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How to break down language barriers?

When you go abroad, whether it is for work, with Erasmus as part of an internship or just for sightseeing, that you will meet people from other countries is an unavoidable truth. During conversations with these people, it may be difficult to understand each other. However, in the early exchanges, communication techniques can be employed to help solve this problem.

An experience abroad connects people from different belief systems, cultures and backgrounds. That is why it is so hard to build a mutual understanding in the beginning. The language in which exchanges are made is naturally English, the international language or lingua franca. A great number of the present travelling population have learnt this language to a more or less functional proficiency. Indeed, some people are bilingual thanks to certain past experiences, others are at a school level and the many have only a grasp of the fundamentals. These differences are apparent during every conversation, even the basic ones. Sometimes, a comprehension problem can occur because everyone involved is thinking in his native language before talking. In this way, we construct sentences using the same syntax, or sentence structure, as that of our mother tongue, so when we want to use a relatively idiomatic expression for example, we translate it word for word. But, we often forget that expressions are not always the same in each language. This leads in many cases to misunderstandings as well as to memorable giggles.

Living in a foreign community with strangers will teach you to build up, whether consciously or not, communication techniques to help you gain a better comprehension of others and establish relationships with them. Much of this will rely on faux sign language and gesticulations used to point out or mimic objects, or to express an emotion. Later, when a word is missing from your vocabulary, the technique often used is to define it using other words you know. Finally, a last resort is to say the word in your own language – often a surprisingly effective solution. Indeed, European countries have common linguistic origins so sometimes words are similar or bear a strong resemblance.

If you go abroad do not be afraid of being misunderstood or not understanding others. There are numerous ways to communicate with others with whom you don’t share a common (native) language and these communication techniques will establish themselves over time. Then through making the effort to understand others,you will finally improve your vocabulary style of talking and communicating – mainly in English naturally.

Translation Internship in Portugal

Last year I had to do an Internship as part of my degree in translation. I tried to get in contact with several companies in England but I received no response. Considering that it was mandatory for the conclusion of my degree I chose to do it for my University – the Internship consisted of translating a Education Manual for Teachers that have to deal with some sort of problems in a classroom environment and how they should react, I had a semester to do it.

It was not a normal Internship per se, my job was to translate the manual from English to Portuguese but I didn’t have a fixed schedule to work on it, I had to do it alone because my colleagues were translating other things. So I had to make my own schedule to accommodate the fact that I was both working and studying at the same time, without forgetting the fact that I had to present progress reports every 15 days,

Not having a fixed schedule worked relatively well, but when the work started to increase I had not only to schedule my day but I had to set up priorities on the go. I think the fact that helped me the most was that I was working and studying at the same time in the 2 first years in the university so I was used to divide my time in advance, that enabled me to do a good job both at school and in my work.

The manual had 83 pages and even though it was about Educational Practices it expanded in so many interesting subjects that made it even more easier and fun to translate.

I found it very interesting for a number of reasons: it was related to a subject I like (Educational Practices, Social Education) and because it expanded my knowledge about that specific subject since I had to search for keywords and exact terms in Portuguese.

Other thing I enjoyed during this Internship was the fact I was involved in all the stages of production, I was translating, revising, and editing the text. In a way it’s good because you have total control over the content you are producing on the other way was bad because it’s hard to get some distance over the things you are producing in order to make a meaningful and conscious critique of your own work.

All in all it was a great experience.

Tiago, Portugal

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