Friday, December 08, 2006

Lost in translation

Numbers of presentations each day: 12

Planned length of presentations: 40 minutes

Average delay of presentations due to verbal fights between speaker and interpreter: 20 minutes

Average actual length of presentations - fights included: 1 hour

Number of talks in a row before coffee breaks: 3

Approximate temperature in lecture hall: 27 degrees celcius

Approximate level of oxygen in lecture hall: insignificant

Percentage of talks presumably given in clear and well-articulated Russian, but translated into incomprehensible English by interpreter without the faintest idea of terminology in our field: 50

Percentage of talks given in clear and well-articulated English, but presumably translated into incomprehensible Russian by interpreter without the faintest idea of terminology in our field: 50

Percentage of talks interupted every one or two minutes with discussion about the quality of the translation: 100

Number of talks based on decade-old overheads with kyrillic hand writing: 2

Number of near-heart attack incidents during the final discussion: at least one

Number of lectures skipped due to pressing need for air, sleep and harmony: 3

Number of times saxifraga wished for vodka to be served sooner rather than later: many

Number of times saxifraga wished to escape from the building: beyond counting

Approximate number of times saxifraga thought "I am going to die if I have to sit through one more of these talks": 10 per day

Number of times saxifraga was approached by participants who thought she had something to contribute with: many

Percentage of actual scientific thoughts in saxifraga's head: 10

Percentage of thoughts dedicated to "when will this end", "when can I go to my room", "will there be a break - ever again" and "can I maybe sneak out and take a quick walk around the block": 90

Number of times Saxifraga regretted never keeping up with the Russian for long enough to learn more than random words and expressions: 1 per minute



At 7:04 AM, Blogger Breena Ronan said...

Wow! I conference in Russian? I just had a conversation the other day about how no one who speaks English seems to take any notice of research published in other languages and so it seems pointless to actually learn to read another language. It sounds terrible! Do you think there is any way to have a dialog between the dominate English speaking research community and people publishing in other languages?

At 11:13 PM, Blogger saxifraga said...

Actually my experience with this bilingual conference was rather disappointing. Usually I only go to conferences held in english (like everybody else), but this conference was advertised as more of a workshop and intended for russian-western collaborating groups. The idea of a bilingual conference was great, I think. I do think we have a sad tendency to neglect all research not published in English, but in reality I think it is very difficult to make it work.
I don't know, maybe it could work, but in this case it didn't. At least not well. The translation was slow, and as I said, often incorrect or directly misleading. People lost concentration when presentations were dragged out for so long and actual collaboration/ discussion was hindered due to the language barrier.
I think we need to have a dialogue as much good research is being published in non-english language journals/ books, but I don't think such a dialogue can compete with the fact that the general language of research is english these days.
I think those of us who works closely with people from countries with a significant tradition for publishing in a foreign language, need to pay some attention to what is happening. But the reality is that even we are often getting access to the "local" literature via interpreters and summarized translations.
I am actually ashamed that I am not able to read any scientific literature at all in Russian after working in the country for five years, but I do not feel bad for not keeping up with literature published in French, German, Chinese....etc. I think we need one common language for most important research, in order to make it realistic to keep up with ones field. A sad side effect is that those of us who are non-native english speakers loose the ability to communicate science in our own language, but in my opinion we will have to find other ways around that.


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