Tip of the Tongue
Heart-felt words, more or less
Sun, 12 Sep 2021 06:28:00 +0000


[Hammer and nails*]

Emotions have nuances that must be expressed in some manner by language. Of course, every language has its own strategy for distinguishing levels of attachment, including using completely different words or merely adding describers.  Examples of such important distinctions involve residence, approval and joy, which are reflected in different ways in English, French, Hebrew and Russian.

[Urban houses]
In English, there is a vital difference between house and home. The former is a building, generally not attached to other residences. It can be bought, surveyed, destroyed and repaired, to name a few actions, with very little emotional cost. By contrast, the latter is where, as Pliny said, the heart is. What matters is not the physical characteristics of the residence – it could be an isolated house or a flat in a 24-story building - but instead the memories people have of it. In practical terms, after people leave their childhood home, they look for a house that can become a home. Thus, English uses two different words. French has a word for both meanings, which can be understood by context, maison, but can use a preposition, chez, combined with a name to reinforce the attachment. For example, the English expression “there is no place like home” would be “on n'est vraiment bien que chez soi”. The Hebrew word for home בית [biet] covers both elements but becomes much more emotional in its locative form הביתה [habeita]: אני הולך הביתה. [ani holech habeita] - I am going homeward literally. Russian is similar in that the nominative form дом [dome] applies to both with the locative form домой [domou], implying an emotional attachment. Of course, adding a possessive adjective such as my, his or her before the word for housecreates the attachment of the basic word home. Not all houses are homes.

[Loving fingers]
As anybody that has been disappointed in their search for a partner knows, like and love are not identical even if they both technically express a positive opinion. The latter is much more passionate and intense. For example, almost everybody likes chocolate but far fewer truly love it. Again, English, rich in vocabulary, distinguishes them by using two different words making it easy to understand. Russian also distinguishes the mellow from the passionate using two words нравиться [nravitza] and любить[lyubitz]. Likewise, Hebrew uses the rather lengthy מוצא חן בעיניי[moze chen be’aini] or shorter חובב [hovev] to say “I like”, with אוהב [ohev] generally but not always expressing love. The French has the generic and ambiguous verb aimerbut can distinguish the lessor form by adding the adverb “bien” as in “j’aime bien le champagne”, which implies that the person won’t refuse to drink the bubbly but won’t buy an expensive bottle at an auction. It is clear that liking is not very romantic.

[Old woman smiling]
Happiness is not so simple either. There is the joy of receiving a wonderful gift but there is a less intensive but longer-lasting pleasure of having made the right career choice even if not every day is a joy. In short, some happiness is momentary while other is much more rooted. English is forced to use a French root to clearly express the second meaning, specifically content, as in “he has never been so content with his life”. French and Hebrew have separate words, content and heureux and שמח [sameah] and מאושר [meushar], respectively. Likewise, Russian has счастливый [schazlivi] and доволен [dovolen], although the difference is often contextual. Happiness, like beauty, can be for a night or constant, if not eternal.

The most difficult and often most important words to translate involve emotions. Some languages use different words to distinguish levels while others merely modify the basic term. Whatever the case, understanding the hidden text is both vital and quite interesting, at least to translators. They need to express their heart, linguistically that is.

* Use picture captions to help the blind. All pictures via the Pixabay site.

Stretching the law – Applying old law to modern realities
Sun, 05 Sep 2021 06:05:00 +0000

[Tortoise and hare*]

Reality and law are a bit like the hare and the tortoise. While the former advances at breakneck speed, the other crawls forward at its own pace, seemingly oblivious to time. The intersection of new reality and antiquated law often requires courts to apply great creativity in applying statutes whether in terms of scope or extension.

A curious example was the case of the woman recently sentenced to one year in jail and ordered to pay 30,000 USD in restitution for entering a store in March of 2021 and intentionally coughing, spitting on merchandise and yelling that she had the Corona virus and people were going to die. She was drunk at the time and later regretted the incident but these are sensitive times. See here for more details. The interesting aspect of this case was that she was convicted of making bomb threats, a felony. I suppose the charge of endangering public health would have also applied but probably carried a lesser punishment. Given the fact that until now only governments had been involved in biological weapons, it is not surprising that no statute specific for intentional disease spreading. I would have to agree that telling people that they would die of Corona is a quite a bomb threat.

An older threat is the Nigerian scam, which involves informing people by email that they have been awarded money in order to get them to reveal their bank details. It is not an accident that that these scammers are generally not physically located in the United States. The Mail Fraud Statute dates from the late 19th century while the US Government enacted the Wire Fraud statue in the 1950's, both quite a while before the Internet and email. However, they are written quite broadly. They require the use of mail or wire communication, the intent to defraud and material deception. (For more details see here.) The courts have found it quite easy to extend its provisions to email crime. After all, the only difference is the letter e. US law is often written quite loosely in order to cope with future changes and avoid the continuous need to amend laws.

A more complicated challenge arises when the law is specific but the structural reality has changed. For example, when the US Constitution was finally ratified with all its amendments in 1790, the British and, consequently,US, legal system consisted of two parallel systems applying common law and equity, respectively. In overly simple terms the former could decree punishment while the latter could issue injunctions. The 6th amendment to the US Constitution guarantees the right to a jury trial for the former but not the latter. Two changes occurred: the US and UK  merged these courts; and new modern crimes emerged. For example, when the SEC was formed to regulate the stock market in 1934, it had the power to prosecute financial crimes and demand both fines and injunctions. The issue of whether the defendant is entitled to a jury trial has kept the US courts of appeal quite busy. For example, in 2016, a Ninth Circuit Court opinion, in the case of U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission v. Jensen, following precedence, transposed the distinction to modern times and ruled that when a legal remedy (civil fines) is involved, the right to a jury trial is relevant. See here for more details. In other words, they acted as if the trial had occurred in 1790. There are several other areas of law where US judges act on the same basis.

So, while watching the speedy rabbit of reality may be fascinating in its own way, observing the plodding legal system cope with reality is no less captivating, albeit frustrating at time. I assume that other legal systems face the same problem and cope with it in their own way. Law truly stretches the mind.

* Add captions to picture help the blind access the Internet. Picture credit: Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/stephenwheeler-23068626/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=6570775">StephenWheeler</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=6570775">Pixabay</a>

Driving culture
Sun, 29 Aug 2021 05:59:00 +0000

[Man behind the wheel*]

It is said that our first 18 years have a lifetime impact. Our childhood affects the foods we enjoy, our approaches to life, the way we raise our children and even our career choices, to name a few. Granted, each of us over time accepts or rejects this heritage at any given time but it is present and impacts our life one way or another.

I recently became aware that it also influences how we drive. Simply put, I am a much better driver in the United States than in Israel. By better, I mean more natural and relaxed. In the United States, I sense the kind of stupidity to expect from the drivers around me. I know the expected pattern of speeding up and slowing down (except on Sunday when the “Sunday drivers” come out). I am confident in my ability to identify early and react to any situation. As a result, I am relaxed when I drive in the United States, especially on the West Coast, and find the driving experience neutral, i.e., neither pleasant nor unpleasant. By contrast, in Israel, I actively monitor all cars around me, expecting them to try to risk their life to reach the same red light 30 seconds before me. I am rarely disappointed. Although I still often sense what a given driver will do, I am less confident and more stressed. For me, a 45 minutes’ drive in Israel is not fun, to put it mildly.

Logically, that should not be so as I have driven in Israel for many more years than I did in the United States. I drove in the States for some 12 years regularly, getting my driver’s license at the age of 17 until I immigrated at the age of 28. Adding annuals trips over many years, I have driven on US roads for some 15 years at most. By contrast, I have lived in Israel some 32+ years, driving on a regular basis for a good part of that period. I am quite familiar with the roads and the drivers. They should be second-nature.

Of course, driving in the Mediterranean is Mediterranean is highly entertaining, at least for those that enjoy action. Whether in Spain, Italy, Tunisia or Israel, Mediterranean drivers own the road, literally. Other drivers are mere trespassers and really should not be there. Not only that, as elsewhere, phone calls and personal arguments are of greater priority than keeping with the flow. Still, the traffic flow around this middle sea does have a specific tempo that can be learned.

Clearly, high temperatures affect driver attitudes but only so much. As the mercury goes up, driver patience tends to go down and tempers rise. It does not take much to begin an argument between two drivers here. A sudden stop will suffice to create some interesting street action. The fact that all cars in Israel have had air conditioning since 1995 has not significantly mitigated the slaughter on the roads based on the annual numbers. Not only that, drivers from many other countries also suffer from high temperatures but still exhibit patience. The weather itself does not explain the difference.

It is possible that my driving culture was formed not only by actually time behind the wheel but in the surrounding seats. For some 16 years, I watched my parents and other people drive and the interaction between them. In a passive but embedding way, I “learned” how to drive, which I applied when I became an adult. As I came here at the age of 28, I did not receive that education. Thus, my comprehension of Israeli drivers is not instinctive. On the other hand, it may be just me. Other immigrants may have gone native with no problem. I confess to have done no research on this subject.

So, in my opinion, driving patterns are a cultural phenomenon. They are affected, as in all such matters, by both childhood and later life experience. I strongly affect that the former has more of an influence than people suspect.

* Caption pictures to help the blind access the Internet. Picture credit: Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/photos/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=1149997">Free-Photos</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=1149997">Pixabay</a>

Presence – the sign of a teacher
Sun, 22 Aug 2021 06:30:00 +0000

[Man with serious look*]

As part of the tenured staff of the English department at the Braude College of Engineering in Karmiel, Israel for almost 30 years, I have observed scores of lessons given by prospective teachers as part of the selection process of new teachers. The nature and quality of the lessons have varied as has the background of the candidates. I can say that my main criteria for recommendation are pedagogical order and, much more importantly, teacher presence.

Clearly, experienced teachers are expected to know how to organize a lesson in accordance with the goals of the lesson and levels of the students. Most prospective teachers focus on a text or specific words from it and demonstrate how they would teach them. In many cases, their teaching technique hits all the bases and demonstrates great creativity. If they can do this, they have shown that they are pedagogically knowledgeable.

However, I personally do not find this skill decisive in its own right. First, as physicists know, the presence of an observer distorts the results. The vast majority of teachers, knowing in advance that they will be observed, can prepare an organized lesson to one degree or another. As a result, the demonstration lesson is less than a perfect representation of the teacher’s ability. Secondly, in our case, the material presented is more often than not irrelevant to our needs. Specifically, while most English departments in Israel primarily still teach reading comprehension and vocabulary to a heterogenous population of students, whether at the high school or college level, our college applies the CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference, don’t ask) guidelines for English skills involving four skills (reading, writing, speaking and listening), which is famous for nomenclature for English proficiency level from A1 (absolute beginner) to C2 (almost native). In other words, we actually do not spend much time on reading texts and teaching vocabulary because our students generally do not require much reinforcement in those areas as compared to the other skills. Moreover, our students are all engineering students, which means that that they are successful, intelligent students, albeit often with substandard language skills, i.e., not a heterogenous population. Finally, the theory and reality of pedagogy clash in the real (or zoom) classroom. Specifically, we have 13 weeks, 52 hours, to get the students to a B1 or B2 level in all four skills from an A2 level at most. It strictly limits the time spent on any single activity and, consequently, the time available for any specific teaching sequence. Therefore, however technically proficient a teacher may be, it may be not enough.

The factor that determines my assessment is the elusive “teacher presence”. I would define it as the feeling created that the teacher is in control of the material, the lesson and the learning situation. In other words, there is no vacuum in the classroom. It does not mean shutting the students up or discouraging creativity but the sense that the teacher has identified and is striving to reach a worthy goal. There is no single style or form to this presence. Effective teachers can be male or female, petite or physically imposing, native or immigrants, frontal lecturers or facilitators, or controlling or free flowing. The key is that the educator creates an environment of clarity and security.

The challenge for assessing is not determining its existence but whether the type of presence is appropriate for the specific student audience. To explain, any student knows which teachers are “serious” and which can be manipulated. The difficulty in evaluating prospective teachers is deciding whether the specific style is appropriate to our student population. For example, highly effective elementary school teachers often cannot teach adults not only because of the difference in age but also in specific knowledge and experience of the students. Furthermore, in Israel, students come from widely varying cultures, from ultra-orthodox and Arab to democratic and home teaching. Consequently, their attitude to authority and self-expression as well as skills and knowledge background may vary significantly. An approach that is successful for one group may not work for another group. Finally, as the students are Israeli adults ranging from the ages of 18 to 30, while teachers may start the course with respect, they must earn it afterwards. Thus, a specific form of teacher presence may seem inappropriate for teaching adult engineering students.

At the end of each teacher interview, the coordinator asks for our opinion. Initially, there is a discussion of the teaching method applied. However, to twist the words from one of Cher’s songs, for me it is all in his (or her) presence.

* Captions are an important tool for Internet access for the blind. Picture credit: Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/pexels-2286921/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=1283235">Pexels</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=1283235">Pixabay</a>

Customer Satisfaction – for people and by people
Sun, 15 Aug 2021 06:47:00 +0000

[Abraham Lincoln*]

Customer retention is one of the key goals of companies regardless of their size because it is much simpler and less expensive to keep a customer than it is to attract a new one. As a result, many corporations use rewards programs to encourage their existing base to continue to use their services. Unfortunately, many of these same companies forget that a prime motivator in customer loyalty is the level of confidence in the ability and willingness of the company to fix errors. A service provider that swiftly resolves issues is one step above any of its competitors. As I experienced on my recently-completed trip to Los Angeles, a company not only needs to have consumer-driven attitude but allow customers access to its personnel.

On this trip, unavoidably complicated by Covid, I required transportation, banking and medical testing purposes. The issues ranged from contacting representatives, sorting out confusion and receiving timely answers. The results ranged from absolutely atrocious to excellent with the key predictor being the ease of accessing a flesh-and-blood person. Where I was able to reach human beings, they easily resolved all issues while where no contact was possible, no solution was possible.

On the negative side, both Lyft and Uber use applications that do function well when all elements are in alignment but do not provide any access to a human operator when the application fails. In the former case, I was eventually able to “chat” online with a representative, who was able to explain why I needed to enter an additional credit card. In any case, the second time I tried to order a cab from their service, it was again unavailable. As for Uber, it somehow knew that I translated Russian and kept on sending me error messages in Russian, without any solutions or ways of contacting a representative. The medical testing lab situation was a greater disaster. I took a Covid test almost three full days before my flight via Walgreen’s pharmacy, which uses LabCorp to conduct the test. In practice, I had to postpone the flight because the results arrived four days after I provided the sample. What exasperated the situation was the fact that Walgreen had no knowledge of the results once it passed on the sample to the lab while LabCorp provided no contact phone number, only allowing email contact, to which it did not respond.  I was thus unable to attain any update. I felt like an insignificant number. All these negative experiences involve the complete lack of ability to reach a human representative.

By contrast, I had excellent interactions and results with those companies whose systems allowed for direct conversation. After making an appointment with Chase Bank, I managed to solve several complicated banking and credit issues that had seemed deadlocked in my long-distance conversations. When I called L.A. Cab, to my great surprise and their credit, I talked with a scheduler, who immediately told me when the cab would arrive. While the response staff of United Airlines is understaffed, as are many of the airlines, I was able to talk with representatives, both in person and via the telephone, and twice reschedule my flight at no extra cost. Finally, at LAX, the young staff of the Corona testing guided me through the complicated process (for people over 50) of signing up for the Covid test, with the negative result arriving in a few hours. Thanks to these people and the companies that allowed them to talk to the customers, I know that that I can count on them in the future.

The lesson to all service providers, great and small, is that while customers may or may not remember their loyalty bonuses, they never forget the treatment they received when they did request services. As omnipresent and omnipotent digital services may seem, most customers want and require human responses when problems occur. If a company provides them, they have won the heart of the customer. After all, as Abraham Lincoln probably would not say, good service is for and by people.

* Pictures labels are important to the blind. Picture credit: Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/arttower-5337/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=55480">Brigitte makes custom works from your photos, thanks a lot</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=55480">Pixabay</a>

Teaching medical translation – an interview with Tzviya Levin Rifkind
Tue, 27 Jul 2021 07:29:00 +0000

[Zoom teaching*]

It is an honor but also a challenge to be given the opportunity to teach your skills to others. Tzviya Levin Rifkind, my wife, has just completed teaching a 12-hour enrichment course on medical translation to students in the English-to-Hebrew translation track at Beit Berl College in Israel. Her answers to my questions reveal the skills required to be a professional translation as well as the unique aspects of medical translation.

*           *          *          *           *

What is your background in medical translation?

I worked as a nurse for many years and began translating 23 years ago to earn extra income. I discovered that my broad experience applying medicine gave me a great advantage in translating material on medicine. I have focused on that area ever since.

Which knowledge and skills did you teach the students?

Given that the students have no medical background, I began by defining the word medical, stressing how many domains include medical translation. I then explained some basic terms in medicine so as to gain familiarity with the subject and allow them to identify medical elements that may appear in any type of texts from prose to marketing. I then worked on how to relate to them and avoid common pitfalls when translating less familiar elements. More importantly, the students learned what to do when they are not certain, including seeking solutions and asking questions. I also discussed back translation and transcreation in brief.

How did the students apply this knowledge and practice these skills during the course?

In class exercises, the students actively participated in identifying and solving translation issues, first discussing among themselves in groups and then together as a class. The home tasks involved light or non-medical translation tasks that required them to analyze texts and find solutions for medical translation issues, thus developing not only their translating skills but also their thinking skills.

[Medical terms]

What did the students learn in regards to being a professional translator in general?

They learnt how vital it is read and understand all instructions. Furthermore, the students came to understand the importance of asking questions, whether of the client or any other source, when they are uncertain. The course also brought into focus how attention to details is one of the keys of proper translation. Finally, the students learned to not send work immediately but instead to allow time to conduct proper QA.

How did you find the experience of teaching translation as compared to actually translating?

As a nurse, patient and colleague education were integral parts of my job. Thus, I had experience transmitting knowledge and skills. Today, I often help in translation groups and even voluntarily invest time helping new translator one-on-one. So, teaching was not that different except for having the status of “teacher” with all the attached privileges and duties as well as the requirement to teach at a fixed time and place. I have to admit that teaching through Zoom was a new and challenging experience.

*           *          *          *           *

Also being an educator, I can attest that teaching is a form of learning, probably the most intense but also the most satisfying. Sharing knowledge and enriching others creates a great feeling of contribution while also, most curiously, broadening the perspective of teachers themselves. I am sure that both Tzviya and her students were enriched by this course.

* Captions provide the blind with full access to the Internet. Pictures from Pixabay.

Worthiness – Freelancers and Fraudulent Syndrome
Sun, 18 Jul 2021 07:13:00 +0000


[Skeleton soldier*]

You show up at a conference or participate in a Zoom meeting and strive to put your best foot forward and sound successful. However, not far below the surface, seemingly obvious to everybody else, you think to yourself – "What am I doing here? – Do I belong here? – These people are true professionals, not like me." These are classic symptoms of the fraudulent syndrome and are experienced by numerous professionals, especially freelancers, not only in the beginning of their career but for many years. I first had this feeling when I attended my first conference and only filed it away a few years ago. The impact of a sense of inadequacy is not only emotional but financial. Freelancers in particular market (some would say “sell”) themselves more than their services as the quality of the latter will only be known after the initial project is completed. Therefore, entrepreneurs must work through the challenge and change their self-value to from negative to positive if they want to build a proper customer base.

[Half-full cup of water]
The cup – half full or half empty

Low self-esteem is not the only trigger for a sense of inadequacy. In reality, in any given field, a professional will find colleagues that are better in one or more aspects. That statement is accurate at all stages of a career. Thus, people can only control how they view the situation. In my opinion, the following facts are true to one degree or another for 99% of all professionals:

1.       Many of my colleagues earn more money than me but many of them earn less money.

2.      Many of my colleagues can produce a higher quality product or service than me but many produce lower quality work.

3.      Many of my colleagues worry less about income than me but many worry much than me.

4.      Many of my colleagues have more experience than me but many have less.

5.      Many of my colleagues are more recognized than me but many are less.

In other words, the cup is half empty, give or take a few drops. Freelancers can choose to enjoy the success they have achieved and strive to add to it. The relatively greater success of others does not fundamentally detract from the achieved success nor does the size of the group with less achievements eliminate the need for continual improvement. If freelancers, including translators, focus on the liquid, not the air, they can feel pride in their work and, importantly, transmit that confidence when working with customers.

Fake it till you make it
[Happy and sad mask]

Clearly, the vast majority of entrepreneurs do not develop this confidence overnight. It is a continuing process, shorter or longer depending on the circumstances. First, it is natural, especially in the beginning stages of a career, to feel less qualified than your peers. On the other hand, generational differences create reverse inequalities. Younger professionals often have superior knowledge and skill in computers and marketing, for example. Thus, it is important to keep the negative comparisons in perspective. Furthermore, fortunately, people cannot read our thoughts. It is important to project confidence in your ability and skills, hard and soft, as colleagues have a tendency to accept your self-assessment until you prove otherwise. This projection, derogatorily referred to as faking, most curiously becomes natural over time and becomes ingrained. In other words, through achievement, growth and active reinforcement, the projection becomes a reality. Instead of pretending that they belong to a group, confident entrepreneurs “know” that they belong. The alternative, projecting negative skills and potential, does not create any growth. If freelancers work on the belief that they have been personally successful so far, the belief becomes a reality.

[Wily Coyote]

Everything in moderation (including moderation)

Clearly, confidence and arrogance are two different attitudes. The former is a realistic assessment of one’s actual and potential skills while the second is boasting beyond any sense of proportion. For example, when inexperienced translators that are born and raised in Israel state that they can translate doctoral theses from English into Hebrew because they have studied the field of the thesis, I have no problem believing them. However, if they insist that that they can translate into English like a native English speaker, I am very skeptical about the claim and person. Especially in the early stages of a career, do like Theodore Roosevelt suggested and speak softly but carry a bit stick as it is more effective approach. Wile E. Coyote, Genius is not an ideal marketing model.

Human beings are both worthy of respect and often troubled by doubts. Entrepreneurs, especially freelancers, must project the former and work on the latter. They not only can but must strive to overcome the sense of inadequacy and realize their worthiness as professionals in their own right.

* Caption pictures to allow the blind to fully access to the Internet. All pictures via Pixabay.

On advertising, marketing and freelancers
Sun, 11 Jul 2021 06:29:00 +0000

[Store marketing flow*]

Most freelancers find advertising and marketing a bit mysterious, confusing and/or disturbing in some way. For this reason, among others, they try to avoid investing in them on a regular basis. In practice, advertising and marketing are two different activities in terms of goal, method and measurement with marketing being a much more practical, effective and affordable for most entrepreneurs.

To explain, advertising is promoting short term sales. It involves exposing a product or service to a specific audience and encouraging immediate action. The customer motivation to buy may be limited time or supply or a notably low price. The promotion, whether in audio or visual form, emphasizes the product and the reason it is advisable to purchase now. Advertising generally involves a short-term, often high, cost. The business owner measures the results by comparing the estimated profit without advertising to the estimated profit attained through promotion, deducting the advertising expense. For example, if a new business advertises a grand opening, a successful advertising campaign would lead to a much larger showup to the event and an increased volume of sales on and around the opening. Likewise, if an established business advertises a product whose inventory it wishes to reduce or eliminate, it is possible to compare volume and profit before and during the campaign. Once the promotion is over, the seller returns to business as usual.

By contrast, marketing emphasizes brand over item. Specifically, it aims to create an identification between a service or product and the provider. As extreme examples, Google, McDonalds and Pampers each invest great effort in creating link between their name and their product, search engine, fast food and diapers, respectively. Marketing campaigns generally lack short term incentives to purchase, including low prices, but instead focus on a positive attribute of the product or company. A name-recognition effort can take on a variety of forms, including media adverts, sponsorship, signing, conferences and talking to your neighbors. The sky is the limit but many forms of marketing only involve investing time, not money. However, successful marketing does involve consistent effort as the fruits of marketing are invisible and slow and require multiple exposure. Simply put, it may take makes months or even years to financially profit from the effort even though the name recognition campaign is actually effective. Large companies can afford to conduct measuring surveys to ascertain the actual effectiveness. Most freelancers must have faith, a necessary attribute in all respects for a freelancer. Successful marketing requires long-term, directed action.

Advertising may be appropriate for some freelancers. For example, an accountant or translator specializing in tax form preparation and translation may try to reach companies and individuals in the first quarter of the year as the tax filing deadline creates a time incentive to purchase their service. Likewise, a recently established site designer or immigration document specialist may be willing to sacrifice short-term profit in order to build a portfolio and reputation. Service providers can reasonably provide large discounts if they are especially efficient in their work. Of course, those entrepreneurs finding themselves with no customers can choose to offer especially low prices choosing to prefer low profit to no income. The issue is trying to raise the prices to normal levels later but that is a long-term problem, a luxury for some people. Thus, for entrepreneurs with short-term goals, an advertising campaign may be worthwhile.

However, for most freelancers, including translators, marketing is the better option in terms of effectiveness and cost. Since most independent business people offer a product or service that is generally only occasionally required, the best method for incoming business is the create a connection between that service or product and the potential provider. To give an example, a customer contacted me this week for a French to English translation after her Masters advisor read a previous post of mine and labeled me as a potential provider of translation should occasion arise. Even more, marketing does not necessarily involve significant financial outlays. For example, business group zoom meetups and telling your hairdresser what your profession are free of charge as are posts in Facebook and other social media. One graphologist posted a simple business sign in her garden and regularly profited from opportunity clients. Marketing does require time to think, create and act. For better or worse, many freelancers had and have far too much free time in the last two years. Marketing is a way of converting that surplus into a future financial profit.

As a trigger to thinking about marketing, I would suggest considering the following questions:

1.       Do people in my local community know what I do?

2.      When I enter my name in Google search, do my profession and contact details appear?

3.      Have other people in my profession in my country and abroad, if relevant, heard of me?

4.      Have my potential customers ever heard of me?

If the answer to any of the questions is negative, it is time to actively think about marketing and then begin an ongoing effort to change the answer to positive. The results probably will not occur immediately. However, in an especially volatile market, all entrepreneurs must consider the question of where they want to be two years from now, keeping in mind that the failure to act is an action in itself. Despite their connotations and the lack of comfort they create for independents, advertising and, even more so, marketing are important options for all freelancers building a long-term future in their business.

* Picture captions open up the Internet to the blind.

Picture credit: Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/megan_rexazin-6742250/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=4156934">Megan Rexazin</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=4156934">Pixabay</a>

Transformation by addition – The strange incident of French nouns that were mutated by an adjective
Sun, 04 Jul 2021 07:54:00 +0000


[Dog in moonlight*]

Meaning is contextual. In the case of words, the form, position and connected modifiers define their actual significance. As an example, a hot dog can refer to a panting canine  after a long walk in the heat but is a sausage when put in a bun. In some cases, an attached adjective affects a noun to the point of creating a meaning beyond the common, isolated sense of the words. French has several expressions that go beyond the inherent significance of the word.

[Coffee and croissant]
Very common adjectives can have this effect. The word droit means right, as in the direction, in French. However, tout droit, literally “all right”, means “straight”, also the physical direction. The difference is significant if you need to understand directions using the French version of the Waze application. Likewise, in France, a déjeuner is a lunch but a petit déjeuner is not a light lunch but instead breakfast. Given that traditionally lunch is the heavy meal in Paris, the choice of one or the other word affects food expectations. Another example is the term grande école, which is not a large school but instead one of the elite colleges preparing people for leadership positions in France. UC Berkeley, with some 70,000 students, is not a grande école but the École Normale Supérieure in Paris with 2300 students is. Literal translation can be deceiving.

For some reason, descriptions of women in French can be a bit obscure. For example, your beloved belle-mère, “mother-in-law” in English may not be so pretty. For that matter, your beau-père and belle-soeur, father-in-law and sister-in-law, respectively, are not always so good-looking either. The term femme forte can be used to describe your belle-mère if she is a matriarchal figure but generally is directed at any women that is noticeably overweight. Context and tact are quite important here. On a positive note, your belle-soeur may a sage-femme, which does not imply any great wisdom but merely that she is a midwife. Curiously, bonne femme food can also be prepared by not-so-good hearted women and even by men because it is simple, home-style cooking. The French language has many hidden linguistic minefields.

[3 fork roadsign]
When I tried to find similar phrases in Hebrew and English, two languages in which I have a good vocabulary, I was unable to identify any similar terms. It is possible that equivalent terms are escaping me at this moment. However, I strongly suspect the nature of the languages subtly affects its use of words. English has both an extensive vocabulary and tends to be direct and concrete, even labeling indirect terms somewhat derogatorily as euphemismsand politically correct. For example, any man that stated that he had an expanded forehead would be mocked for making an absurd attempt to avoid saying the word bald. By contrast, modern Hebrew, not biblical Hebrew, is a very young language with a relatively small lexicon, which means it has not had sufficient time for the meanings of words to evolve. The French are the exact opposite, relishing la belle phrase, the beautiful sentence, and willing to sacrifice directness and specificity for the sake of the aesthetics. It seems that the tendency in French is be obtuse creates the ideal environment for the development of abstract connections.

To paraphrase Dinah Washington, from these examples, we can see what a difference an adjective makes. In French at least, it can transform the meaning of its attached noun to the point that the connection becomes a true puzzler. On the bright side, what’s wrong with a good mystery?

* Picture captions expand the Internet to the blind. All images through Pixabay.

Law education, present, past and future – a personal tale
Sun, 27 Jun 2021 06:23:00 +0000

[Raspberries in different stages*]

I just successfully completed a semester course on contract drafting from the Concord Law School, an accredited online law institution. It had been more than 30 years since I completed my year of law studies at the University of Oregon and some 17 years since I began working as a legal translator. As a result of this course, I reinforced my opinions about learning and age, my previous career opinions and I best manner of legal writing.

In the spirit the well-known expression, education is somewhat wasted on the youth. I discovered that not only was I able to follow and keep up with complicated material at the “old” age of 60, I actually understood and absorbed it better than I did then. To clarify, my discovery was that my many years of experience translating contracts as well as the immediate need to apply my learning allowed me to achieve more learning. Far from age being a disadvantage, I not only still “have it” but am much a better law student today than I was then. For the record, my average on the course was 86 but the main satisfaction was proving to myself that I was still capable of formal learning.

The course also calmed any doubts I had had about my choice then to not continue law school. I completed the year not on probation. Those that went to law school will understand the significance of that. However, after 3 days, I already understood that I lacked any of the main motivations to become an attorney, specifically, the drive for money, fame or justice. The knowledge I gained from that year helped me greatly in my second career but I do not claim that I knew that at the time. Nothing in life is wasted, including seemingly irrelevant knowledge, but we do not know when we will need it. This course resurrected the mixed feeling of the love of legal theory and language and a lack of interest in actually working as an attorney. As I wrote in a previous post, intuition is generally correct.

Finally, the course material, both that previously known and that new to me, reinforced my belief that legal language in English, like all text in English, can and should be clear and accessible. Steven Erikson wrote that tradition was the last bastion of fools. Clearly, fools did not write legalese but there is no justification today for writing texts that only judges and attorneys can understand. Part of the course involved understanding and rewriting contracts and regulations in such a manner that not only simplified the language while retaining the content but also brought out inconsistencies and omissions in the original text, which had been long lost in the circuitous phasing. With this knowledge, I will confidently apply plain but correct language in my translations and strive to educate other translators that “garbage in, garbage out” is not an effective strategy either for the legal customer or translator. I now am fully certain that legalese can be understandable to lay people without losing precision.

Thus, with no homework this Saturday and feeling “free” just like any student after the end of the semester, I look back on my course on writing contracts with great satisfaction in regards to my understanding then and now. Furthermore, I intend to share my knowledge of the relevant techniques with others at any opportunity. Education is growth at any time of one’s life.

For those interested in more information on plain English in legal writing, I will be giving a 2-hour workshop at the Translation and Localization Conferenceat the end of September.

* Picture subtles help the blind access the Internet.

Picture credit: Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/elstef-3091248/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=5298416">Elstef</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=5298416">Pixabay</a>

Second-cousin languages
Mon, 21 Jun 2021 06:58:00 +0000



All that glitters is not gold nor do any identical letters make for identical languages. The confusion is not between Spanish and Italian or German and Dutch, languages that evolved sufficiently long ago so as to be immediately distinguishable, but instead between languages that are directly related by history but have only recently (in historical terms) gone different ways.

One example is French from France as compared to that written in Quebec. Clearly, the letters and grammar are identical as are most of the words. However, a deeper analysis would identify some traps for the unsuspecting translator. On the one hand, Quebecois tends to more firmly insist on French roots as compared to English roots in business, e.g., réunion and planification instead of the free French use of meeting and planning. On the other hand, funny Americanisms, such a chien chaud for hot dog,do show up. On a lexical note, French-Canadian meanings can differ, including déjeunerand dîner are breakfast and lunch, respectively, in Quebec as compared to the Parisian petit déjeuner and déjeuner. For more information see https://www.technitrad.com/the-differences-between-french-and-canadian-french-when-translating-professional-documents/ Both customers and translators should confirm the source of the French text.

Hebrew and Yiddish share the same letters but have different vocabulary sources. Hebrew uses roots derived from Hebrew and Aramaic with some more recent English and Russian additions. On a humorous note, I just heard a music judge say “lejamjem”, meaning to have a jam session. By contrast, Yiddish is a localized combination of Hebrew, Russian, Polish and German roots, transliterated into Hebrew applying Yiddish grammar. It was the language that allowed Jews from all over Eastern Europe and Russia to communicate with each other. Clients see the Hebrew letters and assume that the text is in Hebrew. While a non-Yiddish speaker can understand some of the text, it is a language in itself.

My personal bugaboo is Ukrainian. I translate many certificates from Russian and occasionally don’t pay attention to the entire text when quoting. Only upon started the job do I discover that the months of the year are different. Curiously enough, the Ukrainians use a much older system of month names based on agriculture and plants, naming each month for that feature of it. For example, travyen means grass and is the equivalent of May while Syerpen means a sickle and is the equivalent to August.  For a beautiful presentation of the Ukrainian calendar see https://www.ukrainianlessons.com/months/.This is only one of the differences in these two separate languages but it is easy to catch and helps me avoid having to find a Ukrainian translator. Not all Cyrillic languages are created equally.

In the most perfect of worlds, translators would always read the entire document carefully before proposing a price and accepting a job. In reality, there are occasional lapses. As Bregalad the Ent would say, they are occasionally "hasty" and don’t properly check the source text to identify the actual language, creating a solvable but avoidable problem. On the bright side, it does make for a funny story.

* Picture captions allow the blind to access the Internet. 

Picture credit: Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/thevirtualdenise-5804203/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=2491047">Denise Husted</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=2491047">Pixabay</a>

Yahrzeit – Thoughts one year after my father’s death
Sun, 13 Jun 2021 06:23:00 +0000


In Judaism, the one-year anniversary of person’s death is an important milestone, representing the end of bereavement and a time for contemplation. My father, Melvyn Spector Rifkind, died last year on June 14 (22 Sivan) at the age of 95 from complications from a stroke. Since then, through conversation and filed-away papers, I, his youngest son, have learned much both about him and myself. This deepening understanding of who he was has led me to a greater sense of thanks, appreciation and acceptance.

Thanks: I can thank my father for providing for us financially, instilling important values and preparing us to be adults. While he never achieved his dream financial goal, he made sure that neither my mother nor I and my brother will want of money. He was a brilliant investor to his last days, outperforming industry experts. Careful in his investments, he almost never fell in love with them and knew when to sell. Furthermore, he taught by example that we should work hard, honestly and ethically to advance ourselves and that the means are no less important the goal. Finally, he succeeded in one of the hardest tasks parents have: preparing their children to stand on their own feet. It is painfully ironic that the litmus test of effective parenting is no longer being needed. Children need to learn how to make our own decisions, learn from our errors and accept responsibility. For this education, I am grateful.

Appreciation: I have also learned to appreciate his achievements, modesty and wisdom. My father, like most of his generation, has a difficult childhood, having to deal with poverty, immigrant parents, and World War II.  He succeeded in becoming a journalist and later a top figure in financial public relations and began a new life in Los Angeles with almost no money in his pocket. He fought in the Ardennes (Battle of the Bulge) and Metz, experiences that marked him for life. Yet, he never talked either about his difficulties or his successes. He exemplified that idea that rewards, whether financial or public recognition, are not the goal in life but instead tools to help create a good life for his family and the community. He generously gave to charity but quietly filed away the letters of gratitude he received. The world was not about him but our role in it. Finally, I have discovered how many of my attitudes came from him. He did not believe that people fundamentally change, a bit like Emile Zola, but accepted people as they were, warts and all. His few close friends were intelligent and generous. Without being rude, he chose not share his time with fools and buffoons. I fully understand and agree.

Acceptance: In this year, I have accepted his death and am happy that he died before corona would have completely isolated him from all that he loved. I also know that he was thoroughly familiar with the strengths and weakness of his sons. Our failure to meet his hopes at any given time may have saddened or angered him for a moment, but he moved on and continued to believe in us, never saying "I told you so". He did not try to change us but instead accentuatde the positive, as the song goes. I have strived to apply this approach when raising my own daughter. Being similar in nature, I saw many of his shortcoming even while he was alive and viewed them as an essential part of him. However, I now better understand their origin and their place. As Edith Piaf, there is nothing to be regretted.

 In English, the phrase for deceased people is “May they rest in peace” while in Hebrew it is “May their memory be blessed”. To my father, I can say that you can rest in peace because your memory is blessed.

Native disturbance – first language interference and Hebrew/English errors
Sun, 06 Jun 2021 07:35:00 +0000

[Two adjacent clocks with different times*]

As anybody that has lived a foreign language or spent significant time with foreigners can attest, the native language creates challenges in fully mastering a foreign language. These interference errors often seem to be more resolute than the ability and desire to stop making them.  In many cases, non-native speakers never succeed in removing these inappropriate borrowings. Having lived in Israel for 32 years (immigrating on this date in 1989) and taught English to Israelis for the same period, I have experienced and observed certain error patterns in my Hebrew and the English of my students. These errors include sounds, gender issues and syntax constructions. Some of them are less critical than others but definitely mark the origin of the speaker.

[Sound space network]

The sounds of the different language family groups vary, making it difficult for learners, especially adult ones, to pronounce or distinguish certain letters. For Americans and Brits in Israel, the most common confusion is between alef
א and ayin ע, which are pronounced [a] and [aa], respectively. Fortunately, most native Hebrew speakers tend to blur the difference, taking foreigners off the hook. On a more serious note are the Hebrew letters hay ה, het ח and chof כ,ף, with the first a soft h sound and the other two a guttural ch. The correct pronunciation distinguishes lah לה, meaning to her, from lach לך, to you. By contrast, Israelis struggle with distinguishing short and long vowels. For example, Israeli pronunciation of the word feet and sheet often more closely resembles fit and shit, which are neither homonyms nor synonyms. It is possible to train the mouth to properly pronounce these sounds but this improvement takes sustained effort.


Hebrew, being a Semitic language, makes gender/number agreement an essential aspect of its structure while English is limited to natural gender. This requirement for grammatical agreement leads to repeated errors by English speaking expats living in Israel. They sometimes simply forget to pay attention to the gender of the noun and randomly use the masculine or feminine form of the adjective and sometimes the verb, frequently immediately correcting it at the end of the sentence. The effect of such errors is a lack of aesthetics but fundamentally does not prevent understanding. More embarrassingly, the Hebrew word for you is different for men and women, whether in the singular in plural form, specifically אתה [ata] and אתם [atem] for men and את [at] and אתן [aten] for women. English speakers don’t always remember to think before speaking and use the wrong form. Sharing a house with women, I tend to use at even when I should use ata and end up sounding rather stupid. The 2nd person command form also has masculine and feminine forms, with the same result.  Native Hebrew speakers have an equally difficult time removing gender. They tend to forget that he and she only refer to a biological gender with everything else being it. As a result, a company becomes a shebecause it is a feminine noun in Hebrew while a house is a he. Certain nouns in Hebrew are plural, such as sky and water, are occasionally referred to as they by Hebrew speakers. It turns out that gender differences are also confusing in languages.

[parts of speech]

Every language has its own syntax but the difference between languages from different families can be rather significant. In Hebrew, prepositions, (e.g., on and in) are letters attached to words, with each word retaining its own preposition.  To demonstrate, in English, you can say, “I got tired of the noise and cars of the city” with the preposition of implicitly linked to the word cars. In Hebrew, you would have to add the preposition of (meh מ) to both nouns. Curiously, many otherwise knowledgeable expats are unaware of this fact. On a more practical level, when Brits literally translate their English construction of “It’s hot today”, זה חם היום [ze cham hayom], it is incorrect as Hebrew eschews the it isconstruction with the correct form being “hot today” חם היום [cham hayom]. By contrast, Israelis tend to err when using the connecting term for example in writing. While in formal Hebrew, it is correct to add a colon after the term and then write the examples, in English the rules of composition require a full sentence after it (as compared to the expressions such as and including). Temporal clauses are also traps for Israel as they tend to apply the Hebrew logic of putting the verb in the future. The result is “When I will arrive, I will call you,”, which no native English speaker would ever say.  Likewise, after modals, Israelis sometimes use the infinitive instead of the base form, e.g. The car can to break down anytime’ because Hebrew modals are followed by the infinitive. Thus, native language syntax does invade learned languages.

Clearly, the vast majority of language learners never reach completely native level of a foreign language partly because of first language interference. Some transference will always occur. However, most of these mistakes actually do not affect comprehension. Furthermore, native speakers are generally willing to forgive foreigners for these errors and focus on the positive. As in dealing with any type of disturbance, it helps to have a sense of humor regardless of your role, speaker or listener.

* Add picture capitons to help the blind access the Internet. Pictures via Pixabay.

A Guide for the Perplexed – Posing questions on professional translator forums
Sun, 30 May 2021 07:01:00 +0000

[The four children of Pesach*]

Professional forums are a vital resource connecting people  with questions to experts. In translation, they serve as an important tool in locating translators, ascertaining the translation of difficult terms and confirming specific translations. Unfortunately, due to phrasing issues, many posers of these legitimate queries only receive answers after a long series of follow-up questions if at all. For the forum poster that does not know how to ask, I propose some tips for improving the post in order to receive quick, relevant answers.

Both the posting party and translators are happy to see available jobs posted on forums but these notices often suffer from insufficient information regarding the language combination, subject area, length, deadline and purpose. Clearly, if the post mentions only one language, e.g., English, without clearly designated the source and target language, responders will keep on asking even if the same issue was clarified later in the comments. Interested translators also need to know the subject area as nobody is proficient in all matters. In terms of length, if the document is in Word, it is best to provide the word count specified on the bottom of the page. If the document is in PDF, an approximate count provided by any PDF converter is sufficient. Only if neither of these are available or the document is a standard official document should the number of pages be referenced only as the number of words on a page can greatly vary depending on the font and spacing. Providing the actual deadline saves time and energy for both the poster and translator as only those available for the task will respond. Finally, an additional element immediately appreciated by translator and later by customers is the actual purpose of the document, which influences the required level of expertise, time required and price proposal. A request for translation with all these elements generally receives timely and relevant responses.

Translators use these forums to receive suggestions for translating difficult terms or phrases. This practice is legitimate on condition that the posting translator protects confidentiality, provides sufficient context, exercises due diligence and applies moderation. As a standard procedure, most translation customers formally or informally insist on the confidentiality of their material. When providing the term or its context, it is vital to redact all identifying or commercially sensitive information from the text. While failing to do so generally does not result in legal action, it may create a highly unpleasant and avoidable situation. Of vital importance is the providing of the total context of the term, as much as possible, including the subject area, document type and accompanying text. Otherwise, those translators willing to help can only guess. Regarding due diligence, the inability to translate a specific term generally results from forgetting or not knowing. In the first case, professional translators should find a colleague with whom it is possible to pose “stupid” questions after conducting a proper Internet search. The use of a trusted, non-judgmental partner saves embarrassment and avoids creating a poor impression on the forum. As for those terms beyond a translator’s area of knowledge, translators are expected to invest some time and effort in a directed, thorough search as it is quite probable that a reliable answer is available online. In other words, a query to a forum should be the last, not the first option. Finally, forum help should not be a replacement for subject knowledge. If a translator posts a list of multiple terms, many of them basic to the field, the intuitive reaction is that the translator should not have taken on the translation, not a positive impression. In practice, the length of the document and difficulty of the terms will influence whether the request is exaggerated or not but, as Oscar Wilde said, moderation in all things, including moderation.

A third, quite legitimate use of translator forums is to confirm the choice of translation. All of the elements above apply here but the motivation and dialogue are different. To explain, professional translators ideally strive to be 100% certain of their choices, especially in regards to  key terms and phrases. In many cases, only subject  field experts have the knowledge to confirm the translation. The best approach is to provide the term, context and the proposed solution or solutions. Often no exact translation exists, only close approximates, which leads to interesting dialogues regarding the relative merits of each option. Since the poster seeks a definitive answer, responders should avoid posting educated guesses. Discretion is the better part of valor.

During the Passover sedar, Jews read about four types of Torah scholars: the wise, the wicked, the simple and the one that does not know how to ask questions. When posing questions in professional forums, including translation forums, people posing notices in a forum should aim to be the first, applying due diligence and providing all the required information so that they receive the effective and efficient enlightenment regarding their perplexing matter.

* Picture captions help the blind access the Internet. Picture from Boulder Jewish News.

Uplifting downsizing
Sun, 23 May 2021 06:37:00 +0000

[large and small trees*]

The last ten years, especially this last year, have created a plethora of changes in many people’s lives, including mine. One of most noticeable and positive, in my view, differences is downsizing, reducing the amount of “stuff” as George Carlin would say. While for some more is still better, many including myself have experienced an improved quality of life by reducing, addition by subtraction if you will. To demonstrate, I now have a smaller house and car, less books, limited television access and eat less frequently, all for the positive.

Some ten years ago, I had a large, multistory house (240 sq.  m/2500 sq. f.) with an expansive garden. Aside from making an impression on visitors and having lots of storage space, it involved constant investment of time and money to maintain. Now, I have a flat and garden half the size, which takes less than half the time to clean, is subject to half the property taxes and requires much less water. Not only that, it is located in a neighborhood with a wider variety of people, who also actually talk to their neighbors. The move to a smaller residence has improved my quality of life.

We recently sold our fancy sedan with all the bells and whistles, some of which I understood the function, and bought a small car (Mazda 2). It is a pleasure not to watch the gas gauge float down in front of your eyes while driving. Parking is much easier as is operating the few buttons on the dashboard. It also turned out the most of the lost space in the trunk was in terms of height, not usable surface area. Functionality is cool.

Over my life, I had collected quite a few books, which I insisted on dragging with me from place to place. A smaller residence forced me to “part” from the vast majority of these prized possessions. I spend a painful afternoon considering whether I would ever reread each and every book. The answer in most cases was negative. Some 10 boxes of books were donated to the public library. Curiously, I have never regretted their loss and hope that some reader somewhere has enjoyed them.


By contrast, divorcing cable was an easy decision but a much longer process as the cable companies, at least in Israel, tend to view these connections as Catholic marriages. After over a year of squabbling, pleas, delays and screaming, we managed to cut the cord and now watch TV through our computer using an Internet TV supplier. Not only do we watch local TV for free, we have access to the foreign channels we actually watch. Even better, the monthly fee is much less. When it comes to TV, quantity does mean price but not quality.

Finally, the prolonged Corona crisis prevented everybody from eating at restaurants. Granted, takeaway and delivery were/are available, but the food and experience are not the same. While homemade food may involve more cooking and cleaning up time, it generally is much tastier (my wife is a very good cook). Furthermore, we control the amount of salt in the food. Most importantly, because restaurant portions are much larger than we normally eat, it is very pleasant to get up from a lunch, the main meal in Israel, feeling full but not stuffed. Not surprisingly, the monthly credit card bill is lower as homemade food is generally less expensive than eating out. I still enjoy going to quality restaurants but will do so much less frequently.

None of these changes would fit the bill of a Knut Hamsun naturalistic paradise.  I still live in a nice flat, have a car, buy books occasionally, watch TV and eat out. However, I do so on a much smaller scale. For whatever reason, this downsizing has actually improved my life as it has for many people, uplifting it so to speak. For some, less is better.

* Picture captions allow the blind to fully access the Internet. Pictures through Pixabay.

So, ya wanna be a translator?
Sun, 16 May 2021 06:48:00 +0000


[Man with Google Translate**]

The choice of a profession is a difficult decision at any age, often clouded by legitimate doubts regarding personal suitability. It is a daunting challenge to project one’s uncertain skills on an unfamiliar profession. In regards to becoming a translator, thorough familiarity with both your native and the source language, especially written language, clearly is a requirement. Beyond that prerequisite, contrary to the impression that the knowledge of the translation process is the key, the most important elements in choosing whether or not to become a translator are subject area knowledge and love of proper language.

[Multilanguage dictionary]
To clarify, the technical aspects of translating are not a matter of inborn skill but of willingness to learn. In other words, unless a person took a dedicated course or program in translation, everybody starts out relatively inefficient and ineffective as in any learning curve. While natural talent may determine the starting and top level, technical skill is a largely a matter of practice. Most translators, especially older ones, began in the profession without any idea of exactly how to do it. To give a personal example, my first translating experience was instantaneous translation of the first four Harry Potter books as I read them to my young daughter. This lack of knowledge does lead to some early failures and serious embarrassment years later when looking back at those early translations but with time and effort, translators become technically proficient.

[Book-filled room]
By contrast, an extremely important factor in determining the path of a translators is previous knowledge. When advising new translators, my first question is always about specific areas of knowledge that they have acquired in their life. While not immediately obvious, everybody has fields in which they can understand the language, know the terminology and write the lingo. For example, electrical engineers know the difference between the word coax as a verb and noun*, a classic shibboleth. When people try to translate material beyond their areas of expertise, the result is low quality at best. In worse cases, such poor judgment can lead to financial losses in the case of legal and financial material and even death in the case of medical documents. This source of this knowledge may be the home, studies or work. Regardless, subject familiarity is an important asset in deciding which documents to translate. For example, expertise in tax matters or auto engines are of great interest in potential customers and cannot be attained from studies only. Thus, people considering whether to become professional translators need to make an inventory of their areas of knowledge and, if they decide to act on it, direct their efforts in those directions.

[World of words in hand]
However, beyond knowledge and skill, excellent translators have a passion for language, the insistence that the text sounds as perfect as can be. In practice, the search for a single term can easily take 30 minutes. While in some cases the distinction between terms may be critical, such as in medical technology, in a majority of cases, the translator is more bothered than the customer is. Furthermore, every language has its own song, its unique syntax. Outstanding translators thus aim for seamless translations, ones that don’t sound like translation. Such polishing takes time and effort, which are not always reflected in the fee. Thus, to be a proficient translator requires a certain amount of obsession with the quality of the language of the translation. The professional translator not only receives satisfaction from receipt of the payment in the bank but also from the quality of the produced document. Love of the belle phrase is a prerequisite for entering this profession.

For those of you considering becoming a professional translator, I can say that it is an interesting profession that expands the mind. The prerequisites are mastery of your native tongue and a foreign language and a willingness to learn the technical aspects of translation as well as, more importantly, solid subject knowledge and a passion for language. If you have those attributes, you can become a truly professional translator.

*Coax as a verb means to force while coax as a noun is a coaxial cable, used in cabel television.

** Captioning pictures is vital for the blind. All pictures from Pixabay.

Refer madness? Colleague or foe?
Sun, 09 May 2021 05:53:00 +0000



In the last two months, I have referred five translation projects to colleagues. I received several referrals also. It may incorrectly appear that I am extremely charitable, quite naive or overly busy. In fact, I had solid professional reasons for passing on those jobs and did so to a network that I had built up for the years. Moreover, my actions were beneficial both personally and professionally.

It is common to view fellow professionals as rivals for the same zero-sum client base. However, no freelancer or even small firm can be effective and efficient in all aspects of any craft. Whether we formally define ourselves as specialists or not, there are certain tasks that are not worthwhile in terms of time or results. For example, I passed on jobs in a different subject area, medicine, as my areas of knowledge are law and business. I also referred a job in the opposite langaugae direction, English to Russian, as I only work into English. Finally, I passed on an urgent job for an established client because I could not meet its deadline. My actions lead to no loss of income as I could not handle the projects in any case.

I referred these clients to translators that I personally knew from networking activities. I had met them at conferences, had dinner with them, drank coffee with them and/on communicated on Zoom or another platform. There was a face and personality behind the name. I cannot attest to their level of skill but I do have a general, albeit intutive, impression of their integrity as human beings and level of knowledge. Since I provided a referral, not a recommendation, that is sufficient. My acquaintance with them was not accidental. It was the product of attending many conferences, hosting local translators at my house, going to relevant lectures and participating in online events. By investing our time in such social activities, we can get to know our colelagues while they got to know us, to our mutual if not always comcomitant benefit.

Clearly, I had the option of informing my customers that I regret that I don’t provide the given service or am unavailable and stopping there. However, by making the referrals, I gained in terms of good feeling, future referrals and customer satisfaction. Most people receive pleasure from seeing their friends succeed. In this case, my colleagues may be in the middle of a bad month. This project may just what the doctor ordered. Furthermore, positive acts lead to other positive acts. One of the referrals I sent was after I received a referral from the same translator. In a sense, giving and receiving are linked. As for my customers, I provided added value by helping them find a solution for their need, making me an even more valuable and trustworthy partner. They now have even more reason to come back to me as they know that I won’t take on projects beyond my capacity but instead will help find solutions if necessary. I actually strenghtened customer loyality in addition to creating a good feeling and helping a colleague.

This situation is relevant to many service professions. Referrals, when appropriate, are an additional tool to market ourselves and reach customers that we could normally never access. Contrary to the claim of Reefer Madness, the classic anti-drug film from 1936, it is not madness to refer to colleagues but instead good business sense.

* Picture captions help make the Internet completely accessible to the blind. 

Picture credit: Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/alexas_fotos-686414/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=3276682">Hier und jetzt endet leider meine Reise auf Pixabay aber</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=3276682">Pixabay</a>

The importance of proper menu translation or why laughing last is not always ideal
Sun, 02 May 2021 05:54:00 +0000

[blank menu*]

Translators’ forums are filled with highly amusing menu translations from restaurants around the world. While linguists may find these funny, restaurant owners should not. In fact, menu translation often is an essential part of a restaurant’s success, needs to communicate many messages and should be handled with care and attention.

The menu, including in translation, is a key element in a restaurant’s image. First, customers judge a restaurant not only on the merits of its food but also its dressings. Restaurant owners thus invest incredible amount of capital in plates, silverware, glasses, tables, chairs, wall coverings and menu design. They sometimes forget the fact, especially in non-English speaking countries, the translation is the only menu seen by many diners. Given the impact of tourist spending in the restaurant trade, a proper translation creates a good impression while spelling and vocabulary errors lead to, at minimum, laughing. Some potential diners may not enter a restaurant if the menu in their language is laughable.  Since the investment in translation is essentially a fixed cost that can be spread over many years even taking into account occasional updates, proper translation is a worthwhile and cost-effective investment for restaurant owners.

Proper translation involves the weighed choice of vocabulary and clean text as well as application of marketing language. Choosing the correct word for an ingredient or type of sauce involves understanding whether an equivalent term exists in the target language and if the foreign term will be understood to the average customer that would dine in that restaurant. An example is with gravy or au jus. The translator needs to choose the word that most of the diners will understood while projecting the desired image. Of course, thorough QA is required to eliminate all obvious errors of spelling and grammar, including homonyms (e.g., sea and see) in order to render the menu a guide to the food, not a source of amusement. Finally, the language chosen should be specific and enticing enough to cause the diner to want to order the dish. For, example, grilled marinated chicken accompanied by spiced rice sounds much more tempting than chicken with rice. Menu translation is the elegant dance between earth and sky.

Restaurateurs should seek a translator that has the required subject knowledge, ability to produce marketing language and communication skills. Clearly, the ideal translator must be thoroughly familiar with both the names of ingredients and dishes in the target language. Applying that knowledge, the linguist needs to create descriptions in line with the restaurant image and customers, going beyond merely statements of the dish and feeding the desire to order it. In many cases, it may be necessary to communicate with the chef or restaurant manager to add or confirm details, which entails dialogue on both sides. In any case, restaurant owners should hire only translators with the proper set of skills working in their native language even if they are more expensive as menu translation is far from simple. Google translate is not an effective solution, however tempting it may appear.

The dining experience ideally is about the food and company. The goal of all restaurant owners is for the customer to leave with the memory of the meal and the desire to return. A poor translation of a menu spoils that effect by making the menu memorable not because of its culinary content but its linguistic issues. This situation is easily avoidable by simple paying for a professional translation. Restaurant owners should remember that he who laughs last does not necessarily laugh best.

* Place picture captions to help the blind accesss the Internet.

Picture credit:Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/prawny-162579/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=1206941">Prawny</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=1206941">Pixabay</a>

Money talks – Home education
Sun, 25 Apr 2021 06:19:00 +0000


[Balancing money and a potato*]

There is nothing like innocent questions from children to cause us to consider our values. Recently, I told my adult daughter that I had sold my car. She immediately and straightforwardly asked “for how much?”. My equally immediate and straightforward answer was “none of your business”. Not for the first time, I was forced to consider the nature, background and correctness of my responses, this time in regard to financial education.

Attitudes are a matter of spectrum. On the subject of family finance, on one end of the spectrum are those parents that do not discuss any money issue in the presence of their children, often on the grounds that children should be protected from this type of stress and worry or in the belief that children are not capable of understanding such matters. On the other end are families that discuss everything at the kitchen table from the nitty-gritty price negotiations in their business to the challenges of staying within the monthly budget. These parents believe both in the virtue of the knowledge and their children’s capacity to dealt with these facts. In between are various degrees of openness about the process and numbers of financial management.

The background of these attitudes includes parental attitudes, immediate circumstances and cultural norms. Clearly, if parents never discussed their salary or the monthly budget, children require a great effort to change the approach when they become parents themselves. In my case, I never knew nor would never ask how much my father was earning or how much they paid for their car. Of course, diffcult circumstances often force parents to discuss finances with children especially when negative events force a radical reduction of the budget. During the Corona crisis, countless families had to sit with their children of all ages and explain why and how spending had to be cut to the minimum. A major factor in financial openness is the attitude of the surrounding culture. Israelis are one of many cultures that enjoy the game of “downsmanship”, i.e., wanting to know if they purchased an item for less. Therefore, it is natural for most Israelis, including my daughter, to say two things upon hearing that someone purchased something new: tithadesh – congratulations on a new item, and "how much did you pay". This behaviour would be extremely rude in many local societies. For example, according to my parents, in the 1960’s such questions were considered faut pas in New York but perfectly acceptable in Los Angeles. So, our total environment determines our approach to discussing finances.

An interesting issue is how parental attitudes affect our children. Clearly, “protected” children have less stress about money during childhood but often lack basic budgeting and negotiating skills when they become adults. They then take a crash course in financial management and sometimes do crash. An extreme example of this was Japanese women, at least in the past, who were encouraged to remain childlike even in young adulthood but were expected to manage the entire family budget when they got married. By contrast, children that learned about budgeting and negotiation throughout their childhood not only are more equipped to find better deals but often enjoy the process. The question is whether the concomitant stress is emotionally beneficial to children. Clearly, financial discussions in the presence of children do have an effect

Preparing children for life should involve giving them the tools to manage their finances. Ignoring such vital matters (like ignoring sex) can lead to disaster. In my view, at minimum, parents should teach their children to value money and stay within budget.  Beyond that, it is a matter of individual judgment. In any case, children are our mirrors, whether we like we see or not.

* Picture captions help the blind access the Internet.

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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.