Interpreting Donald Trump

A couple of months ago, there was a flurry of online media pieces about the difficulties people had rendering Donald Trump’s speeches into AN Other Languages Not English.

During the week, the Troublesome Terps podcast (and if you are interested in languages for international communication, that really is worth your while) had a chat with Franz Kubaczyk who had the privilege, as it were, of doing it for a few German TV stations. You can find the podcast episode here, they are also available on a range of podcast management outfits like iTunes as far as I know. Also, follow them on twitter.

I found a couple of things interesting about this episode that I would not normally think about and which are not especially linked to Donald Trump per se. In the grand scheme of things, while Donald Trump brings certain challenges (I really do not know how one deals with “and I’m gonna Make America Great Again” without wanting to scream after about the second one), what is most interesting to me about this piece is the mechanics of interpreting for television.

There’s an interesting difference between renditions in English on English language TV of foreign language interviews/speeches (specifically British in my experience) in that very often, the renditions in English are not given by native English speakers. That they carry a foreign accent of some description. This does not seem to be the case with Donald Trump into German for example and given that the online pieces on the matter tended not to feature English native speakers working into a foreign or B language, this could imply (without any data to support or dismiss this theory) that maybe English media is alone in doing this. Or possibly it is source language specific.

The other point is the episode also contains a discussion on the need for acting skills, and the fact that for the inauguration at least the interpreting was not live but the interpreters had opportunities to re-record parts. Leaving aside the fact that the inauguration in general is not the most common type of piece which needs to be interpreted for newsmedia, what struck me there was there seemed to be a very thin line between interpreting and dubbing in this respect.

I have to confess that interpreting for television was never something which really struck me as a career option but I tend to find the mechanics of cross cultural communications quite interesting and how you approach the problem of a politician like Donald Trump is something that we don’t perhaps think about very often.



Junior Cert Languages in Ireland

For pretty much most of my adult life I have been regretting the fact that we do not teach languages effectively in Ireland. One of my key concerns is that as a country, Ireland does not value those skills.

During the week, Richard Bruton, Minister for Education, announced that in the future, all students for the Junior Certificate (this is the exam taken at around age 15 or 16 in Ireland) would study a foreign language. He is quoted as saying a couple of things which interested me:

“We are going to have to, post-Brexit, realise that one of the common weaknesses of English speaking countries – that we disregard foreign languages – has to be addressed in Ireland.

He is also targeting a 10% increase in the number of students taking languages at Leaving Certificate level. There is also a desire to expand the range of languages taught in Irish schools. All of this is laudable.

“We need now to trade in the growth areas – and many of those speak Spanish, Portuguese and Mandarin. Those are the languages that we need to learn to continue to trade successfully.”

One of the key issues which we need to address, however, is the lack of teachers in these areas. And we need to take a long hard look at how successful we have been with the more common languages like French. It is one thing to say we will teach more languages. It is an entirely different kettle of fish when it comes to acknowledging we have made a hamfisted mess of it so far. We teach people Irish from the age of 5 and have not yet got that right for example.

There are other issues. If you take a look at the availability of languages at third level, you’ll find Spanish has reasonable coverage. The others do not. It might be possible to take Portuguese in UCC under their world languages program but most common across the university system in Ireland are French, German and Spanish with possibly Japanese as the outlier.

Against that, in absolute terms, more students study foreign languages in Ireland (even if we don’t count Irish as a second language) than do in England and Wales.

On the plus side, I’m really happy to see that there is a will to fix the gaps in foreign language acquisition in the Irish school system. But I think there is a lot to do outside simply putting a curriculum together and getting kids to study it at school. What does not support language acquisition in Ireland is the chronic lack of credible media in foreign languages. If you listen to radio in most European countries, they are playing a wider range of pop music in a bunch of different languages. Our media is incredibly anglo centric. When I was at school in the 1980s there were two French pop songs in the charts, one called Voyage Voyage and one called Joe Le Taxi (it catapulted Vanessa Paradis into the big time). Foreign language television tends to be relegated to the smaller stations, in Ireland TG 4 and in the UK, BBC 4. The rep for TV5 has his heart broken on twitter trying to make it clear that TV5Europe is available on most sat systems available in Ireland.

I learned an awful lot of my French by watching of all things Beverly Hills 90210 dubbed into French.

If we are going to say “We, in Ireland, recognise that we need to learn foreign languages”, we also need to say “And we will try and get the media to get their asses in gear to support this”.

In a way, this is recognised by his counterpart in opposition, Thomas Byrne.

Any modern language strategy must be across all Government departments as well. It can’t just be about the education system – it has to be how we live our lives, how we interact with the wider world.

I’d also add that in one respect, I think that Richard Bruton maybe should reconsider this:

At the moment if you look at Leaving Cert and Junior Cert, French dominates. French is a lovely language, but we need to recognise that we need to diversify into other languages

In the grand scheme of things, he is probably aware that a stated element of Irish foreign policy at the moment is to encourage and support as many people as the country can into the European institutions. One of the key issues we have in this respect is that not enough people come out of school with fluent French or German. We may need to diversity into other languages but I think we need to ensure that in the future, we are not looking at one foreign language, but two and that Irish people have a command of two of the working languages of the institutions of the European Union.

I’m very glad that education policy is being looked at in this context. It would be interesting to see more concrete plans and a timeframe for making this reality.

The report on the matter is here on the Newstalk site.

New home

I moved the blog from to as part of a wider tidy up of my online “resources”.

I registered my first domain about 2003 and built and unbuilt sites and as when I required them for different purposes. This has led to a situation where I had a bunch of websites, a bunch of WordPress installs and not a lot of use for all of them. So today, I decided to do some consolidation.

There is still a little bit of overlap between here and my “personal” (and oldest) site at which may lead to me consolidating the two sites again later.

I do not currently have a photography site up and running as Living for Light was decommissioned as part of this clean up. This is linked to the fact that some time ago, the image hosting for that site shut down its servers before I had an opportunity to fix this (in fact the shut down happened before I found out). It is regrettable but happens in the world of online services.

Regarding my current set of websites, the only other one of interest is probably which is a resource marking the neutrality markers built along the Irish coast in tandem with the Coastal Watch during the 1940s. I am working on one other project which I may or may not push out to the public.

I will be having a look at my social media presence too over the coming few months so there is a chance that I will shut down LinkedIn.