To continue the conversation we started in April, we decided that we’ll host another round of link-building-style networking dedicated to the same subject: Misconceptions language professionals come across in their field of work.
Without further ado, here are the submissions we received.
From a language learning and teaching perspective: You should learn or teach idioms in L2.
There seems to be a general dismissal of the fact that language use is not universal across various contexts. Simply put, you are not going to wear high heels and a cocktail dress on a camping trip, or a bathing suit to a wedding.
The decision of whether or not to learn or teach idioms should be made bearing in mind the learning objectives of a specific course as no course or learner/s are the same.
Someone who is aspiring to earn a university degree abroad and as such is going to take a language exam, might indeed benefit from learning some common idioms (yet the correct methodology here is crucial, mere mechanical memorization of lists of idioms won’t help).
However, for a professional who routinely communicates in L2 with colleagues spread around the globe for whom this language is also foreign, using idioms in L2 should not be a default mode.
As we know, idioms by nature don’t have a straightforward meaning, their native use is also often limited to a certain region or industry – there potentially might be misunderstandings when using them that can cost a lot.
Getting things done and communicating in a clear and concise manner should be prioritized when it comes to using a language in professional settings and that is not a context where the use of idioms plays an important role.
Language and Intercultural coach and trainer
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Interpreter qualification is necessary only because it’s required in certain domains
As an interpreter trainer, I have had many interpreters tell me that ‘they are only getting training because they are required to.’ They believe that they don’t need training. When I ask them what credentials they possess, they don’t have any. When I tell them that interpreting is a profession, and that all professionals are educated or trained, they are surprised. The misconception that I have seen in the industry is that being bilingual is equal to being a trained/educated interpreter.
You have to be fluent in a student’s mother tongue language in order to effectively teach them the target language
If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me, “So you know all those languages of the people you are teaching?”, I could have retired 10 years ago. At this point in my career, I can’t even remember all the language backgrounds of the students and clients I’ve had the joy to work with. My rough guess is around 50. Do I wish I were fluent in 50 languages? Absolutely! Does the human brain even have that capacity? Probably not. And I certainly don’t. I’m a linguist but unfortunately, I’m not a polyglot (another misconception for a different post).
Perhaps this misconception is more prevalent in the U.S. where much of the population is still monolingual (although that is changing) and foreign language education is generally weak compared to much of the rest of the world. And since we’re already privileged to speak one of the world’s dominant languages, there often isn’t motivation for people to invest in language study. Many Americans are just not very experienced with the process of acquiring another language and probably remember their high school days in Spanish/French/Latin class when the teacher explained almost everything in English and everyone was expected to translate vocabulary and sentences – meaning putting in a lot of time and not being able to verbally communicate in the end. If this was someone’s experience with learning a language, then I can understand the assumption that I, as an ESL teacher and coach, would have to be able to communicate with a student in their own language in order to teach anything meaningful.
But that’s not how effective language teaching works. I was trained to teach using immersion. I myself studied Spanish and German and while I have leaned on that knowledge at times when working with Spanish and German-speaking students who are beginners in English, I save my explanations in the mother tongue language for absolute emergencies – mostly times when the student’s frustration level is high and they need some reassurance before moving forward. But most of the time this is not a practical approach, as group ESL classes can have 10 or more languages represented. The last public school where I worked had students representing 57 different languages.
As linguists, we know the general structure and sound system of other languages and this helps us understand how to help students – there are some errors in English that learners of a certain background tend to make (called transference errors), while other parts of English as just funky and challenging for everyone regardless of their background. If I get a new client with a mother tongue language I’m not familiar with, I spend a little time researching it – how the grammar of that language is structured, how many vowels and consonants it has, which ones are different from English, etc. This information is widely available and not hard to find. Then I understand more about where the client is coming from and how to help them improve their English.
I am a translator. “Oh, do you translate books?”
Well, I have translated some books in my translation career of over 20 years, but this is not the only thing translators do! Translators work with all types of content: legal contracts, business proposals, old family records – our work can be really diverse. The general public may think that online tools are here to come to the rescue, however even Google warns against using automated translations for professional purposes. In one of its training courses Google says search engines don’t value content which is generated from automated translation tools. What’s more, automatically translated pages may be considered spam. There you go – from the horse’s mouth.
Russian Translator and Interpreter
“I did Duolingo for a month; I should be fluent right now, right?”… WRONG.
There’s no better activity to truly learn a language than to practice in daily bursts through all of its forms: reading, speaking, writing, and thinking / understanding. Language learning takes time, and it’s a common misconception that playing games on our phones will “make us fluent” in a language in a laughably short amount of time. While fluency is a good long-term goal, it’s important to build our vocabulary and confidence in a language through regular conversation, writing practice, and reading exercises. When we have more realistic expectations, we don’t NEED a game to make language learning fun.
The defendant won’t need an interpreter. They’ve lived here for 5+ years.
A common misconception I come across as an interpreter is that all defendants who can manage to order a drink in a bar can also manage in UK criminal courts without an interpreter – especially if they have been living here for the last 5, 10 or 15 years …
I need more professional training to find more clients
So many times I see language professionals taking more and more training courses and investing in CPD to get even better at what they do. While CPD in our field of work is very important, I believe an equally (if not more?) important part of the equation is knowing how to market ourselves and attract the right kind of clients. The kind of clients who’ll appreciate us for who we are and what we can bring to the table.
Learning how to market ourselves is crucial. Because no matter how fantastic our service is. If no-one knows about it, no-one will buy it. It’s our duty to actively show up for people who’re looking for what we offer. They’ll then make a decision whether we’re the right fit for them or not (and equally, we can also make the same decision after they reach out to us).
But if we want to find more clients, rather than taking more CPD courses, I think it makes more sense to get better at marketing our business in the first place. And use the money that comes in to invest into CPD.
Any thoughts on the above? Leave a comment below and let’s continue the conversation there.
To read more, check also the April submissions:
What is link-building?
SEO stands for search engine optimization. In nutshell, this is the practice of growing your website’s visibility to make sure that search engines like Google will display your site, as high up on the search results page as possible without you paying a penny.
That’s what we call organic search engine results. Organic is the opposite of paid ads. SEO is about making sure Google can find your stuff when someone’s looking for it, and Google shows it to them – for free.
When Google decides which websites to show to people on the search result page, they use algorithms to measure the quality of the website and the webpages – and the measurement is based in part on the number of links pointing to the site.
Google will only deem your website a good quality website that is worth displaying to people if a number of links from other websites also point to it.
The theory is that when someone ‘links’ to your website, they are effectively saying it is a good resource. Otherwise, they wouldn’t link to it, much in the same way that you wouldn’t send a friend to a bad restaurant.
So, when other websites point to your website, it is seen as a vote of confidence, you wouldn’t get links if you didn’t deserve to.
This is a strong signal to Google that your site is a good quality site to display to people who are searching for the kind of services that you offer.
To learn more about SEO practices in an easy-to-understand, non-techy way, these links will lead the way.