Thursday 29 March 2012

Lost in translation?

It has been commented to me on more than a few occations that I am pretty good at getting foreigners to understand me. I have been with different friends and they've been unable to get someone, whose English is not too good, to understand what they're saying. Then I've said almost the same thing and am understood. I can't speak any language other than English (With the exception of a dissappearing amount of Chinese and GCSE French.) So how come people understand me and not my friends/other travellers? I think in some part it's because for the past 5 years it's been my profession to get people to understand what I'm saying in English, but more than that there are definite techniques I (probably subconsciously now) use. So here are my top tips for getting yourself understood in English by someone who is not a native speaker.

1. Say is twice and then find another way to say it.

English is an incredibly rich language. There are always about 10 different ways to say only one thing. Good for us, variety is the spice of life, but for a non-native speaker this is a minefield. Especially when you factor in all the different accents and types of English around the native speaking world. If someone doesn't understand what you've said, it's your responsibility as a native speaker to change the way you've said it. Think about the ignorant stereotypes of British tourists repeating the same thing over and over, louder and louder. It's not going to get you anywhere. For example: Where is the bathroom/washroom/restroom/toilet/WC? 'Do you take card?' 'Can I use visa?'

2. Be blunt.

It might be rude to another native speaker, but if English is someone's second, or possibly third language it's just clear and concise. We clutter our sentences with extra unnecessary words. Change 'Would you mind passing me the salt?' to 'Give me the salt, please.' or 'Could you possibly tell me the way to ..?' to 'Where is ... please?' It's much clearer and it's still polite. Actually sometimes you can take advantage of this, case in point, the other day I was waiting at a subway station for a friend of mine. A Korean guy came and stood directly in front on me on a small raised platform. It really annoyed me, now I couldn't see and there was nowhere for me to move. Oh and it was raining so he had his umbrella nearly poking me right in the eye. I tapped him on the shoulder and politey said 'Excuse me, I'm waiting for my friend and you've now stood here so I can't see. Could you move to the left so I can see please?' He looked at me with those fearful 'What the hell did you just say?!' eyes and attempted to get his phone to use the translator. So I rephrased 'Please move out the way,' He moved, Job done.

3. Use brand names.

They might not know what lemonade is, but they'll probably know sprite. Don't undetsnad 'credit card' but they know 'visa' You get the idea. You may also be surprised what words some people will know, in a chemists the other day I needed some gauze and plaster for dressing a wound (Don't ask). After unsucessfully trying to mime what i wanted I slipped in the word 'dressing' and the pharmacist looked at me like 'Why didn't you say that in the first place?!' An interesting extra point here is that lemonade is actually something different in America.

4. Speak a bit more RP

Ok so not actually RP like the Queen, but think about how your accent might be causing a problem. This is really about being clear. My essex accent is a lot more watered down after 6 years of teaching and travelling (it comes whizzing back as soon as I'm with my friends though). While Nic and I were in Thailand I was translating her Essex into English for the waitresses. If you want to be understood you have to be as clear as you can, round your vowels out a bit more. :-)

4. Speak Slowly.

Yeah this sounds obvious, but it's difficult for me even now. It's about monitoring your speed. How quickly are you talking? Maybe you started slow but do you need to slow down again as you go along? Sure as the Pope is a Catholic that person you're speaking to is nodding along as you speak, but in reality they've understood about a quarter of what you've actually said. Again in Thailand, Nic told me how annoying it was that I spoke so slowly - well that's why they understand me and not you!

5. Never ask someone 'Do you understand?'

There is only one answer to this question and it is always 'Yes', regardless of the truth. This is a teaching trick you can use; concept checking. Ask them about what you said. If it's a waitress/waiter, ask them to repeat your order (if they haven't already), if it's on a market stall check the price on the calculator, if it's a taxi for the next day ask them 'Where will you pick me up?'.

6. Charades.

It's your best friend. 'nuff said.

7. Cut out the slang.

Remember who you're talking to and speak accordingly. I'm always amazed anyone who's not a native speaker can understand my mum as she uses so many colloquialisms. A favourite that I can remember is, 'I'll just fish it out of my bag'. What? You're going fishing?! My dad is just as bad, in Spain once he informed the restaurant waiter we would 'Have a mooch around,' before we decided where to eat. Mooch, really?!

It's not an exhaustive list, and I'm really not an expert, but I've been able to get by in Korea for 19 months without speaking anything beyond the basics of Korean.

Tuesday 27 March 2012

A small gem in Seoul

 I recently met a friend from home who was passing through Seoul and he told me about a tourist sight in his guidebook that listed nothing more than a picture. We found out where this elusive place was on a free tourist map, but he didn't have enough time to visit it. Last week was my school's birthday and I was afforded a day off, so I decided to check it out. The sight is Bongeunsa Temple. It's next to the Coex shopping mall and convention centre at Samseong station (green line 2). This temple complex was build to re-introduce Korean buddhism and give people a place to worship after the Joseon Dynasty made Buddhism illegal bringing a confucian law and faith system to Korea. It was a lovely bright but very cold day. There is an impressive statue of buddha who looks out from the back of the complex at the temples and the large skyscrapers beyond. There were people milling about all around and different worship or meditation sessions in the large and small temple buildings. A great place to wander around in peace and get some respite from the manic city whirring around outside. Go out of exit 6 and walk along the main road until you reach a crossroads, turn left and then cross at the zebra crossing opposite the temple complex.

Buddha and a space for meditation in front complete with cushions to borrow.

A very shiny floor.

Shoes outside one of the main buildings

Plastic lotuses

I still find it strange to see a swastika on a religious building.

The front gates

Vibrant colours in the temple
Afterwards I wandered through Coex to get lunch. I liked the look of these fish.

I took a detour back to the station and stumbled upon what turned out to the Royal Tombs at seolleong station. Closed on mondays though.

Friday 23 March 2012

Almond Macaroons

 One of my favourite biscuits/cakes at home are Macaroons. Not the french chic meringue macarons (although I love them too). I remember in the holidays from school when my dad had his own business having to go into work with my mum (who did the books) and being bored out of my mind sitting at 'my' desk (until it was taken over by a tiffany light shade grumble grumble). The highlight of the day was being trusted to walk to the bakery for lunch (only about 3 mins away) and buying a treat which was either a macaroon or a meringue in the shape of a pig. The lady from the Butchers next door used to give me lollies as well. As I got older I still ate these delicious treats on my lunch breaks at sainsburys. Until horror of horrors I returned from China and sainsburys didn't stock them any longer and I couldn't find them anywhere!! I found a recipe last year online and with a small adaption (I don't have rose water out here) I was able to make my own batches. I'm slightly addicted to making and eating them... They are so easy!

You will need 200g ground almonds, 150g caster sugar and 3 medium egg whites. (Whole blanched almonds for decorations).

Mix the sugar and ground almonds

Separate the egg whites from the yolks. Little trick from my mum; break the whites into a cup first incase any shell or yolk should sneak their way in.

Mix all together to make a paste

Plop the mixture on the baking trays. Make sure you put onto baking paper (unlike I did in this picture) otherwise the mixture will stick. The dollops can be large or small depending on whether you want them crispy or soft.

Cook at 150 oC for 25 minutes, or until golden brown.

Wednesday 21 March 2012

A home cooking class in Bali

Another first for me in Bali was booking myself onto a cooking class. After a failed attempt to book at Casa Luna I picked up a leaflet for Payuk Bali in a tourist information booth and sent the company an email. The reply came straight away and after a few emails back and forth I was booked in a morning course. When the day came, after some communication confusion, I waited in the wrong place to be picked up. The man in charge was very friendly about it however and we were soon on our way. There were two other travellers on the course and we all got to know each other throughout the morning. 

First stop was at the local market. Our guide took us around and pointed out some of the more exotic fruit and veg. He explained that we wouldn't buy anything for our class from here though because it wasn't all the fresh and our stomachs might be unaccustomed to the bacteria... bit strange, but I'd rather have fresh ingredients. 

Second stop was by a small elementary school. He first took us into a rice paddy nearby to explain a little about growing the rice and we then went into the school to give a gift of pencils and notepads to the children. He told us that 20% of the price of the course is donated to the school and he takes some of that to buy a notepad and pencil for us participants to give to the children. I thought this was a lovely touch and it was nice to see the school to compare with my school in Korea.

Then we got back into the car and drove a little further on to the home complex. Before we started the cooking we were shown how to make traditional Hindu offerings. These are littered all around the place in Bali, on the pavement, shop fronts and at alters. We made two types, one for daily offerings and the other for when visiting a temple. The lady helping us was so friendly, a real grandmother-ly figure. When we'd finished making the offering we saw how they make coconut oil and fresh coffee.

And then onto the cooking. The course was incredibly well organised and the 3 chefs helpful and informative. We cooked seven different dishes;

Soup Timun - Cucumber and bean soup.

Gado-Gado - Vegetable salad with Peanut sauce.

Nasi Kuning - Yellow Rice.

Sate Lilit - Minced fish skewers with spices.

Pepes Ikan - Grilled Fish in banana leaf.

Ayam Bumbu Bali - Balinese Fried Chicken.

Kolak Pisang - Braised Banana saba in palm sugar gravy.

This was a fantastic class and I would recommend it to anyone visiting Ubud. The kitchen is at the back of the housing complex overlooking a beautiful ravine with coconut trees and rice paddies. It's run by Payuk Bali and cost 350,000 Rp (£25). More info at their website: Payuk Bali.

Local Market

Paraphernalia for offerings

Eggs eggs eggs!

Durian fruit. Smells bad, tastes worse.

Smelly fishes.
The entrance to the school

Middle courtyard of the school.


Bye bye!

Our offerings

The perfume for the offerings

Flowers in my hair
Our cooking group. Eva from Czech Republic, Carolyn from the UK via America and little ol' me. (and the lady who showed us how to make the offerings.)

Fried Jack Fruit

The kitchen

Crushing the coffee


Traditional Balinese blender.


My tomato flower.

Fish Skewers

Mincing the fish

Grilled fish in banana leaves

Pretty food covers

Cucumber soup

A bit of everything from the main course

Braised banana