These emotions are expressed in wishes, private or public, to have the guilty party hung at the gallows, exiled to Elba, spend time in a re-education camp in China or tongue-lashed by the principle, to name just a few options. However, the phenomenon of undercutting is as ancient as prostitution and just as indestructible. Thus, I offer some calming thoughts to help the suffering professional accept reality.

[Cup of coffee
The first point in mind that it is possible to earn a very good income with such rates on condition the cost of living is proportionally low. To provide a perspective, within the developed world, the price of a cup of coffee ranges from $0.74 in Lisbon to almost $3.50 in Tokyo. For those in living in the developing world, costs of living are even lower. Thus, with the same net income, one person can live like a king by local standards while someone in a more expensive country may be homeless. Therefore, the proposed low rate may be quite respectable for the provider.

[Typing on keyboard]
Even if a person lives in a posh place, it is possible to earn a decent living with low rates. The key is technological prowess. Since the value of services are essentially time-linked, people that work efficiently can produce more in an hour and thus earn a respectable daily wage. At an APTI conference in Spain several years ago, a translator gave a half-hour explanation of how to efficiently use the key board to expedite translation. The productivity of a person with such skills is clearly higher than the those not native to the technology. Thus, through effective use of time and technology, service providers can even thrive at low rates.

While the income from low-rate offers may seem low, it may be sufficient for the needs of certain providers. In many fields, including translation, providers have full time jobs in other fields and only provide the service to gain extra income. Peasant women used to call this butter money since it served to pay for treats and luxuries, however these were defined. Consequently, these service providers are not even trying to make a living, which gives them full freedom to set rates. The one-eyed consider themselves fortunate in the kingdom of the blind.

[Father teaching child]
For many, low offers are the tools to take the first steps in a new profession. Lacking experience and skills and needing to acquire them, they are willing to pay for their apprenticeship by cutting down on potential income until they are able to raise their rates. In any case, that approach only partially works. The reality is that raising rates is very difficult in almost all fields at any time. Furthermore, most customers demand the same level of work regardless of experience or lack thereof. However, starting out at low rates appears to be an effective strategy for entering a new profession. Most translators began in this manner.

[Child in fear]
Fear can be a factor. Some service providers may be aware that their prices are low but are very dependent on that scant income. The worry is that any attempt to raise rates will lead to the loss of the vital income or prevent them from attaining any new customers.  This previous year has clearly increased the number of freelancers in this category. This concern is real, difficult to overcome and worthy of sympathy.

[3 monkeys]
Finally, there are those that follow the advice of the three monkeys: they don’t look for, ask about or discuss rates. They are perfectly happy earning their daily bread (without the butter) and will not demand more. Some eventually attain wisdom and realize they have been working for peanuts for years, ultimately raising their rates. Others never grasp that they are cutting themselves short or simply do not care. Maybe ignorance is bliss.

The next time you find yourself muttering curse words after reading some offensive offer by a service provider in Facebook or a professional portal, take a deep breath and consider the possible justifications for the low rate. Clearly, anger only harms the person getting angry, especially when it can fuel no constructive action. Remember that Audi and Mercedes-Benz have been no less successful than Volkswagen and Seat. To quote Voltaire, in the face of price-lowering competition, il faut cultiver son jardin, i.e., create your own universe and not worry about others, at least as much as possible.

* The blind need captions to fully access the Internet. All picture from Pixabay.

Marketing fun with Pfizer and Sinovac
Sun, 17 Jan 2021 06:30:00 +0000


[Avatar with syringe*]

With a plethora of COVID-19 vaccines on the market or in the pipeline, it is clear that within the foreseeable future, oversupply and competition will occur. As humor is often the best medicine, it would be entertaining to consider how these mighty and not-so-mighty brands can market their products to the future masses that will require the initial or booster doses. As the Chevy’s marketing department in the 1950s and 1960’s insisted, the key for a successful ad is the story, not the technical details. I playfully propose two vaccine ads:

[Red carpet]

Scene: an elegantly dressed couple walks down a street in New York with confident strides, almost ignoring the people around them, who seem to move of their way. They resemble a New Yorker cartoon, for those who remember those. Imagine a deep, male voice.

Script: Some people have it. The confidence to feel in control where ever they are. What gives this couple that feeling of invincibility? It is not the tailored designer clothes they are wearing. Nor is it the elegant but comfortable Italian leather shoes on their feet. No, it is the Pfizer vaccination they took just a week ago. They could have settled for any old vaccine but they insisted on the best and know, with Pfizer on their side, they can conquer the world. Do you want that feeling?  Get yourself a Pfizer. You are worth it.

To quote Monty Python, and now for something different:

[Chinese wise man]

Scene: a Chinese couple dressed in simple traditional clothing sits at the head of a large table covered with food delicacies and surrounded by their family.

In China, being wealthy does not earn you respect but how you get there does. Believers in the saying that a fool and his money are soon parted, they seek and respect value. Anybody can pay more and receive less but only the wise know how to attain the perfect product at the perfect price. That is why these parents chose to take the Sinovac vaccination over the more expensive brands and now serve as a shining example for this family and community. Show your wisdom. Insist on the Sinovac vaccination.

Granted that modern ads are often on YouTube, Tweeter, Facebook and other social media and have a very different style. In addition, by law, these ads would be followed by one minute of the fastest possible recitation of the potential side effects and a reminder to consult your doctor, which would spoil the whole effect. Still, in my opinion, the message would still work as it does for perfume. Besides, we all need a good laugh and a reminder that some kind of normal will eventually and shortly return.

* The blind need captions for access. All picture though Pixabay.

Negative events as a fuel for action
Sun, 10 Jan 2021 07:53:00 +0000


[Light bulb*]

2020 was not a great year for most freelancers, to put it mildly. For many entrepreneurs, the private news was as bad if not worse than the public news. The year was filled with negative events of all kinds to one degree or another. Yet, while the word negative may have connotations of failure and retreat, in practice, negative events can be the engines of positive changes.

It is clear the extreme reductions in business activity, lockdowns, bankruptcies and outstanding overdrafts have had a catastrophic effect on both salaried employees and freelancers but the latter generally had less help available to them, depending on the country. The immediate consequences include firings, crises in paying the mortgage, extreme loss of income and even hunger in same places. Entrepreneurs, who often make a living on “luxury” projects, found themselves with no customers or government support. In the short term, most people strongly felt the downward effect.

However, many impacted workers harnessed their frustration and anger in order to make positive changes whether in the nature or manner of their work. The negative energy, like the electrons in an atom, can create the momentum to make important life changes that will ultimately improve life quality. In practice, without a good kick in the rear, people often do not do what they want to or should do, including in regards to choice of livelihood.

[Finger flicking man]
 For example, many technical people were fired, an   experience that may be even more emotionally than   financially stressful. Regardless of the reason or manner   in which it is done, the act of being informed that you are   not good enough or superfluous hurts. For many, the   immediate reaction is paralysis and depression. However,   being shoved out of one door can be a shove into a better room, one where you really wanted to go but were afraid to try. Many mid-level managers and salaried programmers have claimed for years that they know better than their bosses and hate the “framework”’. Without the golden cage of a salary, they are free to test their wings and check their true worth. The desire to prove the boss wrong is a very strong motivator.

[Collapsing bricks]
Many freelancers found that their major customers stopped or severely reduced job orders, with dramatic consequences on income. The immediate reaction is distress and worry. It should be noted that it is always poor business practice to be overly dependent on any single client. The entrepreneur can use the involuntary free time to seek additional customers in the same area and consider other areas in which to expand. Most entrepreneurs know that these marketing efforts should have been done a long time ago but necessity is the evil stepmother of invention.

[Collapsed road]
 If your industry is likely to be permanently affected by   events due to developments in technology and medium-   term global financial instability, the immediate reaction   is  consternation and long-term doubts. This fear can fuel   the effort to conduct a new self-inventory of skills and   market survey in order to find a new niche to enter.   While  the fear of the unknown is strong, the thrill of a new challenge can easily create an energizing force. There is ultimately great satisfaction in changing careers even if you did not choose the moment.

[Bored man]
Finally, faced with the too much free time due to temporary closures, many previously busy people struggling with boredom and a feeling of a lack of usefulness. This idleness had led many to take courses and even start degree programs in areas that they only dreamed of. The free time has now become an important asset, not an emotional liability.

Entrepreneurs clearly do not have complete control of outside events nor can generally predict them. Thus, while it is easy and natural to consider certain events negative, we have the choice to render them positive, at least in the long term, and harness them to make productive and emotionally beneficial changes in our careers. I personally have experienced each of these states in my life and not only survived but eventually thrived. Even when challenged, as Perry Como sang, you have to accentuate the positive and thus eliminate the negative, whether that be in 1958, 2020 or 2021.

* Integrate the blind by posting with picture captions. Pictures through Pixabay.

For an adjective, it is all about the place
Sun, 03 Jan 2021 07:02:00 +0000


[series of adjectives*]

According to the theory of universal grammar, attributed to Naom Chomsky, children are not born tabula rasa, empty headed, but instead with an innate sense of the structure of grammar. Otherwise, it is argued, children would be unable to learn their first language. One aspect of this inherited knowledge is the relationship between nouns and adjectives, specifically they are adjoined. The curious variation is their actual order depends on language and meaning but children have no difficulty grasping the specifics of the language of their surroundings.

[boy and girl]
In practice, many languages whose adjectives must reflect the gender and/or number of the noun begin with the noun. These languages include many of the romance and Semitic languages. It is simply much simpler to state the noun, note whether it is masculine or feminine, singular or plural, and then adjust the form of the adjective. For example, if I am talking about a bunch of female teenagers, the adjective form would be the feminine, plural form as in this Hebrew phrase בנות יפות [banot yafot], pretty girls, as compared to בנים יפים [banim yafim], handsome boys. Thus, some children learn to place the adjective after the noun.

[German shepherd]
By contrast, a few languages, notably English, do not require adjective/noun agreement since they lack a broad linguistic gender structure. Therefore, the most important word, the noun, is placed last with the any and all adjectives preceding it.  For example, a person may be scared of the big, brown, growling German Shepherd puppy. Any post-noun adjectives require either a relative pronoun (who, which or which) or a participle, the ing form of the verb. Back to the example, the person may be scared of the puppy that is looking at him or just looking at him. Therefore, children with English among others as their native tongue learn that the noun follows the adjective.

[Mayan vase]
Of course, hybrid systems are also quite common. In some cases, the adjective can be either before or after the noun, depending on the meaning and form. Some examples in French include un ancien ministre (a former minister) as compared to un vase ancien (an ancient vase) and ma chėre tante (my dear aunt) and une bague chėre (an expensive ring).  See this list. I imagine other languages also have situations where the meanings change depending on whether the adjective is before or after the noun.

[packed desk]
In at least one case, the actual form of the adjective may change based on its location as well as having a slightly different connotatoin. Russian has short and long forms for some but not all adjectives. The long form is used before the noun while the short term is used after the noun as if the verb to be, non-existent in the present tense in Russian, was there. Compare длинная очередь [dlinaya ochered] (a long line) with очередь длинна [ochered dlina] (the line (is) long). Furthermore, if a long form is used after the noun, it indicates a permanent status as compared to the short form. Compare Он очень занят [on ochen zanyat], meaning he is very busy right now, with Он очень занятый [on ochen zanyati] – meaning he is generally very busy. Learning Russian always reminds of the great Tom Lehrer line about new math: “it is so simple, so bloody simple, that only a child can do it”, or in this case, intuitively understand it.

There is Israeli joke about recognzing the speech of new immigrants in that they say  עברית היא קשה שפה [icrkit hi kasha safa], literally Hebrew is a difficult language, which places the noun and adjective in the wrong order. This comment reflects the variance in language structure as well as the fact children are far better at picking up languages than adults. To make minor changes to the song, in regard to adjective and noun placement, it is all about the place, about the place, no trouble, at least for children.

*Picture captions allow access to the blind. All pictures via pixabay.

The real oases of Israel
Sun, 27 Dec 2020 07:06:00 +0000


[Desert oasis*]

Israel traditionally is a magnet for tourists. They come to touch the portkeys, as Harry Potter would say, to their spiritual past, whether Jewish, Christian, Muslim or Bajai. Whether it involves the Wailing Wall, church at Capernaum, Dome of the Rock or Bahai Gardens, the touch with these old stones creates a magic connection for many visitors.

For those open to and seeking the modern Israel, the magic is its omnipresent oases, not those in the desert but in the surprises hidden in its people. What makes physical oases so special is neither their greenness nor the sandy color around them. It is the sudden wealth that appears from nowhere, from deep under the ground. Likewise, Israel is an extremely heterogenous country with people from all countries of the world and all backgrounds. Even the tourists in their air-conditioned buses cruising the country from one old rock to another notice how excited and energetic people are. The constant babble of Hebrew and Arabic, among the many languages, creates an almost monotonous background. However, even a monotonous short conversation reveals unexpected wealth.

Unlike many countries, outside appearance simply does not reflect the person. For example, as part of the introduction to the course I teach, I ask my engineering students, in the early to mid 20’s, to tell me about something special they have done (in their short lives). In response, I have met national swimming champions, winners of international karate championships and professional divers, to name just a few surprises. Just recently, the head of the Israeli Translators Association, Uri Bruck, gave a fascinating and detailed Zoom lecture on the history of the English translation of the Bible. I have known him for many years but had no idea that he was so knowledgeable in the subject and had delved into it out of curiosity, not as part of any religious studies.  In fact, it is quite common in Israel to discover the person next to you in line in the supermarket wearing old jeans and a faded sweatshirt is the head of a hospital department or institute of academic learning. Appearances can truly be deceiving.

Granted, like the slug jelly beans in Harry Potter (again), the surprise  is occasionally less than pleasant. A seemingly innocent comment can trigger a wild tirade from a taxi driver. However, far more often, the modern Israel is filled with omnipresent oases, the unexpected fruit riches of its people. These discoveries are, in my mind, more interesting and palpable than its famous old rocks and clearly render any trip to Israel unforgettable, as Nat King Cole would say.

* Always add caption to pictures to allow access to the blind. 

Picture credit:Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/papafox-7788876/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=3281084">Peter Fischer</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=3281084">Pixabay</a>

Vive le Français
Sun, 20 Dec 2020 07:14:00 +0000

[Eifel tower*]

A few weeks ago, I had the special and unexpected pleasure of listening to an online session of the SFT, the French association of translators. The content was rather prosaic, even staid, specifically the specifics of the conversations between the association and the French government regarding COVID-19 relief available to translators and interpreters. Yet, in my eyes, it was a great pleasure, the mahiya as my mother would say (in Yiddish), because of the language. All the French I hear is from the television, which is respectable in terms of grammar and pronunciation most of the time but clearly meant for mass consumption on a communicative level. By contrast, the hosts employed elegant phrasing, accurate connecting words and all the tenses in the book. To some it may have sounded bureaucratic. However, I saw precision, clarity and, most importantly, elegance. Despite my less than great interest in the content, I simply sat back and enjoyed the show, so to speak.

I have often mocked France as the country in which style has almost completed defeated content.  In my experience, most French really do not care what they eat, people say or they achieve in life as long as the actual output has style. Michelin star-decorated restaurants serve plates that would leave Mahatma Gandhi hungry but cause Claude Monet to ring praises of the colors and textures. In my eyes, women’s clothes style in France is not based on the garment but on the overlay of shades and forms, quite different from the mode of most of its neighbors, especially Germany. Watching the July 14th military parades in France, especially as compared to the Israel flag-exchange ceremony the eve of every Independence Day, is a marvel to the eyes but does pose questions regarding when these soldiers find time to learn how to fight. There is no doubt about it that the French style is aesthetic to the extreme.

Maybe due to age, I am learning to see the wisdom of the French approach. A neat, beautifully plated éclair looks much more appetizing than a messy one thrown  sloppily on a plate. Clothes do make the man (and woman) as so much of our first impression is based on a visual assessment, which often identifies important internal values. The manner of speaking and level of language use is quite often a reflection of the intelligence and intellectual approach of the speaker or writer. Even in my work, I have come to understand that many customers value neat formatting of text and tables as much as the skill of the translation.  It may be that style is really never completely divorced from reality.

To make it clear, my love of beautiful language is not limited to French. I appreciate the strange but charming logic of winding Russian sentences whose parts are connected by a coherent logic that only a Russian can create. I cannot help but smile when I hear Italian. The music of that language is simply entrancing in itself. As for English, a rough hybrid of a Gaelic, Germanic and Latin-based languages, when a diamond does appear, it is a result of extensive and artistic polishing. Thus, I appreciate the “effortlessness” of Rudyard Kipling and George Orwell, to name a few, knowing that the pearl was the fruit of great labor. So, elegance in any language is worthy of appreciation.

Still, maybe because I am half-French, when I hear or read beautiful French, it makes me happy, joyous even. Like listening to the last movement of Beethoven’s ninth symphony, it is an ode to joy. I will never be able to speak, not to mention write, that way but that does not stop me from appreciating the beauty of “une belle phrase”, a beautiful sentence, perfect in itself regardless the content or lack thereof, like Cinderella at the ball, a princess for that moment. So, vive le Français.

*Picture caption allow the blind to access the Internet.

Picture credit: Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/philriley427-331295/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=4416700">Phil Riley</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=4416700">Pixabay</a>

Translation hybridization
Sun, 13 Dec 2020 07:00:00 +0000


[mixed-color squash*]

In philosophy and political science, there is a useful concept called the ideal type. It refers a theoretical example that encompasses all characteristics of that form and serves a vital role in comparison and contrast. For example, Max Weber’s definition of citizenship is vital in understanding the modern world as compared to the medieval one. Likewise, Marx and Engels define socialism in opposition to capitalism in its pure form. Clearly, conceptual understanding is enriched by use of the ideal type.

Unfortunately, in reality, no ideal type exists from the simplest elements, water, to the most complicated, systems of human interaction. In other words, everything is a hybrid from the economic system you live in, a unique mixture of socialism and capitalism, to the plumber you call in, who can fix your pipes but also needs to know how to plaster your wall.  Even  engineers require knowledge outside their specialization. For example, electrical engineers need to have a solid basis of mechanical engineering and programing to properly do their job. It is almost impossible for a professional to limit knowledge to only one area.

Translators are no different. By tradition, the market has divided translators into niches such as medical, legal, marketing and beauty products. Translators in these niches are characterized by thorough knowledge of the terminology and language of the genre. However, almost all documents that are defined as belonging to one category also have segments of text relating to completely different areas of knowledge. From my experience, I have had rental contracts that required me to research the names of women’s garments in the 19thcentury and franchise agreements that sent me checking my accounting textbooks. My wife, who specializes in medical translation including medical devices, regularly translates long sections of electronic data (for the technical specifications) and legalese in the warranty section. While “pure” texts do appear, most projects involve significant sections, at least terms of content if not quantity, of material from other fields of knowledge.

The significance for translators is that they need to know how to identify resources, develop a peer network and actively expand their knowledge base. A good translator knows how to use Google search to identify correct information. It is not only a matter of finding a term but also of understanding the context in the text and the suggested translation. Also, not all Google results are created equal, with some being a personification of sharing the ignorance. To update Ibsen in Enemy of the People, the number of Google hits does not make it correct. Often, in case of doubt or confusion, it is advisable to consult a trusted colleague with knowledge in that area. As a short-term solution, consulting is effective because the customer receives a proper translation. However, in the long term, frequent need for telephone help indicates that the translator needs to take proactive steps to expand the knowledge base into that area. Some easily accessible sources are YouTube and old-fashioned text books. Benjamin Franklin's quip about an ounce of prevention is relevant here. Ignorance is no sin but doing nothing about it is.

Also of great significance, customers need to be made aware of the actual complexity of the text. Even agencies tend to treat all texts of a similar genre and assume that every translator is also skilled at dealing with the subtexts. Too often, the result is partially successful translation, with the subtexts poorly rendered, thus creating bad vibes from the disappointing results. When dealing with end customers, it may useful to ask them if there are legal, technical or marketing sections in their work. Not only will the customer be impressed by your professionalism but the translator can escape avoidable minefields or invest more time skimming the text before accepting the project or setting the price. Simply put, not all texts of the same type, are created equal.

The world, including translation, is far from pure and often a blend of many elements. On the one hand, it complicates matters as it requires people to acquire a broad range of knowledge. On the other hand, it makes each person, situation and translation unique. Ultimately, imperfection in a certain sense can be much more interesting.


* The subject of this post was taken from a lecture at conference but, alas, I no longer remember when, where and who. Pictures help the blind. 

Picture source: Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/aitoff-388338/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=3684196">Andrew Martin</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=3684196">Pixabay</a>

Product gender crossing – Perceiving new markets
Sun, 06 Dec 2020 07:00:00 +0000

[Man anad woman*]

Given the poor quality of most TV programs and amount of time allocated to advertisements, I often find the most interesting aspect of watching television is analyzing the commercials. Lately, I notice three spots, each for a different product, marketing products to men despite the fact that the traditional purchasers are women. They are food for thought for entrepreneurs as they demonstrate the art of specific messages and the possibility of market expansion beyond traditional customers, concepts that have become even more important during the last year.

The products being marketing for men were urine leakage underwear, perfume and skin cream. For the first, Tena reiterated the phrase  “one in four” many times and showed image of average, healthy looking men, emphasizing that one of them had incontinence problems without actually showing the underwear. To sell the perfume, Johnny Depp appears in the Dior “Sauvage” commercial, escaping the city to reach the wild desert. Finally, Loréal adveritises its Hydra Energetic Skin lotion by showing young men stating that the use of the cream removes the fatigue from their skin, making look more energetic. It is clear that the target audience for these spots is male.

Accordingly, the commercials adopt approaches that are different from those directed at women. In the first case, the message was that it is no shame to have to wear this product because many others suffer from the same problem even if they do not talk about it. By contrast, Tena’s adverts for its women’s products emphasize the effectiveness and attractiveness of the garment, even showing it. Clearly, the issue of shame is much less relevant for women. While men have traditionally bought perfume, they have mainly purchased it as gifts for women except maybe aftershave for themselves. Since perfume commercials essentially communicate the impression that a person will make after sprinkling some of the fragrance, the men’s version emphasizes virility and youth, not external physical beauty. In the past, men’s use of skin cream was therapeutic, i.e., to treat dry skin. Loréal is attempting to instill in men’s mind that their skin somehow reflects their inner fatigue, not an attractive feature, and a solution for this “problem” exists, i.e., this cream. By contrast, women have always used make-up and thus only need "reminding" that their skin is showing its age, a permanent problem, not that it looks tired, a temporary problem. Therefore, the male-directed spots apply very specific strategies.

These strategies include identifying, expanding and creating a need. Tena did not invent male incontinence problems but did realize that most men were not using a dedicated product to handle the problem. While men did buy some scents for themselves, recent generations of men are more open to using them, thus allowing significant expansion in the number of potential customers. Traditionally the vast majority of men have not expressed much aestjetic worry about their skin or the external aspects of aging aside from balding, limiting the ability of the cosmetics companies to persuade them that they need skin care products. However, the emphasis on short-term attractiveness may open the door for greater purchases of existing products. All these strategies allow companies to sell more by merely adapting an existing product.

For entrepreneurs and freelances, these “mega” lessons also apply. It can be productive to invest time in considering the profile of a potential buyer of your product while ignoring historical patterns. Where a pattern of limited purchases exists, it may be possible to expand the volume of orders by suggesting further uses of your services by emphasizing their benefits to the customer. Given the increased number of people working independently from their home, the potential market for many services has increased exponentially, thus rendering it vital to consider to how to reach these customers. The principles of marketing do not change according to budget, only the means of reaching the customers.

The next time you get up during the break to get something to eat that would be better to pass on, try to pay attention to the commercials and treat them as free marketing seminars. That often makes them far more interesting than the programs themselves.

* Picture captions can help millions of vision impaired people access the Internet. 

Picture: Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/cdd20-1193381/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=4065900">愚木混株 Cdd20</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=4065900">Pixabay</a>

Zooming on the silent minority – Reaching passive learners despite technology
Sun, 29 Nov 2020 06:51:00 +0000

[Zoom image*]

There is the maxim of 80/20 stating that 20 percent of your effort goes to achieving 80 of the results and vice versa. Besides being a translator, I am an English lecturer, with more than 25 years of experience teaching English to engineering students at the Braude College of Engineering in Israel. We strive to teach all first year students the four basic language skills, specifically reading, writing, speaking and listening. In teaching, given a heterogeneous class, the challenge is not reaching the vast majority of active and/or knowledgeable students but instead the minority suffering from passive behavior and weak backgrounds. The forced use of Zoom as the means of teaching has only made it more difficult to reach these students, forcing all teachers to reconsider how to impact those students.

To define the problem, every class has a certain percentage of students that suffers from both passive learning habits and a deficient background knowledge, creating the conditions for failure in terms of grades and, more importantly, a damaging lack of knowledge in the future. Passive students fundamentally accept their lack of understanding regardless of the psychological cost. In terms of behavior, they sit in class and seemingly pay attention but in fact understand very little of the lesson. They avoid asking questions in front of their peers, whether as a result of personality, culture or both, thus hiding their lack of comprehension. At home, on their own, they make an attempt to apply the taught material, generally with poor results as they did not understand it in class, but do not seek additional help. They often consult with students in the same boat because of a shared culture or to avoid appearing stupid to socially distant peers. This same behavior would not be academically disastrous if the students retained sufficient knowledge of the material from previous courses. However, in too many cases, poor schools combined with ineffective work habits have created a serious knowledge deficiency that requires extraordinary effort to overcome. Thus, these challenged but silent students either fail the course or continue on without the knowledge they require in the following courses and their future careers.

In normal times, i.e., physical classrooms, teachers can identify these students through observation and quiet interaction. Experienced educators quickly notice those students that tend to avoid participation and asking questions. A discrete assessment of student comprehension during class exercises by looking over the student’s shoulder or asking questions makes it clear that the student’s silence is not golden. In other words, the student neither understands nor is taking action to rectify that situation. Repeated occurrence should turn on a red light signaling that this student needs extra help. In this case, the most effective technique is a quiet conversation before or after the lesson in order to identify the specific problem and suggest solutions or provide additional opportunities for further explanation. In practice, the success of this method, granted partial, is premised on transmitting the feeling of “I care” to that student, which, in turn, creates the motivation to make a greater effort to work through the difficulty and fight fatalism. The teacher generally must mentor these students on an ongoing basis to fundamentally change the situation but any progress is important to the future of that student.

Zoom removes many of the diagnostic tools and limits the ability of the teacher to communicate empathy and assess understanding. A lecturer using Zoom sees at most some 20 faces regardless of the size of the class. Even that amount depends on the issue of forcing students to keep their cameras on, not a simple matter. Furthermore, only one student can talk at a time, with a short but annoying gap between the transfer of speech right to another student. Any  dialogue is public, limiting private conversation to a written from on the chat, far from an ideal manner to communicate. Even worse, it is impossible to glance at a student’s answers during an assignment, leaving the teacher completely in the dark in regards to the level of actual understanding. Break rooms of various sizes allow more personal communication. However, there is an interplay between the size and number of groups, i.e, the smaller the groups are, the more jumping from group to group is required, which eats up time. So, breakout rooms alleviate the communication issues to a certain degree but are far from being equivalent to being there physically. Even quizzes, considered a practical even if flawed method of knowledge assessment, often express nothing since the students can share knowledge or copy at ease sitting in front of their own computer. In short, in Zoom, teachers often throw the knowledge into the cloud and hope for rain.

I, like most teachers, have tried to learn from the successes and failures of last semester’s Zoom teaching. I have two groups of 30 students this semester. Already some six weeks into the semester, I have identified several students that are “out of it” and merely attend class. In several cases, I have asked them to talk to me on Zoom at the end of the lesson when everybody has “left”. The results in terms of communication and establishing a bond have been far from acceptable. I do not feel that these conversations have created any momentum in terms of changing the learning approach of the student. More successfully, I have been much less tolerant, on the verge of brutal, on early assignments regardless of their actual weight in the final grade. From the start, I have been returning compositions and assignments back to the students to redo, providing specific instructions on what to fix in a private email message. In a few cases, I have warned students that they are in danger of failing the course if they do not make more effort, again specifying what is required in the email. When they have applied the constructive criticism, I have quickly praised their effort, of course. This honest but less emotionally communicative approach, forced upon me by the requirement to teach in Zoom, will hopefully lead to better results at the end of this semester as compared to last semester.

Viewing my efforts this semester, I have been spending almost 80% of time on these passive students, which represent more than 20% as a result of the difficulties of Zoom learning. Strong students almost always survive but the goal of education should be to reach all those with the potential to learn, not only those with the current ability. It is distressing to know that intelligent people will have their ambitions stalled because they were unable to overcome the block of an ineffective learning strategy on their own. As the ad on UK television says, teachers can make a difference if we only can figure just how to do so.

*Captions are vital for the blind.

Image: Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/alexandra_koch-621802/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=5231389">Alexandra_Koch</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=5231389">Pixabay</a>

Non-native bias? (in translation)
Sun, 22 Nov 2020 07:45:00 +0000


[Bearded dragons*]

At any get-together of translators, one topic that surely heats up the conversation is the virtue or lack thereof of translators translating into their non-native language. In its most extreme form, one side declares that non-native speakers, regardless of their language level, are unable to express themselves in writing like native sons and daughters, who have had a lifelong education in that language. On the other hand, those excluded translators retort by claiming that this generalization is, at best, a form of unjustified elitism and, at worst, an attempt to limit competition, noting that many native speakers, even translators, are unfamiliar with the grammar rules of their own language. As usual, the truth is more complex with the full expectation that many will disagree with me.

To clarify, it is clear that interpreters, as compared to translators, can and often should be natives in the source language, not target language, since their task often involves almost instantaneous understanding of the speech of people from all levels of society and a need to understand the subtext. For example, an APTI conference in Valencia, a professional interpreter recounted how difficult and important it was to understand the testimony of uneducated women in Yugoslavia during the War Crimes Tribunal because they were talking about rape, a taboo topic. The interpreter had to understand the code language of these people while the judges could cope with less-than-perfect English. So, the arguments below do not apply to interpreters.

To help non-translators understand the problem, it is first necessary to realize that the demands of written communication are different from those of spoken communication in terms of learning process and flexibility. Formal education is not required in order to speak a language. Numerous people worldwide have studied a foreign language, even for several years and are barely able to get a sentence out while others, with no education but merely the opportunity and necessity to use the language, not only express themselves clearly but live their daily lives in that language. By contrast, people attain the ability to express ideas in a clear, acceptable manner in writing through many years of formal schooling. To one degree or another, written language is a dialect that is only taught in schools although reading and speaking contribute to its acquisition. Furthermore, speaking is an instantaneous act that does not allow for editing and thus accepts individual differences in style and even grammar. When we judge spoken language, the essential issue is whether the listener understands with accuracy a secondary factor. It is true that people may note grammar and vocabulary errors, especially teachers and translators, but these mistakes are generally forgiven. On the other hand, written language, especially English, a hodgepodge of various roots, is a polished product, like a diamond. Since writers (and translators) have the time to edit, readers expect a perfect result in terms of grammar, syntax and style. The requirements of those elements may evolve but do so quite slowly. The “accepted” manner of writing, with small variations, is de rigueur. Any writer failing to comply with those rules is harshly judged as the sharp reactions to grammatical errors in comments in social media shows.  The scope of acceptable written communication is rather limited.

For this reason, native speakers generally categorically reject translation by non-natives in their language. Unless the foreigners were educated in that language from childhood, it is stated that they simply cannot write like a native but instead write in a hybrid style combining their native and second languages. Teachers call this language interference, which can also happen to natives after sufficient years living in a foreign country. Examples include Hebrish, where commas and preposition use is rather whimsical and Russian Engish, famous for its curious use of articles.  Consequently, translations by non-natives may be accurate in terms of content but will sound “translated”, not seamless, the legendary goal of all translation. Specifially,  Ideally, a proper translation should sound like it was an original work. Clearly, the vast majority of non-natives, Samual Beckett aside, are not capable of achieving that goal. Thus, in terms of attaining seamlessness, the nativists are correct.

Yet, supply and demand create a strong niche for non-native translators. First, even in the common language combinations such as Spanish-English, excellent non-native writing may be good enough for the customer or the customer may lack sufficient knowledge to detect the errors. On a larger scale, many languages used on one country with low population suffer from a lack of non-natives that have learned the language proficiently. For example, few Americans and Brits have learned Czech or Hungarian, to name a few. Thus, law students in the Czech Republics are also trained as English translators as there are insufficient numbers of native English translators in these combinations. In addition, the translation rates in a country may be too low to attract foreign-based translators, effectively giving local, non-native translators a virtual monopoly. The Russian Federation is the most striking example where non-native, local translation is the norm due to the price structure for the most part. Thus, in practice, non-native translation is rather common and acceptable in some markets.

As in most issues, the question whether it is acceptable or not for translators to translate into their non-native language is not black or white. Ideally, translators should only translate into their native language since they have the proper ear for that language. On the other hand, market conditions create a situation requiring translation by non-native speakers. Reality is often a shade of grey.

* Caption pictures to allow the blind access. Picture via Pixabay