Translation & Interpretation

Part 1: Translation & Interpretation

Learning a language–and mastering it!–allows for countless job opportunities and possibilities when entering the workforce. An obvious career is language teacher, but there is so much more available if teaching doesn’t suit or excite you. Translation and interpretation have always fascinated me, but they are oftentimes confused and very different careers (translation is written; interpretation is spoken).

In class, I like to give a demonstration with a regular classroom teacher of what interpretation looks like. We choose a mini lesson beforehand, and then s/he stops after each sentence or phrase so that I can repeat it in Spanish (not simultaneous). I remember one year being distracted when a student sneezed and I missed the sentence I was supposed to interpret (a math lesson on long division); so I stopped and pointed out how crucial 100% focus and concentration are for this profession and that I had #failed in that moment!

This simple exercise ignites a meaningful discussion among students–and there tend to be a lot of questions afterwards. The regular classroom teacher and I even memorized a page-long goat story to retell for second graders one year (video), which included small gestures, is a lesson on compromise, and was great fun! Students all wanted to learn it after we performed and interpreted it!


  1. Found in Translation: How Language Shapes Our Lives and Transforms the World, Nataly Kelly and Jost Zetzsche
  2. Polyglot: How I Learn Languages–book in PDF, by Kató Lomb
  3. Harmony of Babel: Profiles of Famous Polyglots of Europe, Kató Lomb
  4. LINGO: Around Europe in Sixty Languages, Gaston Dorren
  5. Babel No More, Michael Erard
  6. Dreaming in Chinese, Deborah Fallows
  7. Lost in Translation, Ella Frances Sanders
  8. The Illustrated Book of Sayings, Ella Frances Sanders

Part 2: Syntax & The Untranslatable

Hopefully, you have started to establish a language-learning routine. Now, the race has truly begun. After a few dozen times around the track (metaphorically speaking), you will begin to notice oddities, or so-called quirks in your target language.

Many of these will fall in the category of syntax–the arrangement of words and phrases in language; or, how language is organized–that differs from your native tongue. “Juice of orange/jugo de naranja” instead of orange juice (Spanish); “I doctor/Я доктор”, instead of “I am a doctor” (Russian); “Electric brain/电脑“, instead of “computer” (Mandarin Chinese). You may not be here yet, but when you arrive, try to be flexible in your thinking. “We” are not any more right than “they” are. This is where the beautiful flower of language begins to blossom.

In addition, there can also be more nebulous types of translations, or even completely untranslatable phrases. Regarding the former, Spanish does not have as many words as English, so one word can encompass numerous meanings and nuances; in English, we might have a more specific term. In fact, I have heard before that Swahili is incredibly metaphorical because it only has 5,000 words. Spanish has many more than 5,000 words–rough estimates might say 150,000 words in Spanish. Below, see a few more thoughts on the subject:

With respect to untranslatable words, komorebi/木漏れ日 (in Japanese) means ‘sunlight that filters through the leaves of trees’; there is no English equivalent. Pisanzapra (in Malay) is the time needed to eat a banana. In case you are interested, Ella Frances Sanders has two books devoted entirely to this fascinating topic. Here is one of my favorite untranslatable words:

To read the rest of this post, please click HERE.

Part 3: Ear Training

“Guess the Language” Games

Accents & Gibberish

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