Wednesday, 23 September 2020

Language mythologies: variation is the norm













Wouldn't it be easier if we all spoke the same language?

No need for expensive translators or interpreters. No need to waste money and time on crossing linguistic barriers. After all, with a single, unique language, we would understand each other better. 

Maybe there was a time in history when everyone spoke the same language.
And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.
— Genesis 11:1
Who knows, maybe our efforts to learn languages aim to reconstruct precisely this blissed state of the past. A time period when everyone was understood by everyone without the need of an intermediary. 

DO YOU BELIEVE IN SUCH STUFF?

Variation is part of the human condition. In fact, being human means to be variant, self-contradictory and complex to understand. It easier for scientists to idealise and speak about an universal grammar, ideal native speakers, pure linguistic communities and native speaker intuition. 

We need to focus on the fact that such idealisation is practical for theoretical linguists in order to break up the linguistic system and study it more effectively. However, bear in mind that this has nothing to do with the individual linguistic performances of specific individuals that belong to a certain linguistic community.

After all, even if there was a single language from which all other languages stemmed from, each speaker used it in their own, individual way. This is the complex linguistic reality of being human.

FACE THE FACTS

The moment we accept the complex linguistic realities of everyday life, it's easier to make decisions. We can see that there is no ideal native speaker. No ideal grammar book. 

Besides, we see clearly that no native person can be an ideal language teacher or translator. 

Indeed, there has to be a formal education to become either a language teacher or a translator. Sometimes, even a native person can use grammar in an incorrect way while it's possible for a trained non-native individual to speak and write in a grammatically coherent way.

NATIVES, BEWARE

Again, we must accept that variation is the norm. 

Even in the same person, there can be times when their linguistic performance is low or high, according to certain circumstances. 

Besides, there is always room for improvement, when one has a growth mindset. Even a native speaker can improve their linguistic skills, even their accent. There is no clear-cut line that separates native speakers from non-native speakers.

So, if you work with language, make sure that:

  • You maintain a high level of knowledge regarding language
  • You check everything, even if it sounds okay to you as a native speaker
  • You are aware of the variations within the same linguistic system

Variety is part of human nature. Once we embrace this notion, everything starts to make sense.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Translation vs. localisation: how to boost your brand in another language

When it comes to online content, I always notice cross-cultural differences, especially when there is a marked difference with Greece. I am a translator, after all.

The good news is that these local differences can be explored to boost a brand.

How can this be done?

With localisation.

ENTER THE LOCAL NARRATIVE

What is localisation? Well, localisation is just like translation, but at the same time, it is much more than that. When it is done right, it looks as if the brand was specifically created for a certain market. 

In localisation, every word is important as it determines whether the brand fits the local narrative or not. And this is crucial for success.

A localised website can help a brand find its place in the local narrative.

Some cultures prefer more detail-oriented product descriptions. Even in a website that sells toys for children, they want to see facts and figures. For them, an informed decision is what matters most.

However, I cannot imagine a Greek commercial website that sells toys mentioning facts and figures. Traditional countries like Greece prefer to see the social and cultural values behind a product or service.

For the example above, I would expect that the Greek website would mention that the toy can be given as a gift. In our culture, it is customary to exchange gifts on many occasions. Greek children receive gifts all the time: on their name days, on their birthdays, on Easter, on New Year’s Day. We do shower children with gifts.

Another example is the content that refers to recipes and food. Many Greek recipes underline the fact that this is something that children will like and thus eat voluntarily (as child nutrition is very important in our culture). Numerous milk ads feature children hopping up and down, impatient to drink up their glasses of milk, filled up to the brim.

LOOK FOR AUTHENTICITY

We cannot say that some strategies are more authentic than others. Each is authentic for its respected audience. That is why websites and online content should be localised, not just translated. Not written from scratch, but not just translated either.

Localisation begins in the target text but it is not chained to it. If something is not working in the target culture, localisation simply throws that out of the window and tries to find an alternative way to make it work in the target culture.

For example, Befana can become St. Nicholas, Santa Claus, Father Christmas, or Basil of Caesarea, also called Saint Basil the Great.

Beware: this works only in the context of website commercial translations. If you are translating a novel, Befana will have to stay Befana.

Local culture, local images and local problems make more sense to local people. So, they are more likely to buy from you when your content is adapted to their preferences.

A good place to start is to watch out for:

  • Idioms and fixed expressions
  • Graphic design and images
  • Currency, geography, religion and cultural-specific concepts

Are these adapted for your local audiences?

THINK LOCALLY

Global brands are popular. People all over the world want to be part of them. People are thrilled to be able to try out new products or services.

Very often, though, the product or service needs to fit the narrative of the local market. You cannot expect loyalty from customers and clients when the product or service plainly ignores them.

Rather, it is better to present yourself as aware of the local narrative; this way, your brand becomes relevant. It becomes part of the solution.

If not, people will not be able to relate to it. It will not be relevant to them or their needs. They have to be able to visualise themselves using the product or service. They have to be able to see clearly how the product or service is going to satisfy their own particular needs.

Each of us experiences life differently. Our culture is part of who we are, whether we like it or not. And it almost always informs our decisions when it comes to buying a product or hiring a specialist. A good brand strategist needs to think locally to effectively enter a new market. A local specialist will make a difference. And localisation is key.

If you want to know more about Greek, check out this post: 5 good reasons to learn Greek.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Some thoughts on anxiety and overthinking when running your own business

Are you struggling with anxiety? Does overthinking drive you crazy? Cool!

Anxiety and overthinking are symptoms of a healthy brain. It may seem strange but it is true. Our brains have the best intentions: they stress over the same problems because they are trying to help. They think they are doing us a favour. They stress over the same problem over and over again precisely because they recognise this is something important and they are trying to provide us with a solution.

What goes wrong, then?

YOUR BRAIN IS A COMPUTER

Let us imagine that our brain is a computer. A computer can help us but in order to do so we must give it a problem. But giving a problem is not enough; we must express the problem in a way the computer understands it, namely in a way that is solvable. This is the perfect trick to make our brains actually work for us, not against us. In other words, if we feed our brains with anxiety, we will not get any results at all since our computer-brain will not have anything to work with. But our computer-brain will thrive on a well-expressed practical question.

HOW TO GET SOLUTIONS

Our brains thrive on problems; problem solving is their thing. So, next time you are facing a problem, try to rephrase it in a more concrete way. If you give your brain a concrete question, you are going to start getting answers. Your brain is going to invest all its energy not in providing worst-case scenarios or anxiety-filled thoughts, but in providing practical solutions. Your anxiety and overthinking then are going to work for your benefit: all this energy will come to your rescue. Still, worrying will not disappear magically; but this trick is going to help. If it helped me, the most anxious and overthinking woman ever, it will surely help you too! (However, if you feel too stressed, seek professional help).

AN EXAMPLE

Imagine you have to prepare lots of invoices but you have little time for this task. The idea of preparing invoices like this would make you anxious, right? Your mind would obsess with this boring task worrying over the details. And starting the task would take forever, as well.

You could use this energy, though, to your own advantage. Instead of trying to stop this kind of obsessive thinking, you could actually make it work for you. Switch into problem-solving mode. Obsess, yes, but this time with concrete questions.

Notice what happens when you give your mind a concrete question. If you feed your brain with questions such as how to get started with your invoice task, how to do it better, what music to listen to while you are doing the task, you will start getting answers. And what is more? When you put your brain in problem-solving mode, the worrying will stop. Try it and see for yourself if it works. And remember, an anxious mind is a healthy mind.

Thanks for reading!

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 clichés 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!

Monday, 11 May 2015

5 good reasons to learn Greek

So  you are looking for a new language to learn. Have you ever considered Modern Greek?

I truly believe Greek is worth it, and not just because it's my language. Okay, maybe precisely because it's my language, I may be a little prejudiced in favour of it. But why not trust my inside knowledge on this? Let's find out the 5 reasons why Greek should be your next language.

#1 NO HARDCORE GRAMMAR

Consider that Modern Greek is not that hard as Ancient Greek. Still, there are four cases to master (including the most interesting and rare vocative case), but all in all, grammar rules are pretty straightforward. As with most Indo-European languages, Greek has become more analytic, making things easier for the language learner.

#2 AWESOME SCRIPT

You will use a beautiful new script that is used in mathematics, science, and engineering. Greek letters are also used in the International Phonetic Alphabet and in the names of stars and constellations. In case you want to appear sophisticated, you could also learn how to write in the quaint polytonic system. So cool!

#3 GREAT POETRY

Some languages are great for prose and some other languages for poetry. Modern Greek is absolutely a language for poetry. We are a small country but already with two Nobel laureates, both in poetry. If you love poems, that's the language to learn!

#4 YOU ALREADY KNOW A LOT

Believe it or not, you already know a lot of Greek. I know, because I have the (bad) habit of saying Greek stuff to friends from other countries and I have seen they understand me. How they do it: using the Ancient Greek they had been taught at school as well as the various Greek elements that appear in certain English words. So with Greek, you are not starting from scratch. Αnd now a quiz for you: can you guess the meaning of the following Greek words? paidiatros (παιδίατρος), pateras (πατέρας) katharizo (καθαρίζω), theatro (θέατρο), panepistimio (πανεπιστήμιο) gymnastirio (γυμναστήριο). You can find the answers at the end of the post.  

#5 A LANGUAGE STILL ON THE MAKING

According to some linguists, Modern Greek is still evolving, trying to sober up after years of struggle between the two varieties known as Demotic and Katharevousa. The two varieties differ in the matter of register, with Katharevousa being more formal due to its connection with Ancient Greek. As a result, there are many sets of words that express the same idea or concept, something that is explored by writers in various ways. Learning Greek will enable you to witness this most interesting phenomenon.

As you see, Greek is a messy language, with tons of exceptions and irregularities. But this is due to its numerous adventures over the centuries. Studying this kind of language can make you grow as a language learner, and this is what matters most.

Still all Greek to you? Read more:


Enjoy!

Quiz answers:
paidiatros: paediatrician, pateras: father, katharizo: to clean (related to catharsis!), theatro: theatre, panepistimio: university (related to epistemology!) gymnastirio: gym (from gymnasium).