August 27, 2014

Book Review: Fluent in 3 months by Benny Lewis

The promising title of this book, although slightly misleading, will definitely attract many aspiring language learners who have struggled in their linguistic endeavours so far. However, is the name of the book an attainable possibility or a mere marketing trick? In a way, it seems to be a little bit of both.
Before having read the book I was highly sceptical, as my current language studies have shown me that reaching fluency is an aim that requires, well… years. What I quickly realised though, is that the author’s definition of ‘fluency’ is not the same as for most linguists. Although ‘Benny the Irish Polyglot’, as he commercially calls himself, never claims to be fluent in all of the languages he ‘speaks’, his game of make-believe is slightly irritating. He has dipped his toes into numerous languages and can manage simple conversations, or even pull of an authentic accent in many of them, but for me personally, it’s quality over quantity.
On a positive note, the book does provide many useful language learning tips and techniques, and shows that the difference between ‘can’ and ‘can’t’ is nothing but a shift in our mind set. He disproves many of the popular myths surrounding language learning, such as ‘I am too old to learn a language’ or ‘I was not born with the language gene’. The author shows the reader how these are nothing more but excuses used by people to postpone, most often indefinitely, their attempts at language learning. It might benefit many discouraged students to realise how their success depends almost entirely on their attitude and motivation.
I particularly liked the memorising technique introduced in the book, very useful for learning new vocabulary. The trick is to make up ridiculous stories that help you remember a certain word. A brilliant example from the book was the story on how to remember the French word for ‘train station’: gare. The author pictured the comic strip cat, Garfield, running through a train station (one that the author has actually been to) to catch his train in order to make it on time to the world lasagne-eating championship in Bologna. Although the details of the story are of lesser importance, it is definitely a very memorable story and the recall process takes less than a second, therefore it does not affect the flow of conversation.
Overall, Fluent in 3 months could benefit those, who have always wanted to learn a foreign language, but somehow have struggled to do so and need to be pointed in the right direction. The right attitude can make a significant difference and the book offers a lot of useful advice. Many people don’t even realise that they set themselves up for failure from the very beginning by making some common mistakes regarding language learning, which are explained in the book. The number one mistake is thinking that you need to know all the grammar in order to be able to start speaking. As the author proves, it is never too early to have a conversation!
In conclusion, if you ignore the commercial aspect of the book and the constant advertising of the author’s blog, you can find a lot of useful advice there that could change your attitude to learning languages and help you achieve the goals you have always wanted to reach. So, enjoy it and let it awaken your inner linguist! 

Written by Alicja Zajdel   

Fluent in Three Months -- photo
August 19, 2014

Interview with Translator Antonia Lloyd-Jones

Antonia Lloyd-Jones is a full-time translator of Polish literature, and a double winner of the Found in Translation award. She has translated several works by some of Poland’s leading contemporary novelists, including Paweł Huelle and Olga Tokarczuk. Her most recent publications include Kolyma Diaries, a travel book by Jacek Hugo-Bader (Portobello Books) and Gottland: Mostly True Stories from Half of Czechoslovakia by Mariusz Szczygieł (Melville House). Her other translation projects include crime fiction, poetry, essays, and books for children. Besides working as a translator, Antonia is also a mentor for the BCLT’s Emerging Translators’ Mentorship Programme and a Translators Association committee member.

Antonia Lloyds Jones

1. Is it true that the main reason why you learned Polish had dark curly hair and was seven feet tall?
That’s a tall story – the truth is that he was six foot three.

2. The Polish language is considered to be one of the most difficult. How did you manage to master it?
I’m always sceptical when I hear Polish defined as “one of the most difficult languages”. Compared with what, and from whose perspective? In some ways Polish is a very easy language; for instance, once you know what sound each letter represents, the words aren’t difficult to spell, because all the letters are pronounced – unlike in English, where simply the word “enough” is enough to show how fiendishly difficult the spelling can be. Polish tenses are much simpler than English ones too. And those innocent little words “a” and “the” are very challenging to most students of English. So what is a difficult language?
I mainly taught myself Polish, but after studying Russian for ten years, at school and university. I also have a background in Latin and Ancient Greek, which provide a great basis for learning any other Indo-European language. I suspect that an ability to learn languages is partly an animal thing – like being good at music, or drawing – some people are born with it and find it easier than others do. There are plenty of linguists in my family, so perhaps I inherited a talent for languages. I’m sure I chose to study Russian because my father, who was a linguistic genius, didn’t know any, so he could be proud of me without correcting me every second word. Although when I started learning Polish, from my Anglophone perspective Russian seemed similar enough to be very helpful to me, the two languages have long since totally diverged in my mind, and I no longer think of them as having much in common.

3. What place in Poland do you visit most? Have you ever thought about moving there permanently?
As I write this, I am in Warsaw, a city I very much enjoy. Mostly I come here, or to Kraków, occasionally Gdańsk or Wrocław, mainly because those are the places where I know people. But in January for instance I will be in Łódź to help research a book for an American author of Polish-Jewish origin. I wish I had more opportunities to go to the Polish countryside, and the smaller towns, as there are so many fascinating and beautiful places to see. I have never thought of moving to Poland permanently; these days I have family commitments in Britain, but who knows? Perhaps one day I will.

4. Do you have a favourite word? Either in English or Polish.
Not really, though sometimes my favourite word is the very last one in the book I’m translating, simply because reaching it means finishing the project. But of course like many non-Poles, I can’t help liking the word źdźbło, which seems absurdly complicated for something meaning a blade of grass. People who know no Polish at all find it truly alarming. I have a favourite Hungarian word, which is zongora, meaning a piano – it sounds just right.

5. After years of working as a translator, are you able to pinpoint some key differences between the two languages? Perhaps the lack of an equivalent for a certain word or in the vocabulary range for a certain topic.
I could say that Polish uses more impersonal structures than English, or that its word order is much more flexible, but different languages are like different countries, the product of different experiences that result in different mentalities. So in a way everything is untranslatable, and translation is simply our best resort, short of learning the other language. But equally I could say that everything is translatable, there’s no lack of equivalents, or ways of rendering the same thing in another language.

6. The translator’s role is usually not limited to the translation itself, translators often act as cultural ambassadors for the country. What do you find most satisfying about this job?
I like being involved in promotional events with the authors whose work I translate, because it gives me the opportunity to talk to them, and often to have adventures with them. Knowing them in person and spending time with them professionally is highly enjoyable, and also contributes to my better understanding of how they write and how they think about their work. It also gives me the chance to go to inspiring literary festivals and to meet other translators and writers. I think being an advocate for the literature you translate is an important part of a translator’s job – once they’re published, the books need promotion, and it can only be in the translator’s interest to encourage people to read them.

7. How much time per day do you usually dedicate to translation?
Like any self-employed person, I spend most of the day doing my job, from first thing in the morning to late at night. Being freelance means that you have to be disciplined about getting work done, and about generating work too. If you mean every aspect of translation, then I spend my entire working day on it; if you mean actually sitting over a Polish text and putting it into English, it depends on my workload and schedule. If I am working on a particular book, there is usually a set number of pages that I aim to complete each day, but of course as the deadline approaches, and I start to get behind, the number of pages increases.

8. You don’t see much Polish literature on the shelves of British bookstores. Is it difficult to interest publishers and readers in Polish authors?
The first part of your question answers the second. It is very difficult. Publishers and bookshops have to be business-like – they’re not charities, they have to make a profit. Unfortunately Polish literature isn’t at the top of most people’s shopping list. It has to compete with the huge number of books published in English (over ten times as many as in Polish) and also with an increasing number of other translated literatures. I often ask British or American people if they can remember the name of any Polish author whose work they have read in translation, and they look sheepish as they rack their brains to think of one, but I tell them I won’t be surprised if they can’t. Occasionally someone mentions Wisława Szymborska, Czesław Miłosz, Stanisław Lem or Ryszard Kapuściński, but that’s about it. But if I ask myself when I last read a book translated from, let’s say, Greek, I can’t come up with an answer. (And I do read lots of translations.)
In this situation, where Polish literature has very few opportunities to be published in English, I think it is vital to focus on the very best books – there’s no point in trying to promote commercial Polish literature on the English-language market, which is already saturated with its own popular books. Instead it is best to save the few available slots for the best works that make a real contribution to world literature.

9. Literary translation is considered the lowest paid field of translation and it is often a second job, for example for literature professors. Is it possible to make a living from translating books alone?
I suppose I am living proof that it is possible to survive as a literary translator alone, but it is an unreliable source of income. Translation is slow work, paid by the number of words or pages, not by the hour. One of my colleagues once estimated that we’d be better off working at McDonald’s. My income comes from a wide range of jobs, not just book-length translations, but lots of much shorter ones, occasional teaching and writing, public events, book reports and so on. If I hadn’t had a sensible job in the past that earned me a high salary, I would have a much harder life now, but as it is I have my own flat and don’t have to worry about rent. That said, I do have to work hard to pay the bills. Luckily, in Britain the rates paid for literary translation are generally higher than in many other countries.

10. You are a mentor for emerging translators within the project run by the British Centre for Literary Translation. What would be your main advice for a future professional?
Apart from “don’t give up the day job unless you have a rich and generous partner”, my main piece of advice is to read as much good literature written in or translated into English as possible. Read, read, read. And when you’re translating, imagine there are two people in the room with you: the author and the reader. You must never forget either of them.

Thank you for your time and very best of luck with your future plans!
Q. prepared by Joanna Michta
Q. translated by Alicja Zajdel
Photo courtesy of Antonia Lloyd-Jones

August 11, 2014

Travellers’ Corner: An Experience of Teaching in Peru

Hi, my name’s Dan and I previously spent a short time teaching at Bristol Language School last year. Following a break from teaching, I am now in Peru working at a private language school in the remote town of Chachapoyas in the Andes. It is the capital of the region of Amazonas, but with only 24,000 people it is quite a small place and it is a 9-10 hour bus journey from any larger city.

The school itself, the International Language Center, which has been established over ten years ago, offers recognised language certificates and receives funding from the US embassy. Most teachers work here as volunteers so there is quite a changing line up of staff, hailing from all over the world. All of the foreign teachers tend to band together, so you don’t feel lonely when you arrive, though it does possibly hamper your Spanish language practice as you end up chatting in English all the time! Luckily the school also offers Spanish classes, so there have been plenty of opportunities to practice. 
Mountains 2
At school I teach a range of abilities, from basic to upper intermediate. Most of my students are between 12 and 18 and I’m pretty lucky as they are generally a nice bunch. They do, however, spend an awful lot of time speaking Spanish in class, which is a constant battle. It contrasts dramatically with my previous teaching experience in Taiwan, where teenagers will sit in class in complete silence! However, it still boils down to the same issue, a need to encourage students to use English as much as possible and I’m finding (with patience!) it works out okay. Most of my students are friendly and of course it is always fascinating to get to talk to people from a different country and find out about their culture. 
I also have a class of teachers from the local area, a program funded by the US embassy. The aim is to raise the standard of English in education. Although at first it was a little intimidating to face a whole class of English teachers, it has proved to be the most enjoyable experience and a great opportunity to get an insight into local education. I have also picked up some tips for games and activities so I think it has been a mutually beneficial experience!
Chachapoyas itself is a largely undiscovered gem. It was home to the Chachapoyan civilisation who were established years before the Incas. Around the area there are many ancient sites including ruins of villages, mausoleums that housed mummies and, most impressive of all, the walled city of Kuelap. Perched on top of a 3000 metre mountain, Kuelap is considered the second most impressive set of ruins in Peru, but while Macchu Picchu receives over 2000 visitors a day, Kuelap has only about 50. This means you can marvel at the place without any sense of it being overrun by tourists. On top of this, Chachapoyas is a place where you can visit the third highest waterfall in the world, go trekking on horse to remote lakes and ruins or just hang out in town drinking tasty local liquors. Currently, without an active airport, it is definitely a place waiting to be discovered by tourists on a larger scale, so it has been great to see it before it does!
Waterfall -- with sign
Overall, I have been enjoying my time here very much. While there may be occasional battles with weak internet connection and sudden stops in water supply, I have found Chachapoyas to be a friendly, safe town where students are (mostly!) eager to learn and where you can spend your free time seeing some incredible places. A great experience. 
Written by Daniel B. Matthews
Edited by Alicja Zajdel
Photos courtesy of Daniel B. Matthews 
International Language Center`s website is at 
August 4, 2014

Travellers’ Corner: Kraków, a Journey in Time

Kraków is one of the most fascinating places in Poland. The distinctiveness of the city can best be described by its rich history, beautifully preserved architecture, excellent cuisine and exciting cultural life. As a frequent visitor of Kraków, I want to take you on a walk, where we will visit my favourite places of the city.
If you arrived by train, you can easily get to the city centre, as it is minutes away from the main train station. Just follow the signs to Stare Miasto (Old Town), pass Galeria Krakowska, the main shopping centre, walk under the subway and you will find yourself in Planty, a park which surrounds Stare Miasto. There you can find a small tourist information point where you can collect a free map of the city.
If you keep walking ahead, you will find yourself in ulica Pijarska (Pijarska Street) with Brama Floriańska (Florian Gate) on the right and ulica Floriańska on the left. Pass them and then turn left into ulica św. Jana. Now slow down and admire its breathtaking architecture, ornaments and lanterns. After having walked for a few minutes, turn left into ulica św. Tomasza, on its corner you will find Kościół św. Jana (St John’s Church) and opposite there will be Pijalnia Wódki i Piwa (Drinking Room for Vodka and Beer). Pass them both and enjoy a short break at Camelot, a local café or its small, yet cosy garden. There you should definitely treat yourself to a cup of coffee and a delicious slice of sernik (cheese cake).
Ulica Pijarska
 Okay, the break was lovely but it’s time to see the rest of the city! Turn right and follow the ulica św. Tomasza and next take the first right into ulica Floriańska, one of the main streets of Kraków. Head towards Kościół Mariacki (St. Mary’s Church), the church of two unequal towers. Kościół Mariacki is in Rynek Główny, the largest medieval town square in Europe. You may want to wonder around Rynek Główny and visit Kościół Mariacki, Sukiennice (Cloth Hall) or Podziemia Rynku (History Museum of Kraków).
You can then return to ulica Floriańska and turn right into ulica św. Tomasza to try the most delicious pierogi in Kraków at Klubokawiarnia Relaks. Crescent shaped pierogi are Poland’s national dish and they were once described by Robbie Lawrence as “scrumptious”. It would be very difficult not to agree with him!(1) If you are not feeling full yet (and I honestly doubt that), you can walk back from ulica św. Tomasza to ulica Floriańska and through Rynek Główny onto Kraków’s most well known street, ulica Bracka. There, at Nowa Prowincja café, you can have a cup of gorąca czekolada (hot chocolate) and szarlotka, the very best apple pie in town.


Nowa Prowincja
 Now you can come back to Rynek Główny, walk towards the right and then turn right into ulica Sienna. You will walk through Planty towards ulica Starowiślna, which will lead you into Kazimierz, the old Jewish quarter; a very different part of Kraków, greyish, mysterious, crowded with buildings and small shops. I highly recommend taking a guided tour and vising the local Jewish museums, synagogues and cemeteries. There are many restaurants and cafés full of character, if you require a short break.
You can take a tram back to the city centre or walk through ulica Starowiślna, ulica Sienna and Planty, and then turn left to ulica Stolarska and have a nice afternoon pot of herbata(tea) at a very small and cosy café, Siesta Cafe. After feeling refreshed you can return to ulica Sienna and have a short stroll in Planty to appreciate the taste of old times. You can then come back to Rynek Główny and have an exquisite culinary experience at Wierzynek, one of the oldest restaurants in Europe (remember to pre-book your table and have a tour around the dining rooms).
After having the feast for the taste buds, you can go for a short walk around Rynek Główny and treat your imagination and cultural desires in Piwnica pod Baranami, a local literary cabaret and jazz club. Even if you do not speak Polish, you will have an unforgettable evening, as all performances are of high artistic quality. You will be squeezed in a small room for 4 hours, sitting on a foldable chair and wishing the concert would never end. At midnight, you will walk through the centre and only the darkness of the sky will remind you of how late it is, as people will walk, laugh, talk and hurry, as if it were midday.
Piwnica pod Baranami
 I am sad to say that our walk has come to an end. But I’m sure that fascinated by Kraków’s history, architecture, culture, art and cuisine, you will already start planning your next visit. See you then! 
Written by Kinga Macalla
Edited by Alicja Zajdel
Photos courtesy of Kinga Macalla
1.Robbie Lawrence, “Cereal”, vol. 4, p. 66.