Upcoming Event: Language Education Policies for Deaf Children

We are delighted to confirm our next EdSign lecture by Dr John Bosco Conama from Trinity College Dublin, on Tuesday 6 November, 6.30PM, at Deaf Action:

Who decides? – Language education policies for Deaf children
Selected findings from a comparative analysis of Finnish and Irish policies on signed languages

John will talk about comparative language education policies in Finland and Ireland. He will present his research discussing different components that influence language educational policies. Showing excerpts from interviews and commenting on the situation in Finland and Ireland, John highlights equality issues around language education policies in general.
Date: Tuesday, 6 November 2012
Time: 6.30pm-8.30pm
Venue: Deaf Action, 49 Albany Street, Edinburgh EH1 3QY

Language: The lecture will be presented in International Sign, and there will be interpretation into English and BSL.

The event is open to everybody and you do not need to book in advance, but spaces are limited, so arrive early.

On a different note, the consultation on the proposed British Sign Language
(BSL) Bill in Scotland is still open, but the deadline is approaching soon: 31 October 2012.
Please take a look at the BSL documents. Responses and petitions should be sent to Mark Griffin MSP, Room M1:20, Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh EH99 1SP.

We look forward to seeing you all soon,

The EdSign Lectures team

Is it all over for Interpreting?

If you believe the hype, the interpreting profession is on its last legs. NTT Docomo, the biggest mobile phone network has at last managed to provide a service that allows anyone with a smartphone to instantly have their words interpreted. According to this article from the BBC, other companies are working on the same technology. All that remains now is for a few minor tweaks to be done and language barriers are a thing of the past. Cool, eh?

Well, it might be, if things were really that simple. On the accompanying video, BBC presenter, Richard Taylor feeds the software a simple sentence “are there any good restaurants near here?” and an interpreter (mislabelled “translator,” thanks BBC!) responds with something equally as simple. This is the kind of thing that 1st year language students could do in their sleep and even good Machine Translation software could churn out without too much difficulty.

Faced with this simple task, the software performs pretty poorly. Its English-Japanese version is, according to the interpreter, understandable but not much better than that. The Japanese-English, meanwhile, would not exactly be what an interpreter would produce. We are not in minor tweak territory here. We are actually about 10 years behind the current state of the art in machine translation and parsecs away from what one could call “interpreting.”

So, no need to worry, interpreters still have jobs for a few years yet. It is still worth doing training and looking for work.

Even if this technology does work, will it do humans out of work? The answer is, probably not. Just as machine translation has only really cornered the market in getting the “gist” of emails, letters and the like and has actually become another tool for human translators, we can expect something similar to happen here. The only people who might really feel threatened by this technology are phrase book publishers. For simple requests for the direction of the tourist office and panicked searches for the nearest public toilets, a machine translation-enabled smartphone will (eventually) do the trick.

It is difficult to foresee this technology taking over in the court, conference or business markets. Would you really want your perfectly crafted speech to be turned into garbled but minimally understandable googlish? And that might represent the best outcome!

This well-known video illustrates just what the limitations of NTT Docomo’s technology are likely to be. For those with non-standard accents such as Geordies, Aberdonians or even, (shock!) Glaswegians, voice recognition is already struggling. Add in a layer of not quite perfect machine translation and we are looking at comedic breakthroughs rather than technological ones.

Of course, we can never dismiss technology out of hand. It is possible that, just as google managed to create a step change in machine translation by using texts from large international organisations, someone might manage something similar with this. It is just possible that, with years of work and a lot of training, NTT Docomo or someone else might manage to move this from being a gimmick to being of some use. For the foreseeable future, that’s the best that can be hoped for.

So, while reports of the death of interpreting would be greatly exaggerated, phrase books might be pining for the fjords. Once voice activated machine translation can handle those two obscure allusions said in a Glaswegian accent and produce an entertaining version in another language, then we need to start worrying!

Why Bother Doing Research? Part II

It must seem very odd. Just occasionally, trained, experienced professionals choose to return to the academic arena from whence they came to study a PhD. Despite the fact that, as we revealed a few weeks ago, research is highly necessary for the Translation and Interpreting industries, it still might seem puzzling why people would voluntarily decide to do it. To help explain why, and perhaps even inspire you to do research yourself, we quizzed a few of the Department of Languages and Intercultural Studies‘ own PhD students to discover their reasons.

There are multiple reasons as to why I choose to do a PhD.
To start with, my husband is doing his PhD in Rome, therefore, it would be very practical in terms of distance and time difference if I can find a place in Europe to do a PhD since I graduated this year as an MA student and really don’t want to go to Rome as a dependent.
Secondly, I want to find a job in a good university as a lecturer and a PhD degree is required to enter that profession in Chinese universities.
Most importantly, Chinese Deaf signers need attention from the academia, the society and the government. Yet researching into Chinese sign language interpreting is just at its beginning, therefore, a lot of exciting work can be done in the field.

I do my PhD because of I can do it in UK. My field of research (Public service interpreting) is underdeveloped in China. While it is still in the stage of initial development, UK has established relatively sound system and training program in this respect. China needs the know-how in this field to catch up with the global trend. And because I received sponsorship from the Chinese government, I will have ample time focusing on exploring the development of this field in UK. Furthermore, I have never been abroad before, so I want to have a look at the outside world and make more friends and promote China’s culture here.

I left my academic position in the US to come to Heriot-Watt to do my PhD. Technically, I don’t need a PhD for my current position as a researcher. What I was compelled by was the opportunity to do the particular research that I wanted to do. It could be argued that I could have accomplished this by seeking out a PhD program in the US; but Heriot-Watt is positioned within the field of translation and interpreting studies like no other university in the States. I wanted to study alongside those within my field but not necessarily interested in the same aspect of the field. I came to Heriot-Watt to get the kind of exposure that you just can’t get in your home country – to be around different types of people and to live a different experience. You can’t learn those things in the classroom; you can’t learn those things through research. You can only learn those things by doing them.

My passion for Filmmaking follows close on the heels of a sustained interest in the idiosyncrasies of Film Theory and Film Philosophy. After my tenure as a Documentary Researcher with Channel 4, I decided to juxtapose both realms-the hands-on praxis of constructing cinema, and the theory that constitutes the foundational bulwark of any such creative undertaking.  I was consequently impelled to immerse myself in an academic pursuit contingent on an interdisciplinary and intercultural approach. Enter, Heriot-Watt University (on cue!), to grant me a wonderful opportunity to do a PhD in their department of Languages and Intercultural Studies (LINCS). Ever since embarking on this journey (September 2011), I have been astounded but the multifarious dimensions of experience and learning that are part and parcel of a PhD!

So there you have it. The reasons for doing research are as varied as the people doing it. Still, the two things that all researchers have in common are passion and a whole bunch of unanswered questions. That’s why we do research!


Authors: Lots of people!

Help us improve BSL recognition in Scotland

In previous posts, we have talked about our interest in minority languages. We are also very proud to have become the first Scottish university to offer a four year undergraduate degree in British Sign Language and Translation or Interpreting. Now, we would like you to help the D/deaf and signing communities in Scotland to go one step further towards full legal recognition of BSL.

There are now only 23 days left to respond to the Scottish parliamentary consultation on a proposed BSL Bill. We need to raise the number of responses – we’re aiming for 1,000 responses to beat the previous record!

To make it even easier for you, the Scottish Council on Deafness have uploaded sample answers to their website (in English and BSL) If you wish to post responses and petitions, please send them to Mark Griffin MSP, Room M1:20, Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh EH99 1SP. Thank you! http://www.scod.org.uk/BSL_Bill_Consultation-i-329.html

Author: Graham Turner

Your Training, Your Way?

In a recent post, we started thinking about the usefulness of translation and interpreting degrees. It was very encouraging to see the response from LifeinLINCS readers.

Now, it’s time for your views to take centre stage. A few people here at LINCS would like to run online courses, centred on what you want to learn. To help us, we would like you to fill in this 5 minute survey.

The more responses we get, the better we can tailor the courses. So far, we are looking at two main options:

1) Short online webinars
These would be around 90 minutes to half a day long and would give you the chance to quiz experts on translation and/or interpreting on different areas: from everyday business skills to handling technical translations. The whole idea of these events would be that you would be in charge. By filling in the survey, you would help set the theme. By sending in questions, you would be in control of what was covered. By participating in online chatting and tweeting, you would help to steer the event.

2) Full-day online CPD events
Ever wanted to go to a translation or interpreting course but couldn’t afford the travel and accomodation? This could be your answer. Once again, these events would be built around the topics you want covered. They would be a mix of short presentations, panel Q&A sessions and interactive work. Again, these events will be interactive, taking into account the views you express by tweeting or chatting.

The whole idea of this is to provide your training your way. However, those of us who would like to see these courses run, we need to hear what you think. So please:


Translator Sayings

(in honour of International Translation Day)

Here at Heriot-Watt, we love doing cutting edge research but we can also have a bit of fun. On Wednesday, normal service will be resumed with a post on why some of our PhD students chose to do research. But for now, in honour of International Translation Day, here is a list of the top 10 most common Translator sayings.

10) Working from home does not mean I can spring clean the house before you get back from work!

Yep, it’s the perennial favourite, the myth that working from home means translators do nothing all day. Of course, translators can spring clean the house, wash the cat, dust the dog and change the light bulbs before our partners, children and/or pets get home. No problem! This 3,000 word contract will take care of itself, right?

9) These aren’t pyjamas; they’re my work clothes!

Okay, so few translators actually translate in their pyjamas (we think!). Still, it can be a mite embarrassing when you answer the door to the postman at 10am and are a) still in the house and b) still wearing scrappy clothes. Still, it’s better than having to get up and don a suit by 7am. The idea of being in all day leads to…

8) No, I do not need to “get a job.” I already have one, thank you!

Ever met relatives who felt sorry for you because you didn’t have a 2 hour morning commute to an office? Yeah, someone’s logic is flawed there!

7) It’s 5,000 words long and you want if for 5pm today?

Show me a translator who hasn’t taken one of those calls and I will show you a translator on their first few jobs! It’s is absolutely incredible how we can all fit in so many words before the end of the day, even after we have finished washing the cat!

6) Sorry, I don’t do discounts for large jobs.

… mostly because translators don’t want to lock themselves into a poor rate of pay for months on end!

5) Sorry, I don’t do discounts for “easy” jobs either.

… mostly because clients and translators have different opinions as to what counts as “easy!”  Doing 5,000 words by 5pm today does not count as easy! Especially when you have a cat to wash.

4) I use Trados, MemoQ and thirteen software packages you have never heard of.

… which is an excuse for charging at least the going rate!

3) My specialist areas are x, y and z.

… which means you know you are getting someone who knows what they are doing. It also means it has cost time, effort and money to get this expertise so that’s why the rates are so high.

2) Conference? Did someone say conference?

One of the drawbacks of most translators’ schedules is that it means spending long hours alone. A conference, meet up, tweet up or even random course can mean actually going outside (shock!) and meeting other people (double shock!). Believe it or not, most translators actually know how to make conversation, once their eyes adjust to the light, that is. This leads nicely to the most common thing I have read and heard translators say…

1)    I love my job!

Author: Jonathan Downie