10 Websites for English Language Students

From ELT Experiences:

A few years ago I wrote a blog post about 10 Websites for English Language Teachers. At the time it seemed to be quite popular with readers but it suddenly dawned that I did not write about any web…

Source: 10 Websites for English Language Students

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Will a robot take your job?

Will a robot take your job? The BBC has developed a tool to figure this out, based on data supplied by Michael Osborne and Carl Frey from Oxford University’s Martin School.

Check out the web page, here.

When I first saw this article I was immediately worried. Automatic translations and translation tools abound, and I was afraid I might see translation near the top of the list.

However, I was happy to find the resulting score for translation to qualify it as “not very likely” to be replaced by a robot.

Whenever I think of anything being replaced by a robot, I just imagine my frustration every time I try to get customer service on the phone and am met with an automatic message system. But, apparently receptionists and related professions are high on the list – so now I can just imagine my future frustration tripling every time I will try to check into a hotel staffed by robots!

Although honestly, I suppose this highlights the “humanness” of language. It would be difficult to program a machine to manage nuances in human meaning and language. Just imagine their difficulty with idioms! These would have to be programmed one by one. As I once heard, machines produce machine translations.

Writing and translation are also highly subjective. Two different translators will always produce different translations for the same text. I think the main goal of translation tools in this context is to aim to achieve a certain consistency across translations, especially in use of terminology. Although tools will never serve as a replacement for good, human translations.

What am I doing in Hackberry, Arizona?

Several people have asked me what I am doing in Hackberry, Arizona.

I ask myself the same question every single day, mind you!

It is an area that you could consider the middle of nowhere, backwoods, boondocks, back country, hinterlands of Arizona, the lion’s den, the place of no forgiveness and no return. It is also literally cow county – the zoning permits this. On my daily walks I frequently come across savage, wildling cows and their calves, coolly munching at grass and the other savage things that they eat, giving me those side-eye glances that say “I am watching you, Allison.”

Ok, perhaps that it is a bit extreme.

But I am along for the ride in my parents’ wish to retire to a sustainable, middle of nowhere ranch. They bought a property out here and with some solar energy, a water well, a recently finished home, and several baby chickens, are well on their way to becoming sustainable and also ready for the ever imminent apocalypse.

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Although I do have internet and a nice workspace, which are my main requirements 🙂

Here are some interesting sightings:

A rogue pronghorn antelope

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A deer at sunset

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A strange looking seed pod

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An alien footprint

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A little family of javalis off in the distance..

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And lots of semi-arid scenery!

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The Shortest Book Review: El Amante Japonés (The Japanese Lover) by Isabel Allende

 

I very much enjoyed this book, it mildly but consistently kept my attention from start to finish.

I have a slight obsession with Isabel Allende, and it is much in the same way that I admire Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert. A large part of my love for their work is due to the fact that they are women and apart from being authors, they both are charming, charismatic, and lovely ladies who have led very interesting lives.

My admiration for Isabel Allende is usually met with one of two extremes – a lot of people out there are also fans while others see her as having become too mainstream. This same phenomenon has occurred over and over again with a lot of “creative professionals,” including musicians, poets, and actors.

Although I take a lot of interest in the mainstream and believe that it is also deserving of admiration, pride, and glory. The mainstream is just as interesting as the obscure to me, as it reflects the state of our society, our tastes, and how excellence comes to be or be defined as such.

And there is no denying that Isabel is an excellent writer – I love her ability to strike a balance between the beautiful and the informal in her writing, between what is exquisite and what is simply entertaining. She masterfully includes ordinary, almost insignificant details at times in her writing, yet this contributes to the nuanced sceneries throughout her works.

I also enjoy the fact that this book takes place in California, her adopted homeland, as I am also from the Golden State 🙂

I consider this book to be somewhat of a primer in magical realism for English speakers. And while this book is largely not magical, there is a wonderful twist at the end.  You will have to find it out for yourself, and you will only understand after arriving at the end of the novel!

Currently, I am reading All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr. I am excited that this book was available at my local library and will publish my thoughts, shortly.

Spring and the unexpected

One of the things I like about spring is finding little surprises – for example, the blossoming flowers all around that suddenly decide to pop up and present themselves.

On my walks in the area I was very unimpressed by this average looking yucca:

yucca average

The banana yucca, or Yucca baccata, has a blueish tint and usually grows in groups, just like a little family.

But now that spring has come, several plants have a gorgeous, amazing inflorescence and flowers that hang down like a bunch of bananas, where I suppose its name comes from.

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Very impressed!

I enjoy the unexpected, sometimes.

My Translation Method

From the time I receive a manuscript (in Spanish) to the time that I send a final translation (in English) to a client, I pass through the following steps:

  • Initial review: I read the manuscript for understanding, look up terminology to clarify its meaning, and try to get an overall perspective on the subject, determine the goal of the publication, and get a feel for the author’s voice and style. Sometimes more extensive background research is involved if I need to get more acquainted with the subject matter.
  • 1st draft translation: I create a rough first draft in English. In this first draft, I just aim to translate ideas, facts, and numbers as accurately and precisely as possible, and sometimes quite literally. I try to incorporate the author’s voice and creativity when appropriate and when this translates well into English. Depending on the length and difficulty of the article, sometimes I will create a glossary or list of terms to guide myself throughout the translation and maintain consistency in term usage (although I admittedly have a good memory and don’t struggle to maintain consistency, even without a glossary).
  • 2nd review: Then, I review the resulting manuscript and edit extensively to make sure ideas flow well from start to finish. Here, I am less interested in a literal translation and more focused on patching together the ideas of the article or publication to make a cohesive whole. I focus more on things like word order and proper transitioning from paragraph to paragraph.
  • Final review: I read over the final result once or twice, and often I will make very minor corrections or double-check the terminology. I like to start this step after having “left” the manuscript for at least 24 hours, meaning that I haven’t looked at it for a little while. Sometimes this helps me get a fresh mind and perspective, without completely forgetting the subject matter. This is also the final opportunity to catch any mistakes that I might have looked over during the previous step.

So, any manuscript that I receive will be reviewed extensively by the time it is finally returned to my client. For revisions or editions of English manuscripts, step 2 is irrelevant, but I still review all translations or editions that I receive on at least three separate occasions, following the above steps.

I also generally work about 45 minutes per hour. I will take a mini break every single hour to distract myself from the subject matter for a little bit (without completely getting off course). Sometimes this means very unprofessionally (cough cough) playing Candy Crush, looking at clothes or shoes or recipes online, checking e-mails, or preparing a nice, hot cup of coffee 🙂

This is a study method I have used since college – I find it difficult to exclusively concentrate on anything for more than an hour, and sometimes little mini breaks are something to look forward to and serve as a reward!

Environmental reasons for not having children

The other day I was listening to a podcast of a woman that was speaking on a certain topic but then went off on a tangent about all the environmental reasons not to have children. The decision on whether or not to have a child is a very personal choice and certainly validated by a number of reasons, but I couldn’t help but find myself ready for debate when she brought up her environmental concerns. Basically, she was saying that too many people exist on this planet, which puts a huge strain on resources, and that this should be a serious discussion point for anyone considering to have a child.

First of all, I think that women should have a choice when it comes to having a child. It shouldn’t be a given that all women have mothering instincts or want to have a child. This also extends to men. Second, I believe that there are numerous reasons for wanting or not wanting a child, and that women shouldn’t necessarily feel the need to offer these reasons or even explain themselves for not wanting children.

However, I wholeheartedly disagree with the “too many people on this planet” argument as a serious reason for not having children or limiting the number of children. While there are a lot of people on the planet, and this certainly puts a strain on resources in some regions, the brute number of persons living here on Earth isn’t necessarily relatable or directly correlated with environmental distress. By this I mean that across the planet, given the country and region, people consume a vastly different amount of natural resources and pollute the environment in very distinct ways. A child in Africa is probably contributing very little to environmental pollution (or in potentially different ways) versus a wealthy child in a developed country, which due to different or higher levels of consumption may indirectly contribute to the degradation of the primary resources necessary to fabricate consumer goods and end products.

On the other hand, if we make a shift towards sustainable food systems and environmentally beneficial activities, then the brute number of people living on this planet becomes irrelevant. The Earth’s carrying capacity could become infinite if all processes were sustainable. In this sense, I think the population argument is undirected, because it isn’t addressing the root cause of the problem. The root cause is essentially that production systems are based on the degradation of natural resources and the use of fossil fuels, which may or may not be correlated with population counts as brute numbers. Yes, obviously consumption must increase with increasing population, yet this relationship is not easily measurable and highly context dependent. I believe that the population argument would only be viable if environmental degradation were directly correlated with population counts (and not by association) or equally distributed among the population.

Hyphens, en-dashes, and em-dashes (and the bane of my existence)

There are three types of little hyphens (- – —) that may be used in English. This could be an interesting point to study for someone learning or writing English as a second language, as I have noticed that hyphens are used often differently in Spanish. In fact, I see this to be a perfect example of contextual habits and customs in written language. Another example of this is the differential use of quotation marks (“”) across languages.

This is a rather minor detail, as it is certainly more important to write with correct grammar and sentence structure. However, I frequently make corrections on hyphen and em-dash usage, and attending to this point is a simple way to improve one’s writing.

So, once again, here are the three little hyphen-like lines that you can use in English:

Hyphen: –

En dash: –

Em dash: —

Now, you are going to have to look at these very closely to the see the difference and that these little suckers are, in fact, different lengths. The hyphen is the shortest, and the em-dash is the longest. And the en-dash is a nice compromise in between the two. The only purpose of these little lines is to make your life more complicated while writing in English (just kidding).

Sometimes I imagine that one day, long, long ago… three little old men were sitting around a table at the Oxford Academy of the Proper and Correct Usage of the English Language (this is actually I name that I just invented two seconds ago while writing this) and decided to make things more difficult for their peons (also known as students) by inventing a new way to make writing even more complicated. Nevermind that you would rather just use a hyphen for everything – now you have to decide whether to use a hyphen, en-dash, or em-dash. The length of this little tiny line seems to make all the difference in the world (not really).

I request that you don’t take me seriously all the time.

Interestingly enough, there IS an Academia Real Española, the “official” royal academy in charge of dictating what is right and wrong in written (and in theory, spoken) Spanish.  To my knowledge, there is no single “academy” that dictates English usage, at least equivalent to the Spanish academy. In fact, true to English style, lots of authors have published their own guidelines that have converted themselves into semi-official Bibles of the English language. I would be curious to know as to whether or not there is in fact an “official” and recognized guideline or academy for the English language in the United Kingdom or any other English-speaking country, but certainly, in the United States, no single institution is seen as the ultimate authority on the subject.

But, as convention dictates, I will now outline their modes of usage.

– – —- – — – – — – – —- – — – – —- – —- – — – – —- –

Hyphens are almost always used to separate words or to separate a prefix from a root word. A lot of this usage, in my opinion, is based on custom, as many words have prefixes yet don’t automatically need to be written with a hyphen. Thus, hyphens are used, in a sense, to stress and highlight prefixes and their significance.

For example: pre- and post- treatment, semi-automatic, and check-in

Pre- and post- treatment is an interesting example worth looking at. Another similar example is mid- and long- term. Again, I should repeat that hyphens (-) are sometimes optional. For example, you could say both semiautomatic (without a hyphen) and semi-automatic (with a hyphen), and both are considered conventionally correct (unless you are following a style guide that dictates hyphen usage). As usual, I would say the most important thing is consistency (always or never use a hyphen for the same word every time it is repeated in your writing).

However, if you want more specific guidelines, Stephen Wilbers has written an excellent guide on hyphenated words, found at the following link:

http://www.wilbers.com/part24.htm

Here, he has a list of many commonly hyphenated words and provides more exact guidelines for knowing when to hyphenate. This really is an excellent list and explanation, and I could never even attempt to re-create something as similarly wonderful. So, I wholeheartedly recommend his guidelines!

Let’s return now to the example of pre- and post- treatment, and mid- and long- term. In this case, the hyphen becomes a useful way of shortening your writing. For example, you could also say “in the midterm and longterm,” but “mid- and long- term” is a more aesthetically pleasing way to talk and write. You could also write “mid- and longterm,” but I would have preference for the “mid- and long- term” format, since I consider this to be more correct and to definitively highlight the prefixes as such. This formatting is frequently used in scientific writing.

Check-in, my final example from above, takes on a special meaning when used as a hyphenated word (vs. check and in, which have different meanings and usages on their own). So this is another application, so to speak, of hyphenated words.

For use in academic of scientific writing, the most frequent use for the en-dash (–) will be dates, months, and number ranges. I frequently see people write ranges of numbers or dates with hyphens, for example: 15-20 pairs, January 20-30. I have to admit that I am a stickler on this point, as the en-dash should be used for these instances, for example, the time period of 2000–2005 or a temperature range of 15–20 °C. I am beginning to think that this could in fact be an aesthetic concern, as I do indeed think that 2000–2005 (en-dash) looks prettier than 2000-2005 (hyphen). I should note that in the font used for this blog, the difference between the hyphen and en-dash is not very evident, but they are in fact, different lengths. In other fonts and font sizes, the difference may become more evident.

And finally, use em-dashes (a little bit longer than the en-dash) for separating two distinct but related ideas or to represent natural breaks in speech patterns. These have applications in formal and academic writing, but like many things in life – they are best when used in moderation. I frequently use these in personal communication and e-mails, since they just seem to work with a “train of thought” style of writing. For example:

Please let me know what you think – I can make any changes to your document if necessary.

This follows a very natural speech pattern and train of thought.

In 2005 in Mexico, the majority of crops produced were corn – Panama followed the same pattern.

The above is another example more relevant to academic writing, although in many cases you could just separate the two phrases above (by putting a period after the first phrase) or find a simpler way of formatting these ideas. So yes, em-dashes can add variety and spice to your writing, but only when you don’t over-spice it.

One final rule: no more than ONE em-dash per sentence. Just like the semi-colon, if you use too many… your reader will just get annoyed with you! Too much of anything is never a good thing.

Intrinsic Confidence and Motivation

I remember once listening to a podcast of a “confidence coach.” Yes, a person that tells you how to be confident.

I actually have gotten into the habit of listening to podcasts and audiobooks, especially during my long, sometimes 2+ hour walks. I have found that I absolutely cannot listen to fiction or literature, but I do enjoy listening to biographies or self-help type books. I find these a lot easier to follow than a storyline – I really need to read fiction to enjoy it!

So basically, during one of my long walks, I stumbled across this podcast on confidence and decided to listen.

The main idea behind the coach’s view of confidence was that true confidence must be intrinsic and unattached to anything external. This might actually go against many of our conceptions of confidence, especially in a materialistic or superficial world where our confidence may come from material success, beauty, being popular among colleagues, professional success, or a number of other things.

Yet, according to this coach, true confidence comes from an intrinsic sense of worthiness. This isn’t based on success, wealth, or other things in life that are external or potentially temporary, but rather on a sense of confidence in who you are, intrinsically, as a person.

I likened this in my head to the peaceful protests and subsequent imprisonments of Mahatma Gandhi – this wonderfully enlightened man had gone through many difficult situations yet remained utterly composed and tranquil. Gandhi could have lost (and did lose) everything – his house, his wealth, his titles – yet none of this meant anything to him because his sense of self was not tied to these things but rather to his ideals.

And I truly have found this concept to work for me and be useful. When I am having difficult moments, especially during my endeavor as a translator, I return to my inner core of confidence. Reminding myself of my intrinsic motivations and values helps me to overcome low points and continue to maintain my confidence. As a sole translator, it is admittedly difficult to manage workflow, for example, especially in busy or unpredictable times. This in fact probably remains as one of my weakness points.

Yet my confidence in translating, and in general, comes from the values that I identify with intrinsically. As a person, I consider myself to be playful, creative, a blind optimist, a humanitarian, and loyal to a fault, in addition to my strong sense of justice and desire to lift up the people around me. These values define who I am and my outlook on life, and they give me a sense of confidence, pride, and worth that can never be taken away from me, even if I fail at something.

As a translator, no matter how busy I am, I dedicate myself fully to the document at hand that I am working on. It is important to me to deliver high quality work and to be proud of my work, so that my clients can in turn be satisfied and proud of their work in translated form. I also aim to improve daily, weekly, and monthly and continually address different aspects of running a “business,” even if it is a solo endeavor. This includes finding better ways to assist my clients or make them happier. This also includes finding ways to work more efficiently and offer better turn-around times (my main goal at the present).

But ultimately, I don’t have the desire to expand into a large translation business or achieve a huge degree of wealth or material success – just enough to comfortably satisfy my needs. What is important to me is to fulfill my intrinsic motivations – to make people happy doing something I enjoy, to provide the best quality and service possible, and to offer my services, talents, and abilities to the world. I also genuinely derive satisfaction from helping my clients publish their results and making them known to a larger audience. Certainly, I am just doing the translating (and not the hard work of research), but the idea that I can assist them with this process is very rewarding. To me, these aspects of enjoying the process are genuinely independent of economic reward (not to deny that being able to satisfy your monetary needs is also important).

I believe that sometimes it is important to remind ourselves of the intrinsic rewards that keep us motivated – our ideals behind the work that we do and that are worthy unto themselves.