Who cares when you were born?!

Today I am translating a CV of a person in the hotel industry.

I don't like translating CVs, and try to get out of it when I can. Sometimes I can't, because it's for a friend or relative. If the job offer comes from an agency, I usually decline. It's simply not worth it. CVs are usually a headache; they're badly written; they contain words that are difficult or awkward to translate; they require a lot of looking-up, etc. And whereas a private client may be willing to pay NIS 90 or 100 per 250 words, agencies definitely are not. And 250 words of a CV are usually far more of a headache than 250 words of run-of-the-mill text.

Since I live in Israel and not in some Utopia, I know that most HR companies and HR departments expect to receive CVs written in a very specific format which is convenient for them: with your name and vital data right at the top, including very personal data such as your I.D. number and date of birth.

All that is bad enough. But why do people feel the need to add their marital status, how many children they have, the kids' ages, and that the latter are named Tommer, Tamir and Tammy? (No, not Tammy… that's an old fashioned name. She's probably called Stav or Tchelet.)

Others – and not only men -- tend to go into great detail regarding their military service: I served as a PZKR (or some such obscure acronym) of Hativat Trumpledor on Halleluiah Base in the Negev and had 60 servicemen and 20 latest-model APCs at my command.

I can think of very few jobs that would require such a detailed description one's IDF service. For example, if you're applying for the position of Arms Dealer or Weapons Instructor for a foreign government…

When I was working for an agency, henceforth to be referred to as The Gang, I instructed "les girls" – the post-army girls who are the link between customers and freelance translators -- to ask CV writers what their CV is intended for. In cases where it was intended for overseas consumption, I suggested some changes:

- No, no one cares, at this point, about your exact date of birth; they are not going to throw you a surprise birthday party.

- No, if you've completed your master's degree, no one cares which megama (track) you were in in high school, and whether it was in Bat Yam or Holon.

- If your prospective employer needs to know how many children you have in order to help arrange accommodation for you – that's a different story. But in general, your children are your own business and responsibility.

- As for your I.D. number – a foreign company definitely has no use for it; if you're applying for a job with an Israeli government office abroad, they probably expect it. But if you're applying directly to any company in Israel – there's no reason on earth to include this information in a first letter. Do you know how much information anyone, yes anyone, can find out about you if they have your ID number?...

- Lastly: There's no point in describing your English as "very good" or "high level", when the interview, if it's to be carried out in English, is sure to prove that you exaggerated a teensy bit…

And on that not-so-happy note, I shall get back to the CV I'm translating, and try to find a way of getting around the writer's misuse of the word "charismatic" in his description of himself…

How I ended up with egg on my face and learned a new word

Ah, got your attention, didn't I?!

The whole thing started as it often does, when a friend-of-a-friend etc contacted me about a piece of translation. The contacting lady was from Texas. Which isn't a bad thing in itself. The text was a kind of marketing letter sent out, presumably, by the Head Office of a certain chain of women's gyms, let's call it 2D (for reasons which will be made clear in a later post), to its various branches. The letter was proposing to the staff of the branches a way to drum up business.

Letter 1 in the correspondence went like this:


Hi Nina,

I got your reference from L. who is a friend of my colleague M. I wanted to see if you could send me your resume and rates for English into Hebrew translation as I had a small sample that I needed translated.




I duly sent CV and rates.
Letter 2 went like this:


Hi Nina,

Please can you quote me for translating the attached file and if you can send it to me ASAP.




There was an attached Word document of 382 words, plus the following brief instructions:

"The purpose and audience for the translation as follow:

  • The audience – franchisees i.e. owners of 2D clubs
  • The purpose – to communicate important business related information that would help franchisees with running their clubs successfully."

I thought I'd just do the best I can and send it off ASAP.

But, alas! I did not heed my own rules and warnings! What do I keep telling you? That poor source material is no excuse for poor end product. And besides – hahipazon hu mehasatan – perhaps you can think of a better translation than "haste makes waste", which the admirable Neri Sevenier's Thesaurus of Idioms and Phrases could not.

I did try. Since I was not familiar with the 2D chain, I Googled it; found the international website and the Israeli website. The Israeli website was really a mess -- someone had done a very literal translation. So it wasn't very useful. I also consulted a friend of my daughter, a young woman who is familiar with the women's fitness scene. Though I myself am not totally unfamiliar with it, having exercised with one of the leading chains for several years and having tried "co-ed" gyms too.

I must say I found the style of the Texas text a bit strange. Either because I'm not familiar with Texan English. Or else because whoever wrote the text had a strange style. Gai vais, as they say in Yiddish.

So I translated. I tried not to be literal. On the other hand I didn't leave anything out. I had not been asked for my 2c worth regarding the quality of the text or its appropriateness for international markets. I just translated. And wanted to send it out ASAP, to show I could provide "short turnaround time".

Many days passed.

When at last the response arrived, I was dumbstruck by the scathing criticism of my work. I just couldn't believe that the critique was leveled at me and referred to my, yes my work.

P., who had sent me the job, wanted to know what to tell the client.

Believe me, I told her. I found either an explanation or an excuse for every choice I made. But I had to admit (to myself, not to P.) that my translation was simply not good. It wasn't wrong; it just didn't have the right ring or feel to it. It was blah.

Days passed. P got back to me. The client is willing to give me (and her) a second chance, because they indeed had not made it clear that what they wanted me to do was not "to translate" but to "transcreate" the text …


Google it and ye shall find.

Personally, I think it's a way for clients to get out of commissioning (and paying for) copywriting. What they mean is, be creative, for heavens' sake; take the idea and write it up in your native language. Translating poetry, for example, is transcreation (assuming we allow the word.) You don't really translate a poem; you re-create an existing poem in your own language. Or perhaps the word is trying to imply that mere translation is technical and literal, whereas transcreation is creative and inspired.

What say you? Shall we embrace the new word or kick it out?

As for my "transcreation" efforts on behalf of 2D – the jury is still out. Will let you know. Maybe :-)

Hospital sign language

Can anyone tell me why the sign below causes me to shift uneasily?

The picture was taken in the waiting area of Assuta's shiny new building off HaShalom Road in Tel Aviv. But I wouldn't be surprised if similar signs are displayed in various other hospitals and clinics around the country.

I went for a bone scan, which entails being injected with a small amount of radioactive tracer that is "tagged" to a calcium like material. After being injected, patients are told to hang around for 3 hours to give the calcium time to circulate and be taken up by the bone. Patients then return to the Nuclear Medicine department for their scan.

Personally, I didn't hang around. I popped back home (well, actually, I was driven back home by my considerate hubby) to pass the time. Nonetheless, theoretically I was a "muzreket" (injectee?), waiting in the area designated for muzrakim only.

Don't know about you, but I find this sign very distasteful.

Viktori Fashion – is it me, is it the hour, or is it the text?...

You all know the feeling. It's two p.m. Or one, or three – whichever is your lowest ebb time… You are either starving, stomach rumbling, or else full and lethargic (too many chips with your schnitzel?...) Your eyelids are heavy… your shoulders sag… You stare at your monitor, and/or at the text on your desk, your clipboard, your copy-holder… and nothing makes sense. The words are just blobs of ink or a concatenation of pixels…

Well guys, cheer up. I think it's not your fault. It's definitely the text!

I reached this encouraging(?) conclusion after gritting my teeth through the translation of a fashion house PR text.

What's with them? Just because they know(?) how to make clothes, does it follow that they're also qualified to write about it? If they're as successful and rich as they imply, can't they hire a copywriter to write a 2-page advertising thingy for them?

Here are a few select paragraphs from the company's – let's call it Viktori – advertising blurb (I've converted it into a .jpg so that it doesn't come out as gibberish on your computer):

Those of you who read Hebrew – I'm sure you share my anguish… And I actually rendered that stuff into half-decent English! Only half-decent, mind you, because I'm not being paid to do copywriting in this case. I can only tell my contact person that she should, diplomatically, suggest to the client to have the Hebrew "edited" before handing it in for translation.

In my lecture at the ITA conference in January 2005, and later in a similar lecture I gave at Bar Ilan University in December 2005, I spoke about the problem of dealing with badly written source material. I supplied amusing examples, illustrating a painful point. But my conclusion was: We translators have no choice; we can't adopt the GIGO approach, it will only backfire. We have to do the best we can to produce a decent text. I'm not saying "brilliant", but decent. Passable. If you have other solutions – I'll be only too happy to hear them.

Who's responsible for those awful speeches and press releases?...

Every once in a while I am called upon to translate, Hebrew>English, a speech or a press release originating from this or that minister's bureau.
Invariably, I tear my sparse hair out as I read the long, clumsy sentences; the non-sequiturs; the needlessly flowery or abstruse language that doesn't say anything – least of all what it purports to say; the poor syntax, etcetera, etcetera etcetera, as the King of Siam was fond of saying (or at least Yul Brynner.)

At some point I said to myself, said I, Well, a Good Minister does not necessarily have to have superb writing skills; he or she can excel at other important things relevant to his/her job; they may be brilliant economists or diplomats. If that is the case, let someone else help them with their writing.

"Silly," says my cousin G., a superb translator, "You don't really think ministers write their own texts?..." Well then, anyone who's seen The West Wing knows that that is A Good Thing! Politicians having brilliant speech writers working for them should be out of the woods. Problem solved. So how come their speeches suck?... Who on earth are Israel's mysterious speech writers who write so abominably, and why are they still in business?

Now, before you get all het up and say that you happen to translate or write for Minister Hotshot and you do a fine job, let me make it clear: Naturally I only get to see a fraction of the speeches and press releases emanating from government offices. Some of them may indeed be just peachy. Or at least very properly written. (Is the "very" superfluous?) But what about those that aren't? Don't they do the country damage? Our hasbara efforts are lame enough as it is; why don't government ministries insist on hiring the best writers and translators around? And we know that we're out there, right?!?...

It's Cold Out There

I was translating some brief company profiles, and for that end checked out the companies' websites. Inter alia, I came across the following 2 lines of Hebrew + description in English:

שם מפעל: "קירור הקוטב בע"מ"

תחום הייצור: ייצור ושיווק של מערכות קירור, מקררים ומקפיאים מסחריים


KIRUR HAKOTEV is in no way a "new comer" to the commercial refrigeration industry.

Rigorous on going quality control efforts assures a quality product.

All computers controlled of course!

Two things bothered me: the company name, which in correct Hebrew is written with a tzeireh and should be pronounced and transliterated as kerur, not kirur; and, more obviously perhaps, the mistakes in the English.

However, as I and a colleague of mine found out when we tried to approach some companies and point out glaring mistakes on their websites, the reaction is less than appreciative. Chilly would be an understatement. More like, Yeah? Who asked you, Miz Know-it-all? Just mind your own bizness, willya?

Having paid good money to have their website translated, they don't want to hear that the result sucks. Then again, maybe they asked a non-professional friend or neighbor to do it for them as a favor. Or else, they really don't care.

Why should Shalom of Kerur Hakotev care, when none of his web visitors know that the word is kerur, (with a tzeireh) not kirur (with a hirik)? Aren't his web surfers the same people who say "kansu, kansu!" on chats and forums?...

And if the odd web-visitor is a foreigner who doesn’t know any Hebrew, surely it's all the same to him/her if the name says kerur or kirur?

So why on earth do I care?...