Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Are you planning a trip? Think like a geographer!


I recently planned a sightseeing tour for a friend who was visiting Athens. We had less than a day in our hands, that’s why we tried to make the most of it.

How we did it? Well, I decided to think like a geographer. And it worked: my friend was able to enjoy some of the most important sights and to appreciate the unique flavour of the city, something that is not obvious at first sight. In other words, even if we had such a little time available, the choice of sights was to the point, insofar as my friend got a true sense of place regarding Athens.

Are you planning a trip or a short holiday? These three tips will help you make the most of it:

#1 PLAN AHEAD

I totally recommend planning ahead. For instance, if you are travelling in the summer, note on the map the places you would like to visit taking into account that it would be better to visit the western places in the morning and the eastern places in the afternoon. This way you avoid unnecessary exposure to the sun.

While some travellers prefer to be spontaneous and discover the place on the spot, without any planning whatsoever, I personally believe that when you have a good idea of the place beforehand you can enjoy the place more. When you are more in control of your trip you feel more relaxed and less tired, and what’s more: when you avoid fretting over details such as finding the correct bus, you can appreciate your surroundings and focus on your immediate experience.

#2 USE PRINTED-OUT MAPS

While it’s becoming more common to use maps on our smartphones, printing them out has its own advantages. For once, you save battery. Then, it’s safer when you ask passers-by for directions – if they want to run away with your printed map, let them! Besides, with a printed-out map you can navigate and talk on the phone simultaneously. Finally, it’s easier to take notes directly on the map, mark places for future reference etc.

Don’t worry about the lack of a GPS – you are a geographer now! Look for the place of the sun, and according to whether it’s morning or afternoon you will be able to locate the East and the West respectively.

#3 LOOK FOR THE SENSE OF THE PLACE

Geographers are not tourists; they do not wish to accumulate encyclopedic knowledge about places. Rather, they are looking for the sense of the place, the connections and the relationships that create and constitute that place. That’s why me and my friend, when we visited a location, we tried to reflect upon it and upon the feelings it gave us, while me, as a local, brought up some background stories of these locations. This was not done in a tourist-guide fashion, but in a way that made the place alive and meaningful to my friend who was not an Athens native.

Geography is not just locations, coordinates and historical sights; besides, too much information can be rather. But, when everything else about a place is forgotten, its sense will remain. Wherever you travel, try to discover the sense of the place.

Thanks for reading and enjoy your trip!

Friday, 5 August 2016

3 simple language learning tips for shy people

Most researchers advocate that language involves the communication of meaning. It was this idea that brought forward the communicative approach in language learning. This approach gives special emphasis to communication and speaking in the foreign language, ideally from day one. Some of us, though, are shy. Some of us are not comfortable talking with people we don’t know, let alone talking with people from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds, and using another language for that matter.

So what do we do? Here are a few tips for shy language lovers:

#1 BEING SHY IS OKAY

First of all, we should bear in mind that being shy is not something intrinsically bad. This is who we are and we are not obliged to change if we don’t want to in order to conform to a cultural ideal. Besides, while some language learners are extroverts and talkative, and are learning new languages with the aim of communicating with people, others, more scholarly types, learn a language in order to focus more on literature or translation. Each motive is legitimate in its own right.

#2 PUSHING YOURSELF WILL ONLY MAKE MATTERS WORSE

I don’t think it’s a good idea to push ourselves to speak in a new language if we don’t feel comfortable. After all, I believe that our shyness is not connected to our language learning. We can learn a language and still be shy, right? Besides, some people just need more time in order to develop oral communication skills. If you are in a language class, try to explain to your professor that you need your own pace. Your professor should respect your learning style and needs.

#3 COMMUNICATING ONLINE CAN BOOST YOUR CONFIDENCE

Language learning cannot transform shy people into extrovert language learners. However, shy language learners who nevertheless enjoy social media can opt for alternative communicative settings in order to practise the language they are learning. For example, they can join online conversations, e.g. a forum discussion. This way they will be able to use their new language in a safer setting. Besides, shy language lovers can always use their new language in a great number of situations, from reading and translating novels to enjoying films, exchanging emails or exploring a new academic interest. There is no rule saying that shy people should avoid learning new languages.

Thanks for reading and good luck with your language learning!

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

What to read on holiday


Are you planning a holiday? Do you usually take books with you? Choosing a book to read on holiday can be tricky; that's why I thought of writing a post about it. Maybe you'll find these tips helpful.

FOR A LONG-HOUR JOURNEY I would suggest a page turner, for example a detective story or a family saga. The latest mystery best seller is a very wise choice. It will keep you company and make your journey much more interesting.

FOR A QUIET HOLIDAY I would suggest a slow-paced, reflective book which will help you slow down and appreciate the little details of life. In this case, a classic is the best choice.

FOR A HOLIDAY IN A FAMOUS CITY I would suggest a novel that is taking place in this very city. It will give you a special feeling of the place that will stay with you forever.

FOR A STAYCATION I would suggest a huge biography or a historical book or novel that you have always wanted to read but didn't get round to. Being on holiday at home will enable you to look up things about the book much easier.

TO RECONNECT WITH YOUR JOB I would suggest reading a popular science book on your profession. While on holiday, sometimes we feel estranged from our professions. That’s why, I think, reading such a book can help us look at our jobs with the eyes of a newcomer.

Be careful: while a sad book can certainly ruin your mood and your holiday, a super-interesting novel can monopolise your attention and alienate you from your trip. Choose wisely!

Thanks for reading and enjoy your trip! 

Monday, 15 February 2016

Dreams, goals, reality: just focus on the how



When I worked as a teacher, there were many parents who complained that their kids didn't study enough. However, I am not sure that these kids were explicitly told how to study. It seemed that studying techniques was a kind of taboo topic. Much talk was being done about the importance of it, but the actual act of studying was a bit hushed upon. When I was a kid and I was asking how I should study, they shrugged me off telling me that I just needed to 'open the book and start studying'.

Oh really? And when I get bored? And when I don't understand something? And when I don't feel like it? After all, is it normal for a kid to be able to focus on such an unstimulating activity? I did want to study; sometimes I enjoyed it; but sometimes I found it very hard to concentrate. I got bored. I turned on MTV. I called my friends. No focus at all.

Now, the same old story all over again. I have goals. And I get stuck. You, people, with the perfect careers, do tell me, please: how do you do it? I want details. All the gory details. You, with the top class grades. You, who always seem on top of everything. Tell me. How. Do. You. Do. It.

Something similar is happening right now, I am afraid, on a global level. Day after day, articles and blog posts appear urging freelancers, small business owners and entrepreneurs to get up and do stuff. Achieve our goals. Grow. Fulfil our potential. Leave our comfort zone. But only a few articles and posts tell us how to do it.

I mean, for real. I want to learn how to do it. I want to hear everything that went wrong and how you were able to fix it. I want to read about how you were bored to death, procrastinating like crazy, but still managed to overcome it and finally succeed.

Having said that, I think that what works for a person depends on his or her specific circumstances. What worked for me may not necessarily work for you. But reading about specific cases exposes me to various plans that do work, albeit in a different context, and this gets me in the mood of doing things.  

I am not a big fan of clich├ęs such as 'leave your comfort zone' or 'always think positively because the universe is conspiring for your benefit only'. Instead, I believe that what we want is on the other side of hard work.

And hard work needs a plan. An explicit plan. That's why, when I used to teach, I would explain in detail to my students how they should study. In every single detail. They needed a plan, that is, a clear process. And I don't mean micromanaging, far from it. I just described them how I did it (because at that time I was a student, too). And this did the trick. It put them to the right track. It gave them a good example. That's what I need at the moment. I need to learn how to proceed. What we want is on the other side of hard work. And hard work, people, needs a plan.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, 4 February 2016

How translators can find comfort in their specialisation


As  a translator, have you ever thought of specialisation as something that can provide you with comfort?

If you ask experienced translators, they will tell you that specialisation is key for success. While this is very true, I also believe that specialisation can give us also a sense of comfort.

One of my fundamental needs as a person is to be around familiar things. Familiarity gives me a sense of security. That's why when I take on jobs within my specialisation I feel very comfortable.

For example, I never hesitate to accept a difficult project when it belongs to my specialisation. In this case my specialisation makes me feel relaxed and confident. What's more, since there will be many aspects of the project that will be familiar, I know I won't waste time or effort on them. Thus I will be able to focus on the more difficult aspects of the project and this will certainly show on the final product in terms of quality. Besides, I am sure that accepting such projects can only make me more productive in the long run.

Finding comfort in our specialisation does not mean that we should stay within our comfort zone and refuse to try anything new. What I am saying here is that when we build a freelance business we need a place where we can feel comfort and safe. This place can be our specialisation. And from there, we can start experimenting. In other words, in order to get uncomfortable, we need to start from a place where we feel comfortable. Do you agree?

Thanks for reading!