2007-12-11

Conference fun (NKFUST)

Last week I attended a conference in Gaoxiong. While the topic ("Transcending Borders: Innovations in Language Learning and Use" - a little bit too "Web2.0"ish for my taste) was not that exciting, it was still "fun" - from a certain point of view.

First of all, while most presentations revolved around the use of technology (mostly in the form of computers) in language teaching, most of the presenters encountered technical difficulties using a computer to present their findings. Irony, anyone?

It was fun to see the use of PHP and MySQL (pronounced as "my S Q L" during the presentation) declared to be the "optimal choice" for a machine translation web interface. That's like saying the 8051 is the ultimate choice for all controller needs. Let's say it was the only thing the guy who wrote the code could come up with...

The same interface still lacks user authentication and permission control. I would have suggested to become familiar with the API of a popular CMS and then make the code into a module for that CMS, but at that time I think nobody would have understood what I was talking about. I'll better try to contact the poor guy who has to write the code directly... (Though he would not like my suggestion, as it means work for him...)

Captain Obvious was also attending. He found out that "students prefer the use of technology in language teaching" over the pure use of textbooks. Surprise, surprise, who would have thought that?

I had asked whether the "technology" in that study would also include cassette tapes, since (depending on the point of view) that is a technology that has been around for about 70 years now. Yes, tapes were included in that "technology". Unfortunately I forgot to ask how students like the tapes (and CDs these days) attached to textbooks. Now that would have been interesting... (Or not, from my experience, as Captain Obvious already knows the answer...)

A few publishing houses presented some of their offers outside. I looked through a few books on "simultaneous interpretation". Quite interesting to see people claiming that there is only one way to properly translate a given example sentence and at the same time calling the own profession "interpretation". The title in Chinese was not much better: 同步翻譯...

There was also a book with the title 專業翻譯. However, contrary to most courses with that title, this book deserved it, as it dealt with many aspects of working as a translator. The publishing company is Bookman (書林).

But the real "fun" came later, in the afternoon. As an interpreter, I am naturally concerned about communication (in whatever ways, as you may have noticed), mutual understanding - and misunderstanding, of course. Although there were some "funny" moments spread over the day, this was not one of those "cheap" conferences only held for a few people to be able to say they presented their research on a conference.

People discussed things at that conference that I will probably never hear even mentioned at other (cough, cough...) schools. But even those supposedly highly qualified experts found it absolutely normal that one can not write Chinese without a "special" keyboard, meaning that people moving to the US have to write in English to their friends in Taiwan.

In another presentation regarding the use of both Chinese and English ("code switching") on a BBS in Taiwan it was not even considered that some of the "English" written there could actually be romanised Chinese. (I admit this is not something I would expect to see on a BBS in Taiwan, but nevertheless it should be correctly identified if it shows up.)

In my opinion this is a pretty sad state, but even for those language experts romanisation is not an issue, it seems not to exist at all. Zhuyin is a phonetic system to write Chinese as is Hanyu Pinyin or even Tongyong, just with a different script. But while people here are quite familiar with Zhuyin, nobody regards a word written in Latin script anything else than "English". And this is sad indeed, as it shows a serious misconception regarding writing systems and even language in general.

Well, I'm looking forward to the next conference at another school, this one a little bit more related to my official field of expertise. Though... IIRC, they too spoke of "interpretation" - and they are asking for "English names", something NKFUST (Thanks!) did not do...

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