Monday, 3 December 2012

David Crystal spells it out in Bath

A new book by David Crystal, one of the world’s foremost linguists, has turned out to be his bestselling book ever. David Crystal has written, co-authored and edited over 120 books about language. This hugely successful book is about – spelling!

David Crystal has written a hugely successful book about – spelling!

In the evening of Monday, 26th November, he gave a highly entertaining talk about "Spell It Out" for Toppings Bookshop in Bath. The venue had to be moved from the bookshop itself to the nearby Christchurch because the number of tickets purchased had exceeded the space available at the bookshop. David Crystal is such a popular speaker that he received huge cheers from the audience even before he’d said a word!

In his talk he cast light on why English spelling is such a mess. His explanation: it’s a mess because the people messed it up! For example, the French after the invasion in 1066 insisted on spelling English the French way. Dr. Johnson later set out to (as he put it) fix English orthography in his Dictionary of the English Language of 1755. Noah Webster published the American Spelling Book in 1783, with the result that Americanisms have been creeping into the British language ever since. And there have been many more attempts by various people to impose new spelling systems on everyone.

The story of English spelling is by no means over yet, which is mainly due to the influence of the internet. Note that all offline publications have been checked by a copyeditor or proofreader, but who controls what spellings you use on Facebook, Twitter or your blog? Once enough people have made the same mistake all over again, it will eventually creep into the language and be considered standard.

Funnily, I spotted a typo at Tyntesfield near Bristol only yesterday. "independent" had been misspelt as "independant" on an official National Trust poster announcing a Christmas concert. It had probably been confused with the French spelling. And I liked what I saw: a visitor, without further ado, had crossed out the a to replace it by e using a fat, black pen!

Misspellings happen easily and can crop up everywhere. According to David Crystal, the fear of incorrect spelling is widespread among both adults and kids, and emotions typically range from mild amusement to horrified disgust. No one, understandably, wants to appear as being sloppy or uneducated.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

"Anything you want" by Derek Sivers

This book really stood out among the books on my reading list this summer: "Anything You Want – 40 lessons for a new kind of entrepreneur" by Derek Sivers, founder of CD Baby. CD Baby today is the largest distributor of independent music on the web with over $100M in sales for over 150,000 musician clients.

"Anything you Want" is full of great advice, slim, very readable, and written in a laid-back style. Its lessons for entrepreneurs are applicable to businesses of any size – no matter whether you run a small one-man (woman) business or head a multi-billion-pound corporation.

You’re lucky to own your own business. Life is good

The blurb says this: Most people don’t know why they’re doing what they’re doing. They imitate others, go with the flow, and follow paths without making their own.

Here’s a small selection of pithy, memorable quotes from the book for you to savour:

When you make a company, you make a utopia. It’s where you design your perfect world.

You’re lucky to own your own business. Life is good.

Proudly exclude people. It’s a big world. You can loudly leave out 99 percent of it.

Little things make all the difference.

When one customer wrongs you, remember the hundred thousand who did not.

Anything you hate to do, someone else loves. So find that person and let him do it.

Some people want to be billionaires with thousands of employees. Some people want to work alone.

It’s about being, not having.

The following also struck a chord with me. My work load always is huge, and I receive a lot of enquiries. If, like me, you’re also trying to work less, read on. Derek’s answer to the baffled question "But you’re a business, don’t you want to expand?" would be this: "No. I want my business to be smaller, not bigger." It may sound counterintuitive, but for the business logic behind this and much more, read "Anything You Want". I warmly recommend it.

The quotes above have been published with kind permission by Derek Sivers. I contacted Derek Sivers ahead of this post last Sunday – and was thrilled to find a really positive, encouraging email from him in my inbox first thing on Monday morning! Check out his blog too, which you’ll find here.

Friday, 6 July 2012

What football and translation have in common

As the UEFA European Championship was coming up, I couldn’t resist diving back for a while into what I did a lot during my teenage years: watching football − and getting fully drawn into the suspense of it!

I’m probably striking a chord with some of you when I say there can be more suspense in a decisive football match than in many Hollywood movies. This is because in football anything can happen, and you can never look up the outcome beforehand. I find this immensely intriguing. Football is also something easy to follow – and after 6, 7 or 8 hours of mental acrobatics doing translation in the daytime, what could be better than getting engrossed in some easy viewing? We had friends round for quite a few of the European Championship matches, and I personally cannot imagine a more perfect evening than watching the footie with friends.

Translation, like football, is something of the real world too

I sometimes wonder why as a teenager I’d often rather follow Bundesliga or international football matches on radio, TV or even at the stadium during weekends than picking up a novel or watching a movie instead. Sure the enthusiasm runs in my family, but I guess it’s also because novels and movies are (by their very nature, obviously) so blatantly made up; they are not real.

Translation, like football, is something of the real world too. Real translation is about real products, real inventions, real companies, real marketing campaigns. Real translation is worlds away from the type of translation that the average person in the street encountered when being taught a foreign language at school. Translation at school often consists of nothing more than a few made-up, easy-to-see-through sentences, which tend to have the sole purpose of drumming some grammar rule into students heads.

For the European Championship last month, we had German TV switched on in the living room and British TV in the kitchen, so there was even ample opportunity to brush up on knowledge of English versus German football terminology and phrases!

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Tech Startup School 2012: What motivates you?

"Your product may be great, but if no one buys it, you will sink.
Sales and marketing is the no. 1 thing.
If you don’t know how to market your product, or feel awkward about it, you’ll sink.
It’s as simple as that."

This was one of the main messages driven home by Alastair Watson, director of BEN, at the first Tech Startup School 2012 event on Monday evening, 14 May 2012. The event, which was about starting up a new business, took place at the Bristol & Bath Science Park. It was quite a male-dominated event as only 3 female participants had registered for it. (All 3 of them, by the way, happened to be German!)

The event was aimed primarily at tech people, but I instantly realised a lot of what was discussed equally applies to freelance translators. All the tech people in attendance seemed to have a real prospect of commercially coming out with something potentially really big. Freelance translators may be very small-scale businesses, and although we tend to think more in terms of salary than dividends, we have to think of ourselves as entrepreneurs too – whether we like it or not.

If you don’t know how to market your product, or feel awkward about it, you’ll sink!

In this post I’m going to focus on the motivational aspect of entrepreneurship, as there was a lot of food for thought contained in Alastair Watson’s introductory talk. I’m also going to sprinkle in some of my own thoughts.

It is very, very important to understand what motivates you. Alastair made us aware there are entrepreneurs around us everywhere. But why do enterpreneurs do what they do?

It’s important to know what drives you. Is it the money? Or is it exactly the opposite: is money not your no. 1 priority? Or is it because you want to show others that you’re capable of running your own business, that you can stand on your own two feet, and stand on them comfortably? Some of us have become entrepreneurs due to a lack of other options. Others relish the feeling of self-mastery. For some entrepreneurs the reason is merely an idealistic one: they have invented a product that is potentially going to change the world. Others simply want to do something that they know they’re good at for the rest of their lives, without having to answer to some jumped-up manager. And some entrepreneurs set out to create a legacy: they want to give something to the world which will be there forever. It gives them pleasure to see something they’ve created.

Entrepreneurship in its intial stages can cause fear and be offputting. Remember, there will be no cushion to rest on, no perks, no paid holiday. There will be knockbacks. You face the prospect of working long hours, sometimes without knowing if your efforts will lead to anything. Feeling isolated will become inevitable at some stage. And you don’t even get to go to a company Christmas party like your employed friends. Is that what you really want? Translation, in particular, is not an easy industry to work in because it is, and maybe always will be, a misunderstood profession.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

The translating parent

Who are some of the busiest people in the world? Parents with young children. What other people are some of the busiest in the world? People running their own businesses. It may seem an impossible undertaking to be two types of ‘busiest person in the world’ at the same time. But precisely because it is difficult, it is all the more satisfying if you do manage to juggle work and family. With hindsight, I realise the past few years have been by far the busiest years of my life so far.

Here are my tips for combining a home-run business and parenting. Putting some of these measures in place can make difficult years a little less difficult:

- Lead two separate lives. I’m not just referring to an office door that you can shut behind yourself. Make sure that you only mention your kids to clients when this is really necessary. We’re all players in a fast-moving industry, and the only thing that usually matters is whether or not you can take the project. Have a second phone line installed too.

Proven ways of combining a home-run business and parenting

- Have a childminder. Have a childminder even if you know there will be days when clients won’t send you work. In fact, those days can turn out to be the most precious of all, for example – and we all know it’s important – for putting your marketing hat on. Marketing comes in many guises, so be creative.

- Use other services too. There are people out there who offer cleaning, promotional gift sending, accountancy, and many other services. Love those people. They are there to make your life easier.

- Increase your vitamin B intake. When children come along, you will know for the first time in your life whether you’ve got strong or weak nerves. If yours are a little on the weak side like mine, consider increasing your vitamin B intake to help maintain calm nerves.

- Dress up. Sometimes you might feel torn between carrying on with a work project and doing chores in the home. How about this: get an expensive shirt out of the wardrobe and dress up, which will give you more of an office feel. It’s highly unlikely you will feel like tidying up the toys in that outfit.

- Keep things simple. I regularly buy great British fish from the fishmonger who comes up my road. This is fish that I can just chuck into the oven – quick, easy, and above all healthy. If, like me, you’re not at all into cooking or generally don’t have much time on your hands, find ways of simplifying daily chores to save valuable time. Note that I never set foot in a supermarket unless there really is an emergency. I prefer to do most of my shopping online, and my husband enjoys doing the weekly shop anyway.

- Make extra time. I don’t do this any more, but some years ago I regularly worked between 5 and 7 in the morning. The early bird catches the worm? I appreciate this doesn’t work while children are very young and you tend to suffer from sleep deprivation. I also appreciate this only works if you’re a morning person like me.

- Have time away from everything. Hard-working parents deserve it, hard-working translators deserve it, and if you fulfil both of these roles, you of all people deserve time off too!