Category Archives: Bilingual at work

Bilingual at work – we use this space to comment on ups and downs of typical bilingual jobs, e.g. foreign language teacher, translator, interpreter

Pretty Ugly – two poems in one

I found the poem Pretty Ugly online and it immediately caught my attention both for its meaning and translation challenges. The author Abdullah Shoaib gives us two poems in one, both with a very powerful message about how we perceive ourselves and how easily we can bring ourselves up or down. I really felt quite sad when reading the poem the first time, the lower my eyes dropped, the more depressed I became. But reading it for the second time my mood changed and I felt uplifted.
My second thought was: would it be translatable into Polish? Find below the original text and my rendering into Polish. I decided to use female gender for the person talking in the poem, as it is probably mostly us, females, that use this kind of internal dialogue 馃檪
You’re welcome to try and translate the poem into your native languages. Please post your translations into the comments, so that we can all enjoy and spread the author’s message to the whole world!

The original poem by Abdullah Shoaib:

Pretty Ugly

I鈥檓 very ugly
So don鈥檛 try to convince me that
I am a very beautiful person
Because at the end of the day
I hate myself in every single way
And I鈥檓 not going to lie to myself by saying
There is beauty inside of me that matters
So rest assured I will remind myself
That I am a worthless, terrible person
And nothing you say will make me believe
I still deserve love
Because no matter what
I am not good enough to be loved
And I am in no position to believe that
Beauty does exist within me
Because whenever I look in the mirror I always think
Am I as ugly as people say?

(Now read the same words, but bottom up.)

Polish translation:

Ca艂kiem (nie)brzydka

Jestem bardzo brzydka
Wi臋c nie pr贸buj mnie przekona膰, 偶e
Jestem bardzo pi臋kn膮 osob膮
Bo tak naprawd臋
Nienawidz臋 w sobie wszystkiego
I nie b臋d臋 si臋 ok艂amywa膰, m贸wi膮c
Jest we mnie pi臋kno, kt贸re ma znaczenie
Wi臋c mo偶esz by膰 pewny, 偶e sama sobie powt贸rz臋, 偶e
Jestem bezwarto艣ciow膮, okropn膮 osob膮
I nic, co powiesz nie sprawi, 偶e uwierz臋, 偶e
Nadal zas艂uguj臋 na mi艂o艣膰
Bo tak czy owak
Nie jestem na tyle dobra, by by膰 kochana
I nie mam podstaw, by my艣le膰, 偶e
Jest we mnie pi臋kno
Bo kiedy patrz臋 w lustro, zawsze my艣l臋
Czy jestem tak brzydka, jak m贸wi膮?

(Teraz przeczytaj od do艂u do g贸ry)

Bilingual career options – how to make your job a success

bilingual-careerToday’s post about the benefits of being bilingual in your professional life was聽written for us聽by a fellow linguist and blogger聽Micha聽from Mindpeeler.com聽(you can find more info about Micha and his work below). In his article Micha shows us that bilingual career options are more numerous and diversified than you can think of. It is an important topic, especially in the times of the economic crisis, so I hope it can inspire you to make the best of your resources and turn your job to a successful career!

Unique professional advantages of multilingualism

It’s pretty obvious that knowing more languages might be an advantage when you’re looking for work, and that more fluent you are the better your chances are, but beyond that, what does bi- and multilingualism have to offer that can further or kick start your career? The answer, of course, is a lot, or I wouldn’t be writing this.

Larger working memory – bilinguals can be more efficient at work

A surprising development for bilinguals is a larger working memory than in monolinguals, even in children. This means that speaking more languages makes you smarter (sort of). You don’t actually get smarter, but your brain functions more efficiently allowing you to perform better in complex tasks. However, people with a high working memory are also more susceptible to stress than people with a lower working memory, so if there is a connection there, we bilinguals might be wiser to pursue work where we have some control over our environment.

More study and bilingual career options

Bilingual career options are more numerous that those open to monolinguals, and I’m not talking about being a teacher. A bilingual person doesn’t need to have any interest at all in language teaching or translation, or any bilingually oriented job in order to take advantage of their skills. Of course that doesn’t mean that those jobs aren’t worth pursuing, they are, but if you don’t like that idea you can also be a more successful physicist because of your language skills.

When you’re looking for a college education you’re not limited to the country that you grew up in. If you’re from Tirol in northern Italy and grew up speaking Italian and German, you’re not constrained to apply for university in Italy, where nepotism and the difficult state of the economy make it increasingly hard to attend a quality institution. If you can wade through the bureaucracy you can go to university in Austria, Germany, or Switzerland, and in doing so circumvent roadblocks that leave perfectly talented monolinguals back home stranded.

Once you’re done with school you’ll find that the job market for you is considerably larger as well. If one of your languages is a lingua franca like English or Spanish entire continents will open up for your exploration. If there is no work to be found in the place where you grew up there is another country (or countries) full of people who will be happy to accept your resume.

Greater professional mobility and versatility

As the economy becomes increasingly globalized it’s getting more and more important for people to be mobile, especially as they rise through the ranks of a corporate system. That means visiting other countries and interacting with other international businesses. Being able to speak another language doubles your chances of being the one person at work who can communicate efficiently with your counterpart company. If you manage to show your skills to the right people, it can make the difference between being a background corporate grunt or a front and center representative of your company abroad.

Who is the author?

Micha is a linguist and blogger at his linguistics blog He introduces his readers to the basics of linguistics in a passionate and often funny way. His posts are informative and at the same time full of personal comments that will have you nod your head in agreement or even laugh. I especially聽like his articles from the Language and the World section, they feel like having a private chat with the author, who is not afraid to touch upon some controversial topics regarding politics, education an cultural issues.

The role of the translator

role-of-translatorThis week three years ago a great American novelist and short story writer passed away in his house in Cornish, New Hampshire. J. D. Salinger was born in 1919; his mother had Scots-Irish origin and his father was a Polish Jew. He is best known for his novel The Catcher in the Rye, which has reached the bestseller status with over 65 million copies sold worldwide. I think everyone of us has read it in their teenage years. But what I like the most are Salinger鈥檚 short stories. 鈥淎 Perfect Day for Bananafish鈥, 鈥淭eddy鈥, 鈥淛ust before the War with the Eskimos鈥 鈥 once you read them you can never forget them. I absolutely agree with Richard Yates, who described Salinger as 鈥渁 man who used language as if it were pure energy beautifully controlled, and who knew exactly what he was doing in every silence as well as in every word.鈥

I would like to pay a tribute here to Salinger鈥檚 genius and encourage you to get familiar with his spectacular literary legacy. I would also like to use one of his stories as an example for today鈥檚 note on different views on the role of the translator. In 鈥淯ncle Wiggily in Connecticut鈥 there is a scene of a girl falling down and twisting her ankle. Let鈥檚 have a look:

鈥淓loise looked up at the ceiling again. 鈥淥nce,鈥 she said, 鈥淚 fell down. I used to wait for him at the bus stop, right outside the PX, and he showed up late once, just as the bus was pulling out. We started to run for it, and I fell and twisted my ankle. He said, 鈥楶oor Uncle Wiggily.鈥 He meant my ankle. Poor old Uncle Wiggily, he called it. … God, he was nice.鈥

A translator encounters here a case of intertextuality. Salinger uses a popular character of a series of children鈥檚 stories by Howard R. Garis. Uncle Wiggily is an elderly rabbit that walks with a cane as he is afflicted with rheumatism. It is also a case of a word play: 鈥榰ncle鈥 and 鈥榓nkle鈥 sound almost the same in English. Is it at all possible to translate 鈥楿ncle Wiggily鈥 into any other language? Let鈥檚 see how professional translators have dealt with this issue.

Beautiful translation

A Polish translation by Agnieszka Glinczanka and Krzysztof Zarzecki:

鈥淓loiza utkwi艂a z powrotem wzrok w suficie. 鈥 Kiedy艣 鈥 powiedzia艂a 鈥 przewr贸ci艂am si臋. Czeka艂am na niego zawsze na przystanku, przed sam膮 kantyn膮, i kiedy艣 zjawi艂 si臋 za p贸藕no, autobus ju偶 ruszy艂. Zacz臋li艣my biec i ja si臋 przewr贸ci艂am, skr臋ci艂am sobie kostk臋. A on m贸wi: 鈥濨iedny pan Kostek.鈥 O mojej kostce tak powiedzia艂. 鈥濨iedny, ma艂y pan Kostu艣鈥, tak j膮 nazwa艂鈥 M贸j Bo偶e, morowy by艂.鈥

The Polish translation uses a functional equivalent, substituting 鈥楿ncle Wiggily鈥 with a functionally similar pun 鈥楶an Kostek鈥. The Polish equivalent of an 鈥榓nkle鈥 is 鈥榢ostka鈥 and 鈥楰ostek鈥 is a male first name.

Faithful translation

And an Italian translation by Carlo Fruttero:

鈥濽na volta, – prosegu矛, – sono caduta. Lo aspettavo sempre alla fermata dell鈥檃utobus, in faccia allo spaccio militare, e una volta lui 猫 uscito in ritardo, proprio mentre l鈥檃utobus ripartiva. Ci siamo messi a correre, e io sono caduta e mi sono stortata una caviglia. Lui ha detto: 鈥濸overo zio Wiggily鈥. Parlava della mia caviglia. Povero zio Wiggily, l鈥檋a chiamata..* Dio se era carino.鈥

Here * the translator inserts a footnote, explaining who Uncle Wiggily is. Then the translator gives us another way to interpret the word play, explaining that 鈥渢o wiggle鈥 in English means 鈥渢o move about, to fidget鈥. We have here an example of a different idea about the role of the translator. The Italian translator decided not to search for an Italian equivalent but to leave the original name 鈥淲iggily鈥 and to provide the reader with an explanation of how to understand it. Which solution is better?

Translator or traitor?

Following the first strategy the translator aims to adjust the text to the norms of language and cultural, aesthetic and cognitive horizon of the Polish reader. The reader can enjoy the word play and the reading continues uninterrupted. The second strategy results in the reader being aware that what he is reading is a translation; the translator introduces the reader to the American cultural world and communication community, informs him of the existence of a character called Uncle Wiggily, and lets him ponder on the implications of the verb 鈥渢o wiggle鈥.

What is the purpose of translation then? Friedrich Schleiermacher comments on this question, saying that either the translator leaves the author in peace and brings the reader towards the author, or leaves the reader in peace and brings the author towards the reader.

Which strategy do you find best in this particular case? Which solution would Salinger prefer with regards to his work? Must it be true, as Voltaire said, that translations are like women 鈥 either beautiful or faithful?

From a language teacher ‘s diary

Dear Diary,

Sometimes I ask myself if anything that I do makes any sense. What is my goal in life? Where do I go? What is the purpose of my existence?! Yesterday I had a lesson with Robert. He seems unable to remember to use articles in front of nouns, although we have practiced it for ages now. It is still: 鈥業 went to cinema to see film鈥. I have used all my language teacher tricks of trade: explanation, examples, drills, comparison, I pleaded with him and threatened him…. Nothing seems to work! Continue reading From a language teacher ‘s diary