The black chicken

portuguese interpreter

We set off early every day to be at the refinery by eight. R. is an engineer from Texas and his southern drawl couldn’t get any more laid back; neither could his general mood. He is basically on a kind of holiday. Called in from the U.S. to diagnose and hopefully fix an ailing valve, he is working alongside Felipe from São Paulo in this petrochemical plant in North Eastern Brazil, where the pace of their working schedule is a little, well…less frenetic. It is HOT here, and it is the hottest time of the year, in the run up to carnival.

We pass through the security gates, 8 a.m., R. commenting, “Well, here we are.  I guess we’ll start work around three or four in the afternoon.”

I am here to interpret for him and at this point I just smile, slightly bemused. But R. has worked here once before.

My day is busy, almost non-stop.  We meet various managers, engineers and other employees of all levels. We are taken all over the plant, given all sorts of instructions, given protective clothing to wear. We have meetings and then wait and then more meetings and then wait. And all the while there are people buzzing around asking things, discussing back and forth. It’s my job to keep on top of all this communication and make sure nothing is missed between the American and the Brazilians – and it’s exhausting. But R. is still waiting to get going. In lunch break I interpret the chat between him and Felipe, who doesn’t speak any English. Over chicken, beans and rice they tell a few jokes; I relay them, they both laugh, I don’t get it. Maybe it’s an engineer thing. (With experience, I’d know now to point out that was my lunch break, and could I just sit in peace please…).

Somewhere around half past three I get to say the phrase “Let’s go and look at the valve now.”  R. was spot on.

There has been so much talk and hanging about, I’m amazed R. isn’t frustrated, but he is the least agitated of them all. We head out up the scaffolding – boots, helmets, goggles and ear protectors, and I shout the instructions back and forth.  R. does a few adjustments, there are some issues, we head back inside to talk some more about what happened and what might happen next.  And this is how the days go for at least a week and a half.

The Brazilian way of working can require some patience. Luckily, I was with a man who didn’t much mind. Felipe too was enjoying the respite from his day job and the final thing I had to explain to R. was why my agent and Felipe kept talking about a black chicken. In Bahia, the black chicken – in some contexts, particularly in Candomblé – can represent wishing bad luck on something. They wanted the bad luck to continue. He, like R., was secretly hoping more problems might crop up needing his expertise, so he wouldn’t have to go home.  “Remember and leave that black chicken in there!” he shouted on the last day to R, as he rolled slowly out the car park and away, soaking up the sun, taking in the scenery, hoping to freewheel it through to carnival.

Translation – Danish Hygge

translating hygge

More than cosy 
Wandering into a local bookshop a while back, I was surprised by a display of books on Scandinavia – mostly about Denmark – and no less than six books about hygge alone. I’d seen articles on hygge in The Guardian, The Telegraph and the BBC and had had it crop up in general conversation twice in the preceding couple of weeks. It suddenly seemed to be common currency.

But what was this concept bulldozing into the British consciousness? Why can’t we just translate it as “cosiness”?  Should we just go out and buy loads of candles?  It turns out…there’s a whole lot more to hygge than that.

All ours
The Danes like to claim this concept entirely as their own, and as a unique feature of Danishness. It is at the core of their social lives and general well being, and I think they secretly think that nobody else can possibly do it quite like they can.  And maybe they are right?

Helen Russell, in her book”The Year of Living Danishly” describes investigating the matter:

” Is it a verb? Or an adjective?”
“It can be both, says Pernille. “Staying home and having a cosy, candlelit time is hygge… bakeries are hygge, and dinner with friends is hygge. You can have a ‘hygge’ time. And there’s often alcohol involved.” 
She also states that hygge “defies literal translation but is about having a relaxed, cosy time; being kind to yourself, and not denying yourself anything.

So it involves a bit of indulgence? Clearly, however, it’s accepted that you should celebrate yourself quietly, cosily and modestly in Denmark.  I wonder if the Brits could try some more of that too? Have fun staying in, getting cosy and looking after yourself, together with your friends and family.  Maybe we’d all do well to hole up a bit and hygge more.

Visit Denmark’s website states that: “In essence, hygge means creating a warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with good people… Perhaps hygge explains why the Danes are the happiest people in the world?”  

Yes, research has shown that the Danes rate themselves highly in terms of general happiness, well being and work-life balance. It seems there is a whole lot we can learn from them. I’d fully recommend Helen Russell’s book for a closer look at all that, and it’s really funny too.  Be warned though, the more you hear, the more you may want to move to Denmark, especially if you have children (it’s so very family-life friendly), and if you like bikes (I do!)

Translation please?
Well, it’s hard to pin down hygge and I’m going to stick with it being untranslatable. Sometimes we just have to cope with that. Instead, I think we should poach it into English in its existing form, though, of course we would have to learn how to do it too.

I’m starting to think it comes down to the product of it all – which, in the end, is the warm feeling which is created.

A while back I discovered there was a rogue Dane living in my small village.  So I put out feelers, tracked her down and made her meet me for coffee. She had a cold and a sore throat but tolerated my rusty foreigner’s Danish for nearly an hour (while I read and translate Danish regularly, I rarely speak it). She was lovely and her parting phrase as we went our separate ways was that it had been “hyggeligt” to talk with me. Aah, and there it was…the wee warm feeling – like a candle on the inside. 

Danes, you win.   ‘It was lovely to meet you’ just couldn’t do that, now could it?

Translation – Enrolado

Portuguese translation enrolado

When English can’t quite cover it.
A Portuguese word I love is enrolado. In Brazil, it seemed to be everywhere. It can mean rolled up, like a roll of paper, or a kite string. There are snacks called enrolados made of cheese and ham rolled in bread, or sausages in pastry (yup, sausage rolls).

Tasty treats aside, the word is peppered through everyday speech and has a broader reach with many little offshoots. Something enrolado might be tangled up, or in a confusion – a muddled mess. A person can be enrolado too – temporarily enrolado while doing something, or someone generally enrolado – they might get the job done, but they are  not the most efficient or direct; they are liable to get things mixed up and most likely run late.  It can be also be a verb – if you ‘enrolar‘ somebody, you sort of spin them along, stall them – testing their patience – making them wait.

How good is all that from one little word?

Enrolado, to me, is just very Brazilian; it’s hard to explain. Its use is natural, vibrant, and kind of fun. Expressions like this bring language to life – a good, specialised translator will know and love these, and embrace the challenges they present. (Google translate tells us ‘enrolado’ means “rolled.”)

Finding solutions
How to translate enrolado …well, of course, it depends on context. We don’t have an equivalent in English. Things can be rolled up, yes. You can roll yourself, or a ball or a wheel. But rolled isn’t also being in a muddle. A thing can get tangled, but not a person. You can’t be characteristically tangled, though you can get in a muddle. But tangle someone else? Hardly. (The Scots word ‘fankle’ comes nearer with it meanings, although I dont think you can be a fankled person or fankle someone else.)

For a translator needing to keep in more than one of these connotations at the same time? Tricky.

So, for example: Voce tá me enrolando!  We might say something like: You’re stringing me along/ you’re stalling me/ you’re messing me around. Making that sound natural in English would depend on who was talking, where and who to. In translation the solution is all about context, and purpose.  Reading the original carefully for nuance, knowing the culture behind it and carefully considering who the target text is speaking to.

Sometimes the answer will pop into the translator’s head in a flash, but it can also take longer.  I might well be in the shower or out on my bike when it finally comes to me. So, plenty time built into a deadline for thinking and reviewing – it’s justified! Even more so the more creative a text it is.

So if you’re impatient for that apparently short text to be finished, remember:  it takes thought and time; we’re not just being enrolado, you know…  No need to get yourself in a fankle about it.

Language learning- Subtitles

It was a surprise to be offered a subtitled showing of Trainspotting 2. I’ve heard of this in the U.S. or even England but I was home, in Scotland.  I am a huge defender of watching subtitled films, but when I do understand what is being said, then I too resent subtitles.  It’s almost impossible not to follow the writing below, even though I don’t need them, so they are distracting, I compare them to the speech as I go, and so on. The full effect of a line can be lost too, as you’ve read it before it is delivered by the actor.

When he was learning to read, my son started watching all TV with the subtitles on, and he often still does, out of habit. It seems to have helped him somehow with language. It reminds me of a friend who said he learned English and Spanish simultaneously, living in the UK with Spaniards, all watching loads of TV, subtitles on.

Language learning can be reinforced and complemented in all sorts of ways if you approach it creatively, and TV, film and subtitles are an invaluable way to acquire new vocabulary, reinforce existing knowledge and just tune your ear to the native environment of your language.   For a translator not living in their source language countries, like me, it can even be a vital factor in keeping up to date. The internet makes this much easier than before and we can read papers, journals, magazines, blogs and all manner of things online, as well as access TV, film, radio programmes, podcasts and so on, in almost any languages we want to.

Netflix, iPlayer, Channel 4 etc. can all be our allies here – there are plenty films and series semi-searchable by language or location.  I have admittedly watched a fair number of slow or disappointing films using this method, (Danish The Rain, please give me those hours of my life back).  However,  I’ve also seen some excellent films and series, and am happy to admit that the process of tuning back in to spoken Danish was measured in part from Series 1 of The Killing – hanging on the subtitles like an amateur – to not needing them at all for the Danes in Series 3 of The Bridge; and owes a lot to how much I loved all three series, twice over, of Borgen in the meantime.

Of course, I didn’t recover a brilliant Danish ear by TV alone, but it was a help. Radio too: DR 6 Beat has been my preferred station for some time – it’s like a Danish 6 Music. Tune In radio app is a great tool which allows you to search by language or location.

I also go to radio, films and TV series online for Portuguese practice, and find plenty material on YouTube and podcasts. Recently I ran through a string of comedy videos by Porta dos Fundos just for light relief, and found films like Que Horas Ela Volta, and Trash, in full, online. Regularly accessing  Portugal’s TV and radio online also helps me tune in better  to my European interpreting clients. I’m not sure where I would be without it all.

In the early stages learning a language, subtitles can track your progress, as you improve your skills, graduating from reading the subtitles in your own language, to watching and reading in the foreign language, which takes you a step closer to not needing any at all! This adds the dimension of reading in the foreign language, so taking in spellings and grammar too, and doubly reinforces your vocab uptake.

So let’s salute those subtitlers, producers and filmmakers supplying us with these lovely opportunities to access foreign lands – where we can hear the sounds of that language and place, and incrementally learn to understand.

I do wonder what the Trainspotting 2 subtitles were actually like. Were they written in good Queen’s English or written as spoken, or did that depend on where you were viewing? Either way I’m glad I didn’t have them cluttering my screen that day. It’s a good film – though not necessarily one for picking up nice English vocabulary and expressions to try out. Not without some caution…