Friday, 12 March 2010

Cock-up happens

As a popular saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. This time I can’t pick on the intentions. Poland should promote itself and its universities abroad and agreeably, it can’t be done in Polish. In order to address foreign students you have to prepare a guide in a language virtually everyone knows and as you guess, the only language to meet this criterion is English.

Study in Poland is a new initiative launched with a view to promote Polish higher education system and aimed at students and scholars from abroad. Perspektywy Foundation which is behind the project has set up a website and printed a guide for the foreign students, both in English. And here’s the hitch. The English language, you know what I mean.

The brochure I’m ranting about is a compilation of general information about Poland (example: actual exchange rates: www.nbp.pl, I have no doubt the exchange rates published at central bank’s website are actual, but didn’t they mean current? And look at the approximate rates. 1 EUR = 3,59 PLN, 1 USD = 2,45 PLN. They’re neither actual, nor current...

My school also has its two pages in the guide. As the editors have written in a disclaimer, they take no responsibility for the information on the particular universities, since they had been provided by the schools themselves.

Let’s take a look at what my school has written…

1) “SGH offers many opportunities to study economics and social studies”. The author of this blog has chosen to study financial studies.

2) “programes”, “buisiness” – has anybody run a spellcheck?

3) “… we also offer post-graduate studies and vocational trainings for…” Is SGH a vocational school? Does it run courses for carpenters, or welders? It is not enough to check how to translate zawodowy into English. But after all there were attempts to turn SGH into a vocational school.

4) “a system of academic grades which are easy to read…” Once again, I thought a phrase “academic degree” is relatively commonly used and is a good equivalent of Polish stopień naukowy.

5) “a first cycle (Bachelor) geared to the employment market”. Bachelor is an unmarried man, Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science are academic degrees, someone can have BA in a certain discipline, but not to be a Bachelor of Arts in sth (yes, I did make errors on this blog). And why “geared to” and not “labour market-oriented”? I won’t have a go at “cycle”, no matter how strange it sounds, it is used in official documents.

6) “cooperating / in collaboration with other universities” – maybe one day Poles will learn a nice English equivalent of współpraca is “partnership” (though it’s not an actual error)

7) “Postgraduate studies, with abundance of faculties…” Once they use hyphen, the other time they omit it, and why abundance? Isn’t it too formal or literary, wouldn’t simple “variety” suit better?

8) “SGH has been a centre for scientific research in economics and management science”. Should it be “of” instead of “for”? Isn’t the word “science” at the end totally superfluous? Wouldn’t it sound better as “SGH has been an academic centre of research in economics and management”?

9) “1,5 thousand publications”. Again, you can tell me I made the same error and I concede. Let’s illustrate it with an example: the number three thousand seven hundred ninety two point seventy eight would be written in Polish convention as 3.792,78 or 3 792,78, but in English it goes 3,792.78, so…

10) “Every year, the SGH publishes a bilingual, Polish & English report on the competitiveness of the country’s economy and around 150 EXPERTISES. Brush aside the first comma, but let’s examine the report. What is a Polish or English report? What determines a Polishness of a report? A report can be published in both Polish and in English. Meanwhile instead of “the country’s”, why not “Polish economy”? And the accursed EKSPERTYZA, which is expert opinion / report / evaluation / examination. Expertise is biegłość, wysoka kompetencja, but it sounds similarly, so a compiler didn’t take a trouble and used a similar word...

11) “faculty”, “dormitories”. The whole text is written in BrE, just some AmE words don’t seem to fit. Choose one type of English and stick to it, replace it with “(academic) staff” and “halls of residence”.

12) “Fields of study in English:” – the vexed question how to translate kierunek studiów. I would stray from the original Polish phrase and apply “programmes run in English:”.

13) And look how deftly those “fields of study” were translated”: “finance and accountancy”, “spatial economics”, “social politics”. They are respectively: “finance and accounting”, “land management”, “social policy”. I thought it would be hard to make an error there, but they knew how to amaze me.

14) I am dedicating a separate paragraph to a translation of międzynarodowe stosunki gospodarcze, translated as “international economic relations”. Once “international economics” (correct translation) was brought into Poland in 1960s, a communist science committee didn’t agree for a name ekonomia międzynarodowa and it was renamed międzynarodowe stosunki gospodarcze, just not to tease one stupid party official.

15) “The teaching facilities of the Warsaw School of Economics campus include five buildings, with the newest of them built in 2006.” They used a good word, but in a wrong part of the sentence. How about: “The teaching facilities of the Warsaw School of Economics campus are made up of five buildings, including the newest one, built in 2006.”

16) And the sentence which crowns the disastrous piece is: “Beside lectures and classes, students cooperate in REALISING PROJECTS concerning all spheres of life…”
I really I wish I had somebody I could take comfort in beside me… And the second glaring error to demonstrate the expertise of a hapless compiler. Leave out the fact that whenever I hear the word realizować I feel like committing a suicide and let me confine to two hints: realizować project (I detest both words) is “to develop a project”, or “to complete a project”, if you want to say zrealizować.
Apart from attending classes / lectures and workshops (since lecture is a type of a class) students develop projects related to all spheres of life…

I appreciate any critical remarks on the ranting above, mostly the ones on the errors I have made.

I can connive at clumsiness and spelling errors, but EXPERTISE and REALISE PROJECTS are unacceptable. Funnily enough, I managed to envisage it (both words are listed in the post dated 14 May 2009). It turns out it is much easier to predict Poles’ problems with English than stock market trends!

At first I blamed a(n anonymous) compiler, but it was wicked of me. I have nothing against a person who wrote it, they may be a good professional with intermediate command of English and what they have done is not blameworthy.
The writer is for me like a third-year student of medicine who performs a complicated surgery in a hospital. They might be a talented student, but not capable of performing a task they had taken up. Here’s what happened, this person shouldn’t have been assigned a task of writing information in English. And who actually allowed this rubbish to be published?
But there is a much more serious problem. What if the third-year student is the best doctor in the whole hospital? Isn’t it the diagnosis of how it was published?

Now a question to native speakers. Let’s assume that you are keen to support a good cause which is a promotion of Polish universities abroad? How much would you quote for proofreading / editing 100 pages in English? Would hiring a knowledgeable English editor ruin their budget? Does it pay off to save on quality assurance? Are they proud of themselves now, when students are laughing their heads off when they’re reading the hapless booklet?

11 comments:

Michael Dembinski said...

Bartek - I see this every day. The trouble is there are very, very few native English editors on the market. Being an English graduate from a UK university is not enough - you need several years experience as an editor to be able to quickly and expertly turn a text around. The good ones (and even not-so-good ones!) work for the big law firms and consultancies and earn huge salaries. I wouldn't turn my attentions to beating poorly translated text into decent English for less than 150 zł an hour.

The second problem is that many of the people responsible for approving this drivel are blissfully unaware of how bad it is or how important it is to get it right.

Once upon a time I persuaded someone high up at PAIiIZ that the quality of English on its website was crap. I got the job of editing the text properly, which I did from a sense of patriotic duty in my evenings and weekends, charging half my going rate. I did a couple of hundred web pages. And did a training session for its staff who write in English. And left them a style guide to follow.

Now, PAIiIZ is constantly in a state of flux. A new person came in and decided it's not worth spending money polishing its English texts to a high standard. After a few years, the website - though a definite improvement on how it once was - has deteriorated in quality. There are examples of bloopers such as Newsletter's Archive (i.e. the archive of a newsletter>) pleonasm ('in the year 2009'), over-long sentences (up to 49 words!)with clumsy construction and other tell-tale signs that no native speaker has cast his or her eyes over it.

It will be your generation, Bartek, that will see the difference between good style and gobblegook.

student SGH said...

I know we have a shortfall of native editors, as the worst errors show, without at least intermediate command of Polish or assistance of a Pole they wouldn't be fully capable of dealing with those translations on their own. How baffled can an English editor be, when they come across the expertise, how will they figure what they author meant?

For an hour? Aren't the rates linked to a page count? It's a poor benchmark given that dealing with total crap is much less time-consuming than polishing up a slightly clumsy text. But if you'd charge 150 zł per hour, it will ruin their budget probably, I know how tight with money foundations in Poland are and what are their policies towards translation. They totally don't care about the quality, but want to have their crappy Polish text translated very quickly - some Poles can do it, but it takes time. BTW - the crackdown on the SGH piece took me an hour during a boring class, next two hours of writing the post.

people responsible for approving this drivel are blissfully unaware of how bad it is or how important it is to get it right - here we reach the heart of the problem.

I thought many times if I should't have e-mailed a person responsible for that kind of rubbish English and simply send them a list of mistakes. eventually I never did it, I'm not sure whether my decisions were right. I wanted to help them - I wouldn't be ideal, but at the glaring errors would have been eliminated.

My generation? Why? Fellow students who saw me underlining and correcting that drivel actually didn't notice errors and general "clumsiness". English is English, they got the message across...

student SGH said...

and how did you find Poleconomy right the day it was set up? Looks like we're going to have a great blog to follow!

Michael Dembinski said...

I have long been nagging its author to get started! I look forward to his piece about the rise and fall of the SLD...

Island1 said...

Damn it, I was just about to write a post about the most persistent translations errors that drive editors insane. Apologies in advance, I wasn't looking over your shoulder, honest.

By the way, you misspelled 'intentions' in the first sentence :)

student SGH said...

Michael, can you tell me if the author is a Pole, an Anglopolne or English? The first option is the least probable since their English is splendid, much better than mine.

The rise and fall of SLD you say - it seems you've done a great job to spur them on joining PL-EN blogosphere. I'm expecting some gripping postings to come.

Jamie, go for it, I'm looking forward impatiently to reading your post. Hope I'll also learn from it, if you seek inspiration here and can pick out some frequent errors from my rantings - feel free.

intentions - corrected, thx

scatts said...

I'm thinking I'd be looking for perhaps 5-10 PLN per page to fix it and re-write any passages that need it.

Probably works out about the same as Michael's 150 an hour, in the end.

I quite enjoy it but only as a rare occurrence. To do it for a living must drive one insane!

Polish blog said...

I came here from M.Debinski blog. I must say, that this blog have a potential, but as I see on the counter, few people visit it :(

Anonymous said...

Scatts, I work as an in-house translator (and proofreader), translating mainly from Polish into English even though I'm a Polish native speaker. Believe you me: if you charged 5-10 PLN for proofreading a page of text written in English by Polish lawyers you'd end up spending 10 hours reading absolute gibberish and making 50-100 PLN per day tops, that's how beastly those creations are:-) Sometimes it's actually easier to start from scratch...

student SGH said...

@ Polish blog - this blog is not widely promoted, very few of my friends know about it. Guess why.

@Scatts - you'd have to be a genius or an outstanding "translation turnaround" expert to edit 15 pages of this rubbish in an hour. The wages for such an unrewarding job have to be much higher. After a week of getting paid peanuts you'd end up on a funnyfarm with mental breakdown diagnosed... (as you actually said)

Edegra said...

Quite interesting blog section.