Mediation makes communication possible for people who do not share a common language. If you translate a text, you will render it in your own language. Your version needs to get very close to the original, imitating its exact wording. In mediation you just try getting the message across so your listeners or readers may understand. To manage all of that, you need to be flexible. The purpose, style and structure of your version may differ from the original. If the source you use is a newspaper article and what you need to write is an e-mail to a friend, the original will undergo lots of changes in the process of mediation. You can make it easier to communicate across the language barrier if you adjust to your recipient’s status, knowledge and cultural norms.
- What type of text do you need write? Which conventions do you need to keep in mind?
- Which forms of address seem appropriate?
- What style and register will be suitable - formal or informal?
- What strategy is more helpful - indirectness or bluntness?
- What are the main points, key concept and important words? What does the recipient really need to understand?
- What is irrelevant and does only distract your audience?
- Are there any technical terms you may or may not paraphrase?
- Is there a chance you might summarize lengthy parts of the text?
- What do you need to simplify?
- Which terms or references require further explanation?
- In what way should the structure of the original text be rearranged?
- Where do you need to replace parts of the original by using references or imagery the recipient is familiar with?
- Which words are practically intranslatable?
- Is there anything that needs to be adapted to the rules of politeness that people follow in the target culture?
- When is it advisable to use euphemisms to soften the tone of the text a bit?
- Which offensive details can you leave out if they are not essential? For which details you need to make clear that they do not reflect your own point of view?
- Don’t translate the text word by word!
- Word order can be a serious problem. Try changing the word order to make it easier to get the gist!
- Don’t interpret the text! If the text does not reveal its message, then why should you?
- Don’t evaluate the text by commenting on what has been said!
- Complex sentences are also difficult to handle. Break it down to smaller units of meaning!
- Put the message in your own words!
- If you can’t think of the exact translation for a word, paraphrase it or describe it using the opposite!
- If you can’t think of the right word, there may be a synonym you can use (“Russian legislation” > “Russian law”).
- Watch out for false friends – words that look like German expressions but have a completely different meaning! In German, “the last straw” is the last chance to save yourself from an impending danger – in English, it’s the last provoking action before you finally get furious.
- Proverbs exist in many languages. However, the images used may differ – in German, you swat two flies with one swap – in English, you kill two birds with one stone.
Five Easy Steps to Mediation
Mediation is not such a complicated process as it may occur to you – as a matter of fact, it is still easier to mediate than to translate. In mediation, you can skip tricky passages and omit some minor details. However, it’s difficult enough to render facts in a different language, genre and cultural setting. This is a short guideline to prevent you from the worst – it goes without saying that such a brief list of five steps cannot replace experience and language skills.
Let us assume the exam consists of a newspaper article written by a German journalist:
You’re a German exchange student in Philadelphia. In your World History Class, you are asked to give a brief talk on racism in Germany. Where does it come from, is it still a problem? Write this speech based on Böhnke’s article! Use formal English! [Hint: Focus on the main points!] [250 words max.]
Andrea Böhnke: Rassismus in Deutschland, WDR, 17.04.2020
Find the complete text here: https://www.planet-wissen.de/gesellschaft/politik/rechtspopulismus/rassismus-deutschland-108.html
Step 1: Analyse!
Before you start, take a close look at the task description. You will find lots of hints to what to do next.
- Role: Exchange student – In an academic context or at school, you will use formal English - all the more if it is required like in the example provided above. Avoid slang and colloquialisms in a formal setting.
- Location: Philadelphia (USA) – Everything that may not be known to the average American audience needs to be explained.
- Context: World History Class – Your fellow students will look at Germany from a distance; they will not be familiar with all the cultural or historic facts that seem essential knowledge to Germans.
- Genre: Brief talk – You will not be expected give an elaborate speech but a short informative talk. Nonetheless, you should be aware that your rhetoric is suitable in such context. As brief as it may be, your talk should be well-structured and pithy to appeal to the audience.
- Topic: racism in Germany – As this is an informative talk you should focus on facts related to Germany; you don’t need to adopt the author’s point of view.
- Focus: Where does it come from, is it still a problem? – Another hint to what matters most. Concentrate on the origins of racism and its relevance today.
- Source: Böhnke’s article – This is to remind you to keep to the information provided in the text – you should not enrich the text with everything you know about racism in Germany. Depending on the task description, you may have to point out where all the facts comes from.
- Word limit: 250 words max. – Do not stay below 240 words and do not exceed the word limit by more than 20 words.
Step 2: Select!
- Decide what matters and what doesn’t. Things that matter are related to the topic.
- Highlight all the relevant passages.
- Summarize examples and minor details.
- Cross out what seems to be irrelevant.
- Everything that is mentioned twice or more needs to go.
Step 3: Simplify!
- Rearrange the facts. Make groups of facts that belong in the same context.
- If time permits, visualize the text in a network or flow chart.
- reate an easy-to-read English version of the text - keywords are fine.
- Link the facts to offer some guidance to the reader.
- Highlight cultural-specific information.
- Use verbs in the active voice.
- Avoid excessive use of abstract nouns.
- Break down long sentences into smaller bits.
Step 4: Create an English text!
- Make sure to apply all the rules of the respective genre!
- Make paragraphs!
- Don't forget the introduction and a conclusive paragraph.
- Use linking words and signposting whenever it seems appropriate.
- Depending on whether you name facts or render statements, you may or may not have have to use reported speech and specific verbs of utterance.
- If your job is to describe someone's attitude or point of view, specify the author's intention and credibility: The autors states / indicates / claims / suggests / doubts / promises / compares / denies / attacks / ridicules / emphasizes / underlines / highlights / summarizes / speculates ...!
- Do not quote from the text but paraphrase the author's remarks.
- Please note there is no backshift of tenses if the introductory verbs is used in present tense: The author indicates that all men are created equal. In most summaries and analytical texts you will use the simple present to describe the text or sum up arguments.
- Explain cultural details that your target group will not understand.
Step 5: Proof-reading
Proof-reading is an essential step in creating a good mediation text. It is vital to read out the text to yourself in order to spot problematic passages. Look for…
- Sentences that sound awkward,
- Sentences that are incomplete,
- Sentences that stand isolated from their context,
- Phrases that violate cultural codes and sound a bit rude,
- Spelling that looks unfamiliar,
- Collocations and phrasal verbs,
- Tenses (backshift in reported speech).
Mark all such passages!
In a last step, use a dictionary to identify and correct further mistakes.
Example No. 1: Report
TASK: The editor of the school magazine at your host school in Mississippi asks you to write an informative report about discrimination in Germany. The focus should be on who is most likely to be discriminated against in Germany and what forms of discrimination exist. Your article will be based on a German report about a study carried out in 2018. The word limit is 400.
According to the task description, you are expected to write a report. Choose a title that sums up the content of the source without offering your own perspective.
Discrimination in Germany Depends on How Much you Differ from the Majority, German Study Says
Start with a sentence that establishes a connection to the target group. Name the topic, name the source with its bibliographical details and explain what the author of the source has in mind. It can also be helpful to put the source in a wider context, categorizing the genre and giving background information on cultural or political aspects that refer to Germany in particular.
Discrimination against minorities is a problem in the U.S. – just like in Germany. A study carried out in 2018 by the SVR, a German council of experts on migration and integration, takes a closer look at the forms and victims of discrimination in Germany.
Usually, content needs to be organized paragraph-wise. A topic sentence will help you to introduce the audience to what is coming next. In the main body, use structuring phrases to connect information and to create a network of well-arranged facts. A closing sentence can be used to link the first paragraph to the next.
As for the forms of discrimination, they look all too familiar. It has been reported that minorities experience a wide range of hostilities, from offensive remarks to violence. Other problems are that people face disadvantages on the job market and when it comes to housing. Discrimination can also take the shape of questions like “Where do you come from?” which make people question their identity as Germans. As we can see, discrimination comes in different shapes – but who is most likely to be discriminated against?
There are various factors which make it more or less likely to become a victim of discrimination in Germany. First of all, people who look different from the majority will be targeted more often than people who look stereotypically German. This gets even worse, if you speak German with a foreign accent. A main factor is also your religious background. Muslim immigrants are twice as likely to be discriminated against than Christians. If you are well-educated, you are generally more sensitive to all forms of discrimination – this explains why citizens with a higher level of education report more cases of discrimination than people with a lower level of education. Nationality can also be a factor: Turkish immigrants feel more discriminated against than ethnic Germans who return from the former Soviet Union.
Do not just finish your report abruptly. It is always smarter to close your report with a summary of the article with regard to the main topic. Are there are any consequences or results of the problem you have not covered yet? But they still seem to be important? This is a chance to include them.
To conclude, discrimination is indeed a serious problem in Germany. The more you differ from the majority, the more likely it is that you are discriminated against. According to the SVR, it will be a major challenge for Germany to do away with these mechanisms to ensure a feeling of belonging and togetherness.
Example No. 2: E-Mail
TASK: The coordinator of your exchange program is also a civil rights activist. He wants to write an essay on discrimination in various European countries, especially in Germany. He sends you an e-mail and asks for background information on the forms and victims of discrimination in your home country. Your e-mail should be based on a report about a German study carried out in 2018. The word limit is 400.
An e-mail is a usually more formal than a simple text message and requires the same level of skills like writing a business letter. So, you should not feel tempted to use colloquialisms and slang if you are not explicitly invited to do so. Start with a “Re” and inform the reader about the subject matter.
Re: Discrimination in Germany
Contrary to what matters most in a report (facts, and only facts), you should use some cultural softeners to please your correspondent. A formal or friendly way of greeting the addressee is compulsory (“Dear…” / “Dear Sir or Madam”…). Depending on how familiar you are with the recipient, is also recommended to show interest in for your correspondent’s well-being: “How are you? I hope everybody is doing well.” But don’t overdo it – and leave it out altogether if you are writing to a person who you are less familiar with or who is senior to you. At any rate, respond to the person’s inquiry by politely expressing your gratitude (“thank you”). If there is a particular reason to write the e-mail (and usually there is), refer to the occasion that makes you get in touch. Make an announcement on what you intend to do in your e-mail and name your source – again, don’t forget to provide the reader with bibliographical data and cultural context.
Dear Mr. X,
Thanks for your latest-email regarding the forms and likely targets of discrimination in Germany. I am not an expert myself, but I found a study from 2018 that offers some more insight into that matter. It was carried out by the SVR, an independent board of experts on integration and immigration. Let me sum it up for you.
This part of your mediation text is not much different from what the way you write in a report. Again, content needs to be organized paragraph-wise, with a topic sentence to introduce the audience to the subject matter. In the main body, you will also use structuring phrases – they should be less bureaucratic, though. Remember that you’re writing to a specific person. Don’t miss the chance to use the closing sentence to link the first paragraph to the next.
As for the forms of discrimination immigrants may experience in Germany, they are similar to what you can perceive in most countries. Firstly, the study shows that minorities experience a wide range of hostilities, from offensive remarks to violence. Other problems are that people face disadvantages on the job market and when it comes to housing. Discrimination can also take the shape of questions like “Where do you come from?” which make people question their identity as Germans. As you can see, discrimination comes in different shapes. But who is most likely to be discriminated against?
As for your second field of interest, the study has shown that there are various factors which make it more or less likely to become a victim of discrimination in Germany. First of all, people who look different from the majority will be targeted more often than people who look stereotypically German. This gets even worse, if you speak German with a foreign accent. A main factor is also your religious background. Muslim immigrants are twice as likely to be discriminated against than Christians. If you are well-educated, you are generally more sensitive to all forms of discrimination – this explains why citizens with a higher level of education report more cases of discrimination than people with a lower level of education. Nationality can also be a factor: Turkish immigrants feel more discriminated against than ethnic Germans who return from the former Soviet Union.
Once again, avoid being rude and do not just finish your e-mail here. Make a connection with the recipient’s inquiry and sum up the main points. Avoid sounding arrogant, but express your willingness to help if further questions arise and more detailed information is needed. Depending on how formal your e-mail is, use a complimentary close which fits the occasion: Yours faithfully (extremely formal) / Yours sincerely (formal) / With kind regards (neutral) / So long / Regards (informal) / Love (intimate).
I hope I was able to help you out with a few facts on discrimination in Germany. As you can see, discrimination is indeed a serious problem. The more you differ from the majority, the more likely you are to be discriminated against. According to the authors of the SVR study, it will be a major challenge for Germany to do away with these mechanisms to ensure a feeling of belonging and togetherness. I suppose this is the same in most countries where discrimination exists. If you have have any further questions, please get in touch.
With kind regards,