Playing with the Italian language

Whenever I am travelling abroad, paying a visit to a local bookshop is obligatory.

As in many other cities, in Rome I had the opportunity of going to a bookstore while further nurturing my obsession for train stations. 

When I walked in, I had only planned on looking aorund for a while, of inhaling the relaxing atmosphere that becomes perceptible especially when peacefully observing stressed-out individuals.

Little did I know that an Italian friend would start texting me – and that in the matter of a few seconds we would invent a little game more than adequate for our age group 😉

She asked me some questions and told me how her day was going while I tried to find books whose titles could serve as answers.

I think you can immagine how much fun it was – and how psychotic I seemed frantically running from one end of the bookstore to the other with the sole ambition of taking the next photo.

I whole-heartedly recommend you try out this game when you are in a country  where a language you know is spoken. I think it is an extraordinary way of playing around a bit with the language, of getting creative and maybe even of finding a book you might be interested in!!

How dare you be more motivated than I am?

On the road to self-improvement

As a notorious nerd, I was astonished when a fellow interpreting student told me he set some time aside on the weekend to do some reading on Austrian politics in order to fill any gaps in his knowledge and to translate all relevant tecnical terms into Italian.

Say what?!

“Wow”, I replied, as it hit me like a baseball in the stomach that my repertoire of productive activities this past weekend has been limited to taking out the trash bags.

Also, I could hardly deny the fact that in my case, speaking of “knowledge gaps” in the ambit of Austrian politics would have been the understatement of the year.

But never underestimate the motivational power of pain.

I figured, the panicky feeling of falling behind and the reawakening quarter-life-crisis after this rude awakening might serve as a driving force for becoming a more well-rounded person.

Seize the opportunity

In my previous post, I explained how a semester abroad can help you to form new, productive habits. Also, in this particular case, I noticed how the new routine opened windows of opportunity for me: an hour of free time here, an unexpectedly well-rested brain cell ready to soak up some facts there. I would find myself sitting down at my desk at times I would never even consider doing research on anything at home, as I’d be too busy doing what I always do.

Already the first round of research on rather basic terminology gave me some peace of mind; and even though I am still light years away from the orderly bilingual glossaries, the neat notes and the artsy mind maps I am envisioning, I am happy to take on this new challenge.

In the end, the activities that cost the most effort are usually the ones of which you will reap the most benefit. No effort is made in vain … at least this is what I tell myself to keep going 🙂




Are interpreters real people?

While researching literature on Interpreting Didactics, I read Eva Paneth’s Master’s thesis from 1956, the very first academic paper on Interpreting and Interpreter Training.

I love stumbling upon quotes that make me think or that bring up a point I have never considered before. Eva Paneth’s “investigation into conference interpreting” did not disappoint in this respect.

In the section that caught my eye she revisits the discussion about whether interpreting and translation skills should be a part of undergraduate studies; a question still pertinent for today’s curricular design.

This problem is linked to the question of whether “very young people” should jump headfirst into an interpreting program without having acquired another field-specific education, e.g. as lawyers, doctors or journalists.

Paneth summarizes the dilemma as follows:

“The danger for very young people [is that they] will remain mouthpieces from whom pours vocabulary; and secondly that being mouthpieces so young and so continuously they will not have the chance to develop into real people. “(Paneth, 1957: 137)

“Wait, could that be the problem with me?!” – was my immediate reaction.

Did I just encounter a convenient explanation for any interpreting student’s quarter-life-crisis?

Ultimately, I concluded that Paneth’s notion derived from entirely different premises. In the 1950-s, the professionalization of the interpreter’s profession was still under way.

Nowadays, an interpreting student, no matter how young, having paid attention during theoretical lectures on interpreting studies and communicational theory MUST develop a healthier and more concrete sense of self.

I should hope that interpreting students would identify not only as (future) experts on their working languages, but also on culture, inter-and transcultural communication, mediation and, most importantly, on the complex and demanding interpreting techniques.

In my opinion, it would be nothing but ridiculous and short-sighted to consider a “very young” interpreter exhibiting all these skills merely a “mouthpiece”.

Of course, whether the academic path chosen at a young age corresponds best to one’s talents and visions is another question; but assuming it was an appropriate choice, young interpreters in today’s world surely do not only have the chance to develop into real people, but into nothing short of a multi-faceted superheroes! 😉

What is "active reading"?

Active reading takes an important place in language learning and in maintaining your language skills, as this strategy helps us read more effectively!

We do not only skim through a text, instead we actively integrate new espressions into our vocabulary and try to understand the text completely, so that we will be able to memorize its content.

The more we practice active reading, the better! But what does it include at all? I came up with the following four steps and  used this Russian text for this specific exercise.

1. Read a text passage and underline all the new words and expressions you’d like to memorize. 2. Make a list of your new words and find definitions for them. 3. Re-read the text, highlighting the key phrases.  4. Note down the key words and concepts that would help you summarize each paragraph orally.

"The Entrepreneurial Linguist" by Dagmar and Judy A. Jenner

The Entrepreneurial Linguist. The Business-School Approach to Freelance Translation – a book I highly recommend!

I had read articles by Dagmar Jenner, a successful, seasoned Vienna-based professional in the translation business before when she was featured  on our student representatives’ website.

While researching first steps for aspiring freelance translators and interpreters, I stumbled upon “The entrepreneurial linguist”, a book published by Dagmar and her sister Judy in 2010. I immediately knew I wanted to purchase it and was not disappointed.

Virtually every single page of the book contains valuable, insightful and/or inspiring information on setting up a translation/interpretation business and provides you with information on the “entrepreneurial side” of translation you rarely hear about in your regular translation classes.


The book provides an excellent overview of what to expect realistically, which difficulties may arise throughout your carrier as a freelance translator/interpreter and how to handle various situations smartly.

I particularly enjoyed the “case studies” in which the authors Dagmar and Judy analyze situations from their own professional life and explain how they dealt with them. I definitely can see myself re-reading various chapters and following through with Dagmar’s and Judy’s most valuable advice.

I cannot but rate the book five stars out of five as it is as insightful as it is motivating and inspiring!

Интересное чтение: концепция "Авторской пунктуации"

Читая статью о главных заблуждениях о русском языке в журнале “Русская Мысль”, я в первый раз столкнулась с феноменом “авторской пунктуации”.

Значение этого термина мне не сразу было понятно, особенно потому, что автор статьи утверждает, что авторская пунктуация – это феномен исключительно графиллогический, а не орфографический.

Это уточнение дает понять, что авторская пунктуация связана с почерком и с выражением личности почерком. Следовательно, мы можем считать авторскую пунктуацию признаком креативности и своеобразным подходом к языку.

Одновременно автор статьи, прочитанной мной, подчеркивает, что авторская пунктуация не является орфографическим феноменом. Это значит, что в принципе, все писатели всяких текстов должны были признать правила правописания и соблюдать их.

Я стала думать: присутствует ли в немецком языке то же самый, или сравнимый феномен? Он не существует под тем же названием, а похоже понятие, конечно, есть. Однако, кажется, что оно касается фактически только литературных текстов.

Почему? Как известно, авторы художественной литературы могут позволить себе более свободно относиться к правилам прапописания. Кроме того, им разрешают, обычно, образование новых слов и использование необычных с точки зрения грамматики словосочетаний.

Очень интересно обратить внимание на авторскую пунктуацию, когда мы читаем тексты, не относящиеся явно ни к художественным, ни к научно-официальным текстам. Речь идет, прежде всего, о текстах, опубликованных в интернете, например, в блогах, и о текстах, написанных в газетном стиле. Примерами можно привести комментарии, репортажи, очерки и. т. д. В зависимости от конкретной целевой группы, стиля, контекста и типа текста можно разрешить авторам более свободный подход к языку.

Короче говоря: чем больше текст похож на художественное произведение, тем больше автономии у автора. Однако, конечно, авторская пунктуация не может служит “отговоркой” не следовать правилам правописания. Ее можно признать, если она на самом деле имеет художественную функцию и улучшает каким-либо образом данный текст.

What to read as an advanced language learner

For those who have not read my reading suggestions for the beginner and intermediate level, let me start by naming a few select arguments why reading is so very awesome (not only) for language enthusiasts:

  • It adds to your busy and unapproachable air if you do not want to interact with your surroundings
  • It is the ideal topic of conversation if you do wish to chat
  • Be it a book, a magazine, a blogpost or a news item – reading allows you to improve your language skills wherever you might be

The positive yet overwhelming aspect of being a language pro is that you may read pretty much everything:

  • Authentic, high-profile literature

Literary texts are an obvious choice. Reading the classics for your language of choice at some point might even be considered a must. However, everyone has their own preferences.

For me personally, there is little that draws me in as much as a twisted-minded female protagonist in a psychological thriller.

For you, it might be an intriguing historical setting or sharp-witted humor.

Find what you enjoy and you will never cease to stumble upon bewildering formulations and new aspects of the language you are acquiring.

  • Book reviews

Maybe you are already over reading literature or you are obsessed with your current read and wish to engage even more in this particular piece of writing. If this is the case, I recommend reading some skillfully written reviews, as those represent an intriguing blend of literary and journalistic/scientific language.

  • Scientific articles

Choosing to read scientific articles will benefit you in various ways. You familiarize yourself with scientific terminology and recurring formulations. On the other hand you learn or revise information about complex topics. I, for instance, enjoy reading up on various chapters of world history.

I strongly advise you to choose a topic you are actually interested in, though. Otherwise you will experience the phenomenon I call the “wandering eye”: reading and re-reading the words on a page without grasping the slightest bit of meaning behind them.

  • Political analysis

Again, this is an excellent way of acquiring specific vocabulary and collocations for your own written language production. Apart from that, political analysis provide you with cultural knowledge as they are probably country-specific.

You get bonus points if you read through articles online, because then you can browse through the comments‘ section afterwards not only to have a good laugh, but also to educate yourself on how native speakers of different social strata communicate in today’s wired world.

Congratulations on your advanced language skills! But remember to crack open a children’s book once in a while when you are visiting foreign book stores or to skip through banal blogposts – just because you can (and because it’s fun)!

The twin tigers*

The title of a book may evoke memories and associations. It can make us curious of frustrate us as we realize how little it corresponds to the actual content of the book. But surely it lends a sense of identity to the book and determines its destiny.

Considering the importance of the title, the phenomenon of “twin books” with the same title becomes even more interesting. They make us ask ouselves the following questions: can we identify a connection between the two texts? Do they make us of a common symbolism? How is the title referred to in the two books?

In order to analyze the phenomenon of twin books I chose two literary texts, both bearing the title “The White Tiger”. The first book was published in 1987 by the American writer Robert Stuart Nathan, the second one was written by the Indian writer Aravind Adiga who received the Man Booker Price for the book in 2008 .

Adiga tells the story of Balram Halwai, member of the very lowest Indian cast and of his social and professional advancement, while Nathan’s thriller focuses on the Chinese world of burocracy and corruption.

The white tiger appears as a symbol in both texts, yet the authors emphasize different aspects of the motive. Nathan’s white tiger is powerful, invincible and courageous and is embodied by the director of the investigation department.

Adiga, on the other hand, puts emphasis on othe characteristics of the majestic animal, namely its being extraordinary and different. In his book Bairam was dubbed “The White Tiger” by a school inspector who noted the teenager’s intelligence and finesse.

Both twin tigers are smart and tenacious, be it the indian driver who eavesdrops, robs and murders to move up the social ladder, or the calculating Chinese commissioner who creates a network of all the useful contacts she needs to reach her questionable goal.

Despite the differences in atmosphere, tone, content and cultural contexts there is no doubt about the existence of resemblances between the twin tigers.

*This article is the shortened English version of a post I wrote a couple of years ago for the blog “Postlitdasliteraturmagazin”, which unfortunately is not being updated anymore.

4 ways "A Clockwork Orange" messed with my head

Some of my friends read this book way back in school or are die-hard fans of Stanley Kubrick’s movie. I, however, despite having known about it forever, only had a very vague idea of the plot and never could make sense of the title.

One day I decided to finally read “A Clockwork Orange”, got my hands on a copy and cracked it open, not knowing in how many ways this magnificent piece of literature was about to mess with my head.

1. Forever wondering about pronunciation 

I skipped over the introduction to avoid any spoilers, which multiplied my surprise when I stumbled upon the first manifestations of nadsat, a slang used by teenagers in Burgess’ fictional world that is primarily a mix of English and Russian. Part of its comedic qualities the book, however, draws from the elaborate, old-fashioned expressions and language structures popular among youth.

In the cases in which you immediately and unmistakably identify a mixed-in Russian word, such as moloko, ptsitsa, korm, etc., you feel the insatiable need to pronounce the word in “proper” Russian in your head. But how did the author intend it to be pronounced?

This question becomes particularly pertinent considering Russian words, which were transcribed in an altering way. While there are no long vocals in Russian, we often come across the nadsat words “slooshy”, “shoom”, “govoreeting” etc., which indicate elongated vocals.

2. Reading and re-reading

While reading „A Clockwork Orange“, from time to time I would come across words I did not know. In many cases, checking an English dictionary cleared my doubts immediately, but in other cases I could not be sure whether I was faced with an English or a Russian word I was unfamiliar with.

Other times I would stumble across unfamiliar words which I could only identify as Russian once I re-read the sentence several times or read it aloud.

3. New (and very weird) associations 

Next, I came across a small group of words which obviously are Russian, but the way they are transcribed makes them homonyms to English words, such as “starry”. When reading the words “starry veck” for the first time I stared at these words for a couple of seconds before I started making sense of them. Yet I could not help imagining not only an old man but also a starry night …

The frequently used word “horrorshow” is, in my opinion, an example of the brilliant way in which the author construed connections between Russian and English words. It took me an embarrassingly long time to realize that “horrorshow” is merely the nadsat version and/or transcription of the Russian хорошо, which means “good”.

4. It takes over your brain

I experienced this phenomenon already with many other books, such as “Go Ask Alice”, “Catcher in the Rye”, “Oh Schimmi” and other books using a very distinct and unique narrator’s voice.

The nadsat slang got stuck in my head and for several days I would find myself going almost bezoomny from having  all these veshes in my mozg, always ready to govoreet like a nadzat, Oh my Brothers.

What to read as a language learner: Intermediate level

As well as at beginner level, also at an intermediate level, reading is an extremely language learning activity which hardly even feels like you are studying. As long as you grab the right material!

At this particular level, reading can help you to develop a feeling for different styles and language registers. Apart from that, it will familiarize you with more vocabulary and you can pay attention to common collocations and frequently repeated expression.

What to read?

Apart from skipping through the reading material you used at a beginner level you can go for something a bit more challenging since you are already an intermediate.

1. Short stories

Reading short stories is a very rewarding way of improving your language skills – for a number of reasons! First, they are, by definition, so very short. Which means they will hardly overwhelm you with pages and pages full of idiomatic expressions and high-profile vocabulary. You could even choose a linguistically complex story and re-read it until you mastered the grammar and the vocabulary the story contains. Second, as long as you choose an original text, it will give you valuable cultural insights. Third, since the short story is a literary genre, it will provide you with a sneak-peek into literary language. Of course, you could also go for a bilingual edition or simplified reading for your specific level.

2. Learners’ magazines

Learners’ magazines represent didactic material especially for language learners. While most learners’ magazines also contain articles suitable for beginners, I think at an intermediate level you will benefit most from them. I still read the Italian learners’ magazine Adesso from time to time since the issues are beautifully laid out, it is fun to read and I always learn something new flipping through the pages.

3. Functional texts

This strategy is most easy to apply when spending time in a place where your foreign language is spoken. But of course you will find an unlimited supply of functional texts on the internet as well! Be it the nutritional information on a juice container, a manual, the menu in a restaurant, the bus ticket or the informational folder in the botanical garden: Grab it and read it!

4. General newspaper articles

If you feel like branching out, you should consider authentic newspaper articles written in your language of choice. At an intermediate level, I would suggest choosing articles on general topics, or topics you are already quite familiar with. Remember that it is ten times easier reading about a topic you are actually interested in!