21 March is World Poetry Day and I wanted to do something special to celebrate it. I wanted to share my favourite poem with you but then I realised I don’t have one! I like many different poems for different reasons: there are happy poems, depressing poems, poems that make me think or just evoke a memory. It’s impossible to choose one!
In the end, with great difficulty I managed to pick one poem, Lédával a bálban by Endre Ady. I could not find an English translation though, so I ended up doing my own version. So here it is, both in Hungarian and English!
Do you like poetry? Do you have a favourite poem? Or a bunch of favourite poems? Don’t keep it to yourself, comment below or drop me a line via my Contact Page.
About 2000 years ago in Ancient Rome, on a lovely mid-March day when birdies were happily singing and the sun shone brightly high up in the sky, a bunch of conspirators mercilessly stabbed Julius Caesar in the back (quite literally). He was shocked to find his beloved friend amongst his murderers. “Even you, Brutus”, he whispered as life slowly left him. After he weakly uttered his last words on that spring day, all hell broke loose and a bloody civil war started.
But this is not the Ides of March event I want to talk about today.
We truly swear!
Picture another mid-March day, this time in 1848 in Budapest,
Hungary. Another lovely day when birdies are happily singing and the sun shines
brightly up in the sky. A young, thin little man – a poet – is running towards the
popular Café Pilvax to meet with a few of his friends. This is no ordinary,
friendly catch-up, though. Inspired by the unrest in other countries, they are
preparing a revolution against Hungary’s rulers, the Hapsburgs!
Now, this scrawny little man (Sándor Petőfi his name is) stands up in the middle of that busy café and starts reciting his latest poem, National Song:
Rise, Magyar! is the
The time has come, say one and all:
Shall we be slaves, shall we be free?
This is the question, now agree!
For by the Magyar’s God above
We truly swear,
We truly swear the tyrant’s yoke
No more to bear!
After this, Petőfi and his friends are unstoppable: they go to the nearby law school and read the poem and a 12-point list of their demands to a crowd of excited law students. “What the Hungarian nation wants,” it echoes in front of the university, then they recite their demands: freedom of press, the abolition of censorship, independent Hungarian government, civil and religious equality, universal and equal taxation…
The crowd cheers and grows bigger and bigger as they move on,
taking over a printer to get their demands on paper. Then they go to the
National Museum reciting Petőfi’s poem and the 12 points. Next is the City
Hall. They are ecstatic, cheering on, hoping that they will be able to get
their points across to the “tyrants” of the country.
But shortly after the events of this exciting day, all hell
breaks loose and a bloody war of independence starts.
The Hungarian spirit
Today the 15th of March – the Ides of March – is commemorated all around Hungary, and even amongst expat Hungarian communities in other countries. That day in 1848 is the symbol of the high-soaring Hungarian spirit: bravery, unity and the eagerness to change. We honour these young, courageous people who dared to stand up to their oppressors and voiced their demands, trying to work towards a proud and free Hungary.
A bit of extra info
On 15th March, we Hungarians wear a little piece of tricoloured cloth on our chest, above our heart: a cockade with our national colours, red, white and green. This little thing was and is the emblem of the revolution of 1848. The very first piece was made by Petőfi’s wife, Júlia Szendrey. Although history solely remembers her as the muse of the “Nation’s Poet”, she was great with words herself and was and excellent translator who brought the tales of Andersen to Hungarian readers for the first time.
Paul Auster once wrote that “translators are the shadow heroes of literature”.
Well…, unfortunately he was quite right. All right, in recent years translators have got their small share of the spotlight thanks to Deborah Smith, her Han Kang translation and the Man Booker Prize. However, most readers couldn’t care less about all those hardworking translators who bring foreign literature to them in their own mother tongue. Translators most often remain forgotten and abandoned. They are usually mentioned in a minuscule font on the imprint page – or not even that. All their dedication, late nights and tireless efforts usually go unnoticed and unappreciated.
Or, even if they work tirelessly creating a version of your favourite author’s latest book, so that you can read it in your own language, they are not recorded for posperity as translators but something else: Calvinist pastors, teachers, poets or politicians. I’m not saying it is a bad thing to be known as a great poet but still. These distinguished people deserve some acknowledgement as translators, as well.
This is why I collected a few of Hungary’s famous people who you might know from your religious studies, from history books, from the news or as muses of influential poets… but not necessarily as talented translators.
Click on the images below to enlarge them.
Do you feel I missed a famous person who deserves to be mentioned amongst these great translators? Would you like to nominate someone for this list? Let me know in the comments below or drop me a line via my contact form!
Today is the National Day of Hungarian Culture and if you are in Hungary you will find that there are countless cultural events going on this day, such as literary evenings, concerts, award ceremonies, art exhibitions… If you set foot in any school in the country, you will see school children performing, singing, reciting poems, and talking a lot about a Hungarian poet named Ferenc Kölcsey.
It’s not a coincidence that he is mentioned so much today: the National Day of Hungarian Culture is held on the anniversary of him finalising his most famous poem titled “Hymn”, a prayer to God, asking for protection for this tiny nation in the middle of Europe. He reminisces about the past starting with the settlement of the Hungarian tribes in the Carpathian Basin, then lists all the hardships of Hungarians throughout the centuries as God punished them for their sins. He asks God to bless the nation and offer a helping hand.
Some 20 years later another Ferenc, Ferenc Erkel won a competition with his musical arrangement for the poem, which soon gained popularity and people started to sing it at public events. Although there were some initiatives to make the poem and its musical version the national anthem of Hungary, as a reminder of the nation’s stormy past, it wasn’t until 1989 that it gained official recognition in the Constitution of Hungary.
It was also the year when the National Day of Hungarian Culture was celebrated on 22 January, to commemorate Ferenc Kölcsey and his poem.
Here is the first verse of the poem with a (more or less) modernised spelling, and its English translation by William N. Loew (1881):
Isten, áldd meg a magyart Jó kedvvel, bőséggel, Nyújts feléje védő kart, Ha küzd ellenséggel; Bal sors akit régen tép, Hozz rá víg esztendőt, Megbünhödte már e nép A multat s jövendőt!
O, my God, the Magyar bless With Thy plenty and good cheer! With Thine aid his just cause press, Where his foes to fight appear. Fate, who for so long did’st frown, Bring him happy times and ways; Atoning sorrow hath weighed down Sins of past and future days.
Listen to Erkel’s musical arrangement performed by Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir.
You have a copy to translate. It’s crucial
that you end up with a good quality translation that’s accurate and reads
naturally. Who should you ask? What background should they have? Where do you
find them? So many questions, so many things to consider! What a headache!
In many language combinations there are
thousands of translators out there – if not tens of thousands. Selecting the
one for you might seem like an impossible, overwhelming task. But do not fret,
there are a few pointers that may help you choose the best fit for your
First of all, let’s see who you’ll be looking
A professional translator.
While it’s tempting to ask one of your
bilingual colleagues or a friend who took extracurricular language classes at
school to translate your marketing copy or user manual, most often it’s not the
right way to go. Not everyone who speaks two languages is a translator.
Translation is a special skill that needs to be learnt and practised. Not using
a professional translator may lead to inaccuracies, mistranslations,
inappropriate terminology use, grammatical issues, and the list goes on…
A specialised translator.
A creative marketing copy will need a
different kind of translator from a legal contract where the last thing you
want from your translator is going creative. Just like you wouldn’t ask an eye
surgeon to operate on your heart, for the best results you should find a
translator who is specialised in the type of translations you are after, and
knows the ins and outs of the given subject.
When should you start looking for the right
As the saying goes, good work takes time, so
don’t leave selecting your translator to the last minute. A good quality
translation does not happen by the click of a button. The translator will need
to read your copy carefully, analyse it, do their research, do their
translation, check it carefully, proofread it and then re-check it.
Start your selection process as soon as your
need for a translation arises. This will give you enough time to find the right
person, agree on the details, and leave them enough time to actually complete
the translation to a high standard.
What will you need from a professional
As a rule of thumb, professional translators
only translate into their mother tongue, or their language of habitual use.
While they do need to have an excellent grasp of the source language (the
language they translate from) to fully understand the intricacies of your text,
in order to produce a copy that doesn’t read clunky or unnatural, they need to
be able to masterfully manipulate their target language (the language they
Although there are some people who are
naturally talented, the best of the best have a formal qualification in
translation. This means they have a solid background in the theory as well as
the practice of translation and their competencies have been formally tried and
tested. Think university degrees or postgraduate diplomas in translation! For
example, in the UK, if you find someone who holds a university degree in
Translation Studies or a Diploma in Translation (affectionately called the
“DipTrans”), that’s a good sign that you can trust their work.
Translation skills are like a good wine: they
need time to mature. The more a translator translates, the more confident they
become. The more time they have had to learn from their clients’ or their
peers’ feedback, the better their translations may become. They have had the
chance to “meet” many different types of texts, improve their research skills,
build up their personal reference-library, learn about various templates, hone
their technical skills, etc.
The gold standard: professional organisations.
Professional organisations make sure that they
only allow people in their ranks who are committed to adhering to high
standards. If the translator you are eyeing is a member of such an
organisation, you can be sure they are just as keen on quality work and ethical
business as you are. In the UK, look out for members of the Institute of
Translation and Interpreting (ITI) or the Chartered Institute of Linguists
So, where can you find these professional
If you go directly to professional
organisations, you can most probably find a trustworthy translator who will be
a good match for your project: both the ITI and the CIOL have their own
searchable online directories which list their qualified members.
Another good place to find a translator is a
site called ProZ.com. Here you can search by language combination, filter by
subject matter, check out translators’ profiles, look at testimonials and
The world wide web.
Don’t forget… Google is your friend! Many
professional translators have their own website you can search for and browse
through. Their website will give you a bit more information about their
background or how they work and you might even get a glimpse into their personalities,
so you can see if you would like to collaborate with them.
I hope you found this quick guide useful and
next time you need a translator, it will be easier to get the right person who
can provide you with a high quality, well-written translation your business
Did I miss anything? Do you have any nagging questions about translation and translators? Don’t keep them to yourself! Comment below and let’s start a conversation!
Originally I posted this article on my LinkedIn page on 7 December 2018.
Where did this year go? It feels like we have just celebrated the holidays?! December is upon us but I am not quite sure I’m ready yet. I am pretty certain though that I am not alone with this!
Just to help me and you, my dear readers, get into the holiday spirit, I have planned something special this year: a Hungarian advent calendar! Every day leading up to Christmas, I will post a little trivia or fun fact about Hungary and the Hungarian language on my social media.
Did you forget to buy an advent calendar this year? Or just don’t want to eat chocolate all day? (Erm… wrong question, I know.) Are you thirsty for random facts about Hungary and Hungarian you can impress your friends with at up-coming Christmas parties? Then this alternative advent calendar is for YOU!
If you are not already following me on Twitter, head there right now and click FOLLOW or if you prefer Facebook, just like my page (LIKE HERE) to stay up-to-date with stuff!
There is a Hungarian saying “a jó pap holtig tanul” that basically means “the good priest is learning until the day of his death”.
Well, I do not know about priests but the saying is definitely true for us, translators! Once we get our translation degree, we cannot just rest on our laurels and expect our work to be done. I believe it’s essential that we never stop learning about new translation technologies, learning from others’ translations or the feedback we get about our own translations, improving our understanding of culture-specific issues, keeping our languages up-to-date, growing our vocabulary, etc., so that we can continuously provide excellent translations to our clients.
Nowadays the internet makes it so easy to do our continuous professional development (CPD) wherever we are. If you are online (and possibly have a headset), you are all set to learn and improve! I regularly listen to webinars that focus on certain aspects of our profession, for example, I have very recently learnt some secrets about transcreation and got some great tips for making the proofreading process more efficient. These professional courses are all great for learning new stuff and refreshing my knowledge of what I learnt at university.
But unfortunately, being a good and successful freelance translator is not only about linguistic skills.
The one-man (or woman) band
A successful translator is not only a translator. Translators tend to forget that we are also a small business. First of all, we are administrators and office managers making sure everything is well-organised and our equipment is in tip-top shape. Then we are sales people selling our services to the right people. We are marketing professionals who are out there trying to get our message across. We are social media managers looking after our own online presence. Mind-boggling and for translators who – let’s face it – are often introverts, this can be a rather intimidating and overwhelming thing.
I’ve got to a point where I realised that I would need some guidance on the business side of things. Being a good linguist is not everything! I can do all the webinars on how to become a better linguist, hone my translation skills but that won’t cut it. I also need to know about business! The internet is full of great advice, but unfortunately most of them are not really applicable to translation professionals. I needed something that was geared towards translators, giving some translator-specific advice for achieving my long-term professional goal (i.e. world domination through one translation at a time).
ITI, CPD and all the other abbreviations
And lo and behold! As I was looking for something out there to make myself into a businesswoman, the CPD team at the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) were just about to launch a 9-session course entitled “Advancing your Freelance Translation Career” (AFT)! Excellent, I thought as I read the full description, and in the end, I decided to sign up.
The course was an interactive webinar series where we could talk with our tutors, ask questions, etc. The online format was super convenient. For example, this autumn I spent a longer time in Hungary but I could still take part in the webinar and did not miss a thing! Great stuff for translators on the go. Our “class” also got regular homework which you might not find as exciting as I make it sound but it was really helpful to go through all the exercises our tutors set us. They would evaluate our individual assignments every week and give us specific feedback on our work.
Each topic was covered in two sessions. The first of each pair of sessions was a lecture-type presentation given by our tutors – usually accompanied by good-looking PowerPoint slides, then the following week we had a whole discussion session where everyone could put in their two cents or ask some questions. The topics were all relevant, such as “thinking of yourself as a customer”, “solving customer problems”, “building and maintaining customer relationships”. We covered both sales and marketing. There was some theory with an awful lot of practical advice. Some advice seemed so simple and common sense that all I could think was “why didn’t I think of this”? (Well, sometimes you do need someone to state the obvious.) Other pieces of advice were more surprising and I also had some “a-ha” moments.
…and the tutors
I found the tutors were well chosen, too. I could really tell they knew what they were talking about, building on their own knowledge and experience. If you are on social media or have attended some other webinars or conferences, you might have already heard about them. We had Judy Jenner (entrepreneurial linguist), Tess Whitty (translator and marketing guru), Doug Lawrence (sales and marketing wizard) and last but not least Sara Freitas (translator, copywriter and networking sage). They all brought their unique view to the course, their own theoretical and practical background to help us learn and improve ourselves. At the last session we even had a chance to present our elevator pitch. (In case you are not familiar with the notion of elevator pitches, they are short introductions about who you are and what you do. You basically need to cram everything about yourself in the time it takes an elevator to reach the top floor of a building. Number of floors not specified though.)
The course was well-organised, I regularly got reminders of up-coming sessions, so I never missed any, and there was surprisingly very minimal technical disruption during sessions. All the presentations were relevant, however, at times I felt my mind was going to explode with new information. I nearly filled an entire notebook with my notes, thoughts and comments to revisit later. Luckily, we were always sent a link to the PowerPoint presentations and a recording of each session, so once I have some more time, I can go back to them to make the most out of the AFT course.
All in all
So, would I recommend this course to my fellow translators?
Well, this course won’t make me (or you) an all-knowing, perfect businesswoman (or man) overnight. Most of the work is still ahead of those of us who completed this course. There will be a lot to do on an on-going basis: re-reading notes and handouts, implementing the tutors’ tips, re-working certain marketing bits and pieces here and there, adjusting strategies to see what works the best… This is not a small task by any means and my work is not done now that I have completed the course. I’m sure I’ll spend a lot of time and effort working on these aspects of my translation business in the future.
(And speaking of spending… Depending on your situation, you might find the course fee a bit much but at this point in my career I was ready to spend on high quality and useful CPD. This is after all an investment in my future, just like buying a new piece of software or hardware would be!)
All in all, I am happy that I took this course, it certainly got me inspired to invest more time and effort in improving my business skills besides focusing on my core linguistic skills. I believe what I learnt during these 9 weeks will help me build better, stronger relationships with my existing clients and form good, strong relationships with new clients. It’s not a bad thing to aspire for as a goal, right?
(Besides world domination. It’s still on the cards.)
Do you regularly take CPD courses? Do you attend webinars? Please share in the comments below or drop me an email via my Contact page. Also, if I got you interested, you can check out the next AFT course on the ITI website, just click here.
Although it doesn’t take much to lure me away from my desk for any translation-related event, I was particularly excited about attending this one. It was a talk followed by a concert! And not just any talk for that matter. Professor Jane Tylus (Yale University) talked about her recent research connecting music and translation, more specifically translation and musical accompaniment.
As in my formative years I was very much involved in music and had the chance to act as a piano accompanist to violinists and singers, and well… now I do translate for a living, I was curious to hear what Professor Tylus had to say about this topic.
She started her talk with a lovely excerpt by Lucrezia Tornabuoni, 15th century writer and political adviser, who translated the life of Tobias into Italian. Tornabuoni starts her work with a prayer asking God to send her something like the angel of translation to accompany her on her translation journey, just like Raphael provided companionship to Tobias on their expedition.
Funnily enough, the Italian word for translator, traduttore, originally meant “to lead over” or “to carry over”. Much like a companion on a long journey, right? From here, it takes just a small step to arrive at the notion of the translator as an accompanist or, if you like, the accompanist as a translator.
Both translators and accompanists are often regarded as secondary or subordinate to the author or the soloist. They are kind of lurking in the background, leaving all the glory to the “more important” person. Sometimes they even worry about overtaking the author/soloist. (Just think of the title of accompanist Gerald Moore’s memoire: Am I too loud?)
Professor Tylus is at the very beginning of her research into this, but I am really excited to see what conclusions she will draw once it’s complete.
The concert afterwards perfectly complemented her talk. It started with an excellent Bach solo piece, originally a Partita for violin in D minor, which the performer herself, Joy Lisney arranged for cello. (Ha! Finding similarities between translation and musical arrangements could also be a great topic!) After the Bach, we went on to a beautiful Chopin Cello Sonata performed by Joy Lisney and Naomi Woo. Last but not least, the evening was concluded by Brahms’ Clarinet Sonata in E flat major, performed by Caroline Grint ad Naomi Woo. I very much enjoyed the individual pieces and liked the concept of the whole concert, too.
By starting the concert with a solo piece then continuing with two pieces accompanied by piano, the organisers invited the audience to think a bit about the relationship of the soloist and her accompanist. How do they work together? How does the accompanist help the soloist in her performance? And also, how does this all relate to translation?
During the concert I thought about how translators and accompanists are related. It’s true, their roles might be traditionally regarded as secondary to the main attraction. And sure, they don’t always get the same attention as their soloist or their author. However, I do think of them as partners, rather than just some extra help that makes things less awkward or strange. They both bring real value to the table and they are just as talented/educated/skilled/experienced/etc. as the soloist or the author, and without them, something would be truly lost. They both deserve credit and appreciation! They really do!
Ok, before I get completely overexcited about the role of these two, I’d like to ask you, my dear readers: what do you think about this? Is there anything similar between translators and accompanists? Or translation and music? What would you compare translation to?
Have you ever wondered what happens between your important document and the translator after you leave them alone? What happens after you say “OK, go ahead” right until the moment the translator finally emerges from their den with a freshly written, tip-top translation?
Well, of course, every professional translator has their secrets, how they prefer to do things or what their work style is. However, there are certain things you can be sure they will all do. So, come, peep behind the curtain with me and learn a bit about the secret life of translators. Continue reading “The secret life of translators”
There is a short story by one of my favourite Hungarian writers, Frigyes Karinthy in which he introduces two men to us, “One” and the “Other” who have known each other for a decade or so, but have only met a few times. They are acquaintances but not too close. And now they meet again. Hilarity ensues as neither can tell how to address the other. They stand around on the street, having a full conversation trying to avoid saying the pronoun “you”, so that they don’t offend the other.
He?! How is that funny? – you might say. Well, in English this encounter would have lasted two seconds, but in Hungarian you can write an entire short story about it, as our language has that infamous T-V distinction, spiced up with some other delicacies. So, let’s get right into it. Continue reading “What should I call you?”