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January 17, 2003

English translators would make life easier to understand

From: London Free Press, Canada - 17 Jan 2003

By Ian Gillespie, Free Press Columnist

There was nothing sensational about the headline: "Translators urged for city meetings." But it filled me with hope and glee.

Translators? At city hall? Fantastic! Finally, I'll understand what's going on.

When, for instance, the London Chamber of Commerce submits its budget recommendations and says, "We have repeatedly expressed concerns over the apparent detachment of the collective bargaining process from the budget development process," then a translator will jump to her feet and render that into everyday English: "We're fed up because nobody does what we want."

What a great idea. What an invaluable service.

Sadly, my spirits sank when I examined the headline more closely and realized it actually read: "Sign-language translators urged for city meetings."

Oh. Sign-language translators.

Providing qualified people to translate the goings-on at city hall for deaf people is a good thing. It's overdue and I wholly support it.

But I think my original misinterpretation was on the mark. I think we need to take this translator thing a few steps further.

I think we need translators everywhere. All the time. Because too much of what's said and written is about as murky as a jar of water from the Thames.

Take this, for instance. Last week, it was announced that former acting city manager Jeff Malpass had landed a job with Siemens Canada Ltd. (Siemens, by the way, is a "diversified company." I'm no translator, but I think that means, "We'll try anything to make a buck.")

When asked whether there are any ill feelings between him and his former bosses on city council, Malpass said, "There are no issues whatsoever. I left with a view to never burn any bridges."

Translation? "I made a bundle of dough and I want to make bundles more, so I'm nice to everyone, even people whose head I'd like to hold under the murky Thames."

Here's another example. Last year, my young son brought home a permission slip from his school. If I agreed to let my son attend this outing with his classmates, I was supposed to sign the form.

But at first, I couldn't understand what the trip was about.

Because under the heading "Learning Expectations for the Trip," the teacher had written: "Practise the principles of movement using locomotion and stability skills."

I was befuddled. But I wouldn't have been if there'd been a translator nearby -- somebody who could've yelled: "We're going skating."

Just the other day I received a press release from the University of Western Ontario's visual arts department. The notice was supposed to help me understand the department's upcoming exhibit by first-year graduate students.

Here's the description of Lisa Fedorak's paintings: "The work investigates the contextual dissonance that occurs when images are displaced from one context to another and explores the esthetic qualities of images generally thought of as purely informational or diagrammatic."

Clearly, when it comes to translators, opportunities abound.

The same UWO press release describes one project like this: "Amy Harrison and Grant Wilson will create a tent sanctuary out of sleeping bags and blankets for people to hide away and refresh themselves." (I'm not making this up.)

I haven't received any professional translator training, but this is what I think that means: "Amy and Grant are hoping to snag a fancy degree by making kooky projects requiring no talent or skill."

Translators are not only needed in political, corporate and academic circles. They're also handy at home.

Let's say my wife asks, "Do you want to stop the car and get something to eat?" Before I make an idiot of myself by assuming that when my wife asks if I want to stop the car and get something to eat she is actually asking if I want to stop the car and get something to eat, a qualified translator sitting in the back seat will lean forward and correctly interpret my wife's question: "Stop the car. I want to eat."

Translators, I'm sure you'll agree, would make life more fathomable. (Er, easier to understand.)

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