New Canadian Media

By: Tim Mayfield in Melbourne, Australia

The latest Australian census data is in and it makes for interesting reading. Of particular note, 72 per cent of residents reported speaking only English at home, down from nearly 77 per cent in 2011. Moreover, for the first time since colonisation, most of the Australians who were born overseas came from Asia rather than Europe.

So what to make of these shifts?

On the face of it, the data indicates that Australia is becoming an even more diverse society with greater links into our immediate region and beyond. However, these numbers don’t tell the full story.

To properly assess where we are at as a nation, we need to critically examine the quality of the engagement between Australia’s ethnic communities, as well as the depth of our links into Asia (given that our immediate neighbourhood is so crucial both in terms of trade but also as the major source of new immigrants).

According to these criteria, there is much work to be done. The shortfall is borne out by a quick examination of the state of Australia’s second-language teaching from early childhood through to tertiary level.

Australia is not just failing at languages (especially Asian languages), we are failing spectacularly. The percentage of students studying a foreign language in Year 12 has decreased from 40 per cent in 1960 to around 10 per cent in 2016 – and this includes native speakers.

Simply put, we must change our collective mind-set around the importance of languages to our continued wealth and prosperity.

It just doesn’t make sense in the context of our increasing interconnectedness with the global community both at home and abroad.

Of course, one could argue (and plenty do) that because Australia’s foreign language capability is on the rise, driven by immigration, there is a decreasing need to commit time and resources to second language learning.

There are several issues with this perspective. The first is that our collective commitment to multiculturalism should not start and end with those who arrive on our shores. For multiculturalism to work, it requires genuine commitment to engagement and mutual understanding from all sides.

Learning a second language is both an end in itself but also an effective proxy for the kind of intercultural understanding that will be essential if Australia is to continue to thrive in its diversity. Assistant Professor Ruth Fielding argued recently that Australia’s multilingual diversity is being stifled by a monolingual culture and approach to curriculum in schools.

By engaging with an unfamiliar language, students are also engaging with the culture and history that comes with it. In doing so, they gain perspective into a world beyond their immediate experience, greater insight into their own communities and curiosity to broaden their horizons.

This latter point is crucial when it comes to preparing the students of today for the jobs of tomorrow. Simply put, we must change our collective mind-set around the importance of languages to our continued wealth and prosperity.

The reality is that nearly all young Australians are likely to be working either in highly culturally diverse communities in Australia or in global teams with global clients and markets. Bilingualism is a skill most people will benefit from, and is something that other countries have recognised for years. That’s why Australia is now lagging at the very back of the OECD pack when it comes to the time our school students spend learning a second language.

We have been coasting for too long on the natural advantages of being a developed nation, proficient in the world’s lingua franca, and with an economy powered by an abundance of natural resources.

That is all changing. As Australia’s economy continues to transition to services, so too do the requirements of our workforce. New opportunities will be driven by evolving skills and possessing a second, third, or even fourth language will be prime among these.

It is therefore a matter of great urgency that governments at all levels get the policy settings right. At the moment, our track record on languages is abysmal. The first step to a solution is admitting there is a problem. The second is developing a road map for this vexed area of education policy. The Asia Education Foundation (AEF) has undertaken considerable research to address this second aspect, especially at the senior secondary level.

We advocate expanding opportunities to study languages in senior secondary certification structures. Simultaneously, governments and schools need to provide access to high quality languages programs to build and sustain student participation.

These efforts must be supported by engagement with all relevant parties (including students, parents and educators) to recognise and promote the value and utility of languages. At a higher level, governments and sector bodies should collaborate nationally to support languages planning and implementation in a unified way across the country.

The question is who within government and the education sector will drive this change? 

Tim Mayfield is the Executive Director of the Asia Education Foundation at the University of Melbourne. This article has been republished with permission.

Published in Education
Wednesday, 04 January 2017 11:50

Journalism: What is Lost in Translation

by Our National Correspondent in Ottawa

Lucile Davier, currently a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Ottawa, has spent many years looking at journalism that relies on translating from a foreign language. In a sense, her work examines the implications of reporters and editors working in multilingual settings. She has authored two studies, both of which looked at journalism in Switzerland, including stories leading up to the 2009 minaret ban in the central European nation. 

New Canadian Media interviewed Davier by e-mail to better understand her findings and any lessons Canada can learn given its own multilingual-multicultural context. 

Questions relating to The paradoxical invisibility of translation in the highly multilingual context of news agencies (2014)

1. Your study focused on two news agencies Agence France-Presse (AFP) and Agence télégraphique suisse (ATS) in Switzerland. Why did you choose these two news agencies?

I wanted to investigate multilingual news agencies based in Switzerland and their coverage of a Swiss political event. The Swiss bureaus of Associated Press (since 2009) and Reuters only produce news in English. This leaves us with two multilingual players: the global Agence France-Presse (AFP), which has a regional bureau in Geneva and produces information in French and English, and the national Agence télégraphique suisse (ats), which covers Switzerland in German, French and Italian, the three official languages of the country.

2. What would you say were your three main findings from this study?

To start with, I think it is important to clarify that these wire agencies are B2B services: they sell their stories to other media outlets, large companies and governmental offices. In other words, their stories are circulated very widely in the media.

First, I confirmed that translation is everywhere in news agencies: editorial meetings are multilingual, reporters deal with sources in a second language every day, most quotations are translated, etc.

Second, I showed that translation is hidden: it is never mentioned as such neither in the stories nor in the newsroom, and it is considered by the staff as simple and straightforward.

This combination of high multilingualism and invisibility of translation may distort the information. When they are not sure they have understood a source correctly, journalists (especially young ones) are afraid of asking colleagues because translation is supposed to be so easy. Moreover, their stories are not subjected to bilingual revision, so inaccurate translations can go past unnoticed. Eventually, journalists avoid sources in a second language as much as possible in order not to have to deal with translation.

3. What do you think are the implications from your findings? What do journalists who work in multilingual contexts need to know about translations in their reporting/editing? Is there something like "lost[to readers] in translation"?

There are important implications for the training of journalists in Switzerland, and possibly in other multilingual countries (I am currently conducting a similar study in Canada). I believe that the language proficiency of journalists should be enhanced during their education. Their translation skills should be developed as well: I am a translator myself, so I can tell that mastering a second language is not a sufficient condition to be able to translate.

I would like to help audiences read news from multilingual media or in a multilingual country with a critical eye. There is a loss in every translation, even good translations, because information gets lost, added and changed when it crosses linguistic and cultural barriers. If you read online news, try to be critical: for example, did the President of China speak in English? Or was his speech translated? By whom? By the Chinese government? By a news agency?

Questions relating to 'Cultural translation’ in news agencies? A plea to broaden the definition of translation (2015)

1. This study examined the role of culture in news translation, in the specific context of a debate in Switzerland (2007-10) over banning the building of Islamic minarets. What do you think were the 3 main findings?

Reporting about a foreign event for a local audience means crossing two borders: a language border and a cultural border. This study specifically looked at cultural borders. Given the time and space constraints newswire reporters face, these changes can be spotted in three textual phenomena.

The most common place for cultural information is background paragraphs. Background paragraphs are mostly situated at the end of a story and give general information about a region or a happening. My study showed that these paragraphs influence the way the readers understand the story. For instance, a paragraph saying that Muslims in Switzerland are “mainly from the Balkans and Turkey” may convey the idea for the readers that Muslims are foreigners.

Journalists also need to categorize sources for readers who are not familiar with them, for example to explain if a political party is left-wing or right-wing. In the case of foreign news in particular, these categorizations cannot include very detailed information and guide the reader towards a biased interpretation.

While reporting about a foreign event, journalists come to grips with culture-specific terms. They can either borrow a foreign reality and explain it (e.g., “the Federal Council – or Swiss government”), or substitute it with a word referring to a known reality (e.g., “the Cabinet”). Replacing a foreign notion altogether with a familiar concept may be easier to understand for the readers, but it also unfairly makes them believe that the notion is similar to what they know. For instance, using the word “referendum” in French refers to a rare political event in Canada and France. In Switzerland, however, a “votation” is a form of referendum but is organized at least four times a year, which is typical of a semi-direct democracy.

2. Do you think the debate over the minarets would have been different had reporters accounted for cultural factors in their reporting/translation of interviews?

This was not covered in the article under discussion, but is the subject of a broader research which will be reported in a book coming out this April. It will discuss how the representations journalists have of translation influence the choice of their sources. To cut a long story short, journalists have negative conceptions of translation: they find it dull and tedious, so they try to avoid it whenever they can. As a result, they unconsciously favour sources able to speak their native language. For instance, French-speaking reporters quoted a disproportionate number of French-speaking Muslim representatives, who traditionally hold more radical views of Islam than their German-speaking counterparts. Had they translated more, they would have given a voice to more moderate visions of Islam in the country. Who knows, it may have made Swiss voters more empathetic towards the Muslim population.

3. What do you think are the implications of this study for journalists working in multicultural contexts like Canada?

Cultural explanations may look more important than “linguistic” translation, but I believe both phenomena are just two sides of the same medal. My study showed that news agency journalists tend to copy and paste the same explanations about an event from one news item to the next one, which can reinforce cultural prejudices. However, if reporters integrate new background information from time to time (let’s be realistic…) by translating it from other stories (from other language communities or regions), they may introduce new points of view and widen the mindsets of their audiences.

Readers could also learn to be more critical about the concise background information they are given in a news report. When you come across cultural explanations, you can try to figure out what information was included or left out given the time and space limitations the journalists need to work with. Could this explanation be a caricature of a more complex reality? Where could you find more detailed background information?

Lucile Davier is a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Ottawa and a lecturer at the University of Geneva (Switzerland). In 2013, she earned a joint doctoral degree in translation studies and communication studies from the University of Geneva and the University Sorbonne Nouvelle (France). During the academic year 2012-2013, she was a visiting scholar at the University of Leuven (Belgium). Her research interests include news translation, convergent journalism and ethnography of translation/journalism. She has also freelanced as a professional translator (language combination: FR-DE-EN-ES) since 2006. Davier can be reached at LDavier@uottawa.ca

Published in Arts & Culture

by Shan Qiao in Toronto   

Hiring multi-language speaking staff, creating real-time interpretation apps, even launching an ethnic bank to serve primarily immigrants, Canadian banking business operators are getting fiercely competitive to woo business from immigrants.

Aiming to “become a preferred bank for the Chinese community in Canada”, Wealth One Bank of Canada (WOBC) has begun operations in Vancouver and Toronto. It is the very first Chinese-founded and -invested bank in Canada, a federally chartered Schedule I Bank under the Bank Act and regulated by the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions.

The man behind it, the founder and also the Vice Chair of the WOBC Board, Shenglin Xian, says from his Vancouver office that there are only 28 such foreign banks in Canada. “It is a historic moment for the Chinese community.”

Shenglin Xian, who is a well-known Chinese community financial advisor, has his own company Shenglin Financial Group Inc. located in North York, Toronto. He got into financial consultancy after he immigrated to Canada in 1990.

Same language, better understanding

“Currently, we will focus on serving the Chinese Canadians from the Great Vancouver Area and the Great Toronto Area. We will hire Mandarin and Cantonese speaking employees. Our service slogan is ‘same language, better understanding (translation)’,” he continues, explaining what he envisions as a respect for Chinese values and culture.

“Although all five major banks in Canada provide Chinese language service, the banking system is still operated under mainstream preference. We want to favour our Chinese clients with a tailored and Asian-styled service,” he continues.

“Although all five major banks in Canada provide Chinese language service, the banking system is still operated under mainstream preference. We want to favour our Chinese clients with a tailored and Asian-styled service,” he continues.

Ming Gu, a senior news producer from Toronto, also a Chinese immigrant who came to Canada in early 90's like Shenglin, has worked on a couple of translation projects for one of the five major banks for their Chinese language website.

He completely agrees with the fact that providing ethnic language service is not quite the same as bridging two different banking systems: Canada’s and the immigrant source country's.

“China’s (banking system) is even more different. The policy and products are very much in the different zones as well. Service literally translated into Chinese language might not be helpful for immigrants to understand the meaning behind. For example, credit rating in Canada is very critical for banks to determine whether or not applicants can apply for line of credit and how much they can get. One SIN number check will bring up a very detailed credit history of the applicant. However, it doesn’t really exist in China’s banking system, letting along for Chinese newcomers to understand the importance of credit rating,” Ming explains.

Maggie Yuan works at a public relations firm which provides multi-language translation services for corporate Canada's ethnic marketing needs in the Chinese and South Asian markets. 

“For economic reasons, mainstream comapnies can’t afford to overlook the needs of immigrant communities. For big corporate accounts, I have been dealing with, especially in bank, insurance, public service, entertainment industry, the needs to have Chinese language translation have always been increasing. Companies strategically promote their investment in diversity to gain positive image in immigrant community. It’s quite political, but it’s also about business,” she says.

Overcoming language, culture barriers

The major Canadian banks are also stepping up, developing faster and more convenient tools to woo immigrant clients who face a language barrier. Just last month, Royal Bank of Canada, which already has a Chinese version of its website besides the official English and French language, introduced a new app – the first of its kind in North America – that provides clients with real-time video access to qualified interpreters.

Christine Shisler, RBC's Senior Director of Cultural Markets, explains why such a language app makes business sense.

“Regardless of which RBC branch a client visits, we’ll be able to offer service in the language of choice. This is critical in helping our client – especially newcomers – understand how banking works in Canada.”

Shisler stresses out that RBC wants to be the bank that newcomers turn to for all of the important firsts – from first bank account to first home purchase. That means a lot of tailored service in language and cultural senses.

Going further, the bank’s Beijing staff, for example, will help students and family initiate their financial transition even before they arrive in Canada, a more aggressive business approach similar to what Wealth One Bank of Canada is doing in the reverse direction. 

Published in Economy
Tuesday, 30 August 2016 02:25

Cross-Cultural Language Learning

 Most language learners today are no strangers to phrasebooks, immersion programs, or Rosetta Stone, but how about using First Nations language learning apps, or watching ultrasound imagery to speak Cantonese, or adopting an Arabic conversation partner? In today’s globalized world where the value of multilingualism is increasingly palpable, technology advisor Costa Dedegikas, linguist Heather Bliss…

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Published in Arts & Culture

by Matt D’Amours in Montreal 

Is there any topic touchier in Canada than Quebec’s identity politics? 

It might be easier to answer this question from the outside looking in, but for us Québécois, conclusions are a bit harder to come by than they might be in what is (mostly) affectionately referred to as the “ROC,” or the “rest of Canada.” 

Questions of identity become even harder to reconcile when, as in my case, a person is saddled with dual identities that appear to be at odds. 

On one side, I am an “old-stock” Quebecer – a descendant of French settlers who were sent to establish fishing operations in the Bas-Saint-Laurent region hundreds of years ago. On the other side, I’m the grandchild of Italians who left behind farmland in Italy to immigrate to Canada in the mid-20th century — with only $5 in their pockets, as our collective mythology never fails to underline. 

Then there is the ever-divisive issue of language. I grew up in a household where Dad spoke to me in French and Mom spoke to me in English. Having learned these languages at the same time, my speech is accent-free on both sides, leading Francophones and Anglophones to simultaneously conclude that I’m “one of them.” 

“Bill 101 doesn’t protect the French language as much as it does those who speak it,” Verboczy writes, alluding to the anxieties that French was being phased-out of Quebec culture . . .

Somehow, I’ve always maintained a delicate balance between these two backgrounds, and the question of identity has never preoccupied my life. However, I’m fascinated by the issue of Québécois identity, which is often presented to Canadians through the lens of inflammatory think pieces in Anglophone media. 

I was delighted, then, to come across the thoughtful book by Akos Verboczy titled Rhapsodie Québécoise, in which the author explores the dimensions of identity — politics, heritage and language — from the perspective of a Hungarian immigrant who “became” Canadian. 

Or, rather, became Québécois? 

A Hungarian in Montreal 

Verboczy’s account of moving from Hungary to Canada in the 1980s examines many issues that remain hot buttons. As a pre-teen, the young Hungarian arrived in Montreal when opposition was growing against Quebec’s controversial Bill 101, the infamous language law passed in 1977 that gave French precedence in the province. As a result of this law, immigrants are required to send their children to French schools in order to ease their integration into Quebec society. 

Verboczy writes that immigrants were quickly informed by others in their new communities that Francophones were “principally welfare-receiving, uneducated racists” — a sign of resentment against Bill 101 and its purveyors. 

The charge of ingrained racism seems to be echoed from within our culture as well.

But Verboczy ended up embracing the language which he was forced to learn, and spends many pages sympathizing with the concerns that led to the language law’s creation. He points to the monolithic influence of American products in Quebec and the resulting dominance of English-language culture. 

“Bill 101 doesn’t protect the French language as much as it does those who speak it,” Verboczy writes, alluding to the anxieties that French was being phased-out of Quebec culture — anxieties that persist today. 

Is Quebec really racist? 

From my observations, the suggestion of overwhelming racism in Quebec seems to have been adopted as pure fact. I’m reminded of a recent column on Gawker, which offered Americans a guide to moving to Canada if Donald Trump becomes president of the United States. When Quebec is brought up, it’s framed as an unwelcoming society, and the article’s comments mirror this characterization. 

The charge of ingrained racism seems to be echoed from within our culture as well. Verboczy decries a speech made by Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois — the student spokesperson of the 2012 “Maple Spring” — in which he proclaimed that “if there is a Québécois tradition to conserve, it isn’t poutine or xenophobia.” 

“Pardon? Xenophobia, a tradition?” Verboczy asks in response. “In my view, we’re actually thinking, disgusted, of that uncle at Christmas lunch who said that it’s unbelievable, this unreasonable business of Hassidic Blacks who impose themselves with their halal pork.” 

He argues that caricatures of a rustic Quebec that is closed-off to foreigners have become accepted conventional wisdom over the years. 

Verboczy doesn’t shy away from tricky questions regarding the experience of Canadian immigrants, and not everyone will agree with his conclusions.

Where are we going? 

Such is the title of Verboczy’s final chapter, in which the immigrant-turned-defender of the French language and Québécois culture reflects on modern questions of integration.

He points to the unique challenges posed by 21st century communication technologies, which allow newly arrived immigrants to remain in constant contact with their countries of origin. Verboczy says this can slow down the integration process for immigrants, as it can “give the illusion that they never left their countries.” 

In response, the author places a greater onus on immigrants to adapt to their new surroundings, arguing “they must accept that their identity will change, and that it will have to superimpose itself on a backdrop that already has its colours and reliefs.” 

Verboczy doesn’t shy away from tricky questions regarding the experience of Canadian immigrants, and not everyone will agree with his conclusions. However, Rhapsodie Québécoise explores these issues with boldness, nuance and humour that is, in my view, mostly absent in mainstream media analysis.

Verboczy confidently strikes back against charges of an intolerant Quebec, offering an important perspective that is often drowned out in polarized debates surrounding the province’s identity politics. 

Matt D’Amours is a Montreal-based journalist who focuses on politics, social justice and Montreal’s protest movements. He was born and raised in Montreal’s multicultural borough of Ville Saint-Laurent, where cultural diversity is an everyday fact of life. Growing up speaking English and French simultaneously, D'Amours inhabits a space between Anglophone and Francophone – between Canadian and Québécois – which affords him a critical eye towards identity politics.


This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Books