English, Language and Communication

Postcards, E-Mails… Smoke Signals!

By Adriana Adarve – Owner of Adarve Translations & Donnamarie Leemann – Head of Marketing at Adarve Translations

Kids Playing Hopscotch
The Wonders of Hopscotch!

The other evening around 18:00 I left my flat to conduct an English-language Conversation Group. I soon encountered a group of children drawing on the sidewalk, using large pieces of colored chalk. Two little girls were finishing up a hop-scotch frame, and three little boys were busily drawing airplanes falling into the sea, theorizing as to what had happened to the missing Malaysian plane.

After completing my teaching duties I stopped at a favorite restaurant to have a bite to eat. There was a large family party there, three generations celebrating Grandpa’s birthday. A toddler sat on Grandma’s lap, a mother held an infant, and a boy of perhaps ten years of age sat at the end of the table, his entire attention focused on an iPad. When the food came he wolfed it down, then returned to his electronic device. He took no part in the party, he interacted with no one, his entire attention was aimed at his iPad.

I admit to being old-fashioned, but I longed to hand him a piece of colored chalk, introduce him to the kids I’d seen earlier, and send him outside to play with the others in the fresh air.

Adriana Adarve and I have been friends, colleagues and collaborators for a long time. I like to think that one of the reasons our personal and professional relationships are so rewarding is because we each come from totally different starting points and meet in the middle to reach a good end, that end being mutual understanding.

Language and communication are our meeting points. Adriana moves freely between many languages to achieve communication. You should hear her at a party here in Switzerland where she’ll switch flawlessly, effortlessly, from French to Spanish to English, reeling off the occasional comment in German. However, the Adarve Translations Bureau has almost exclusively been concerned with written translations. That is changing though, and now transcriptions are also being introduced to satisfy wider needs our clients presently have.

My primary focus is rather different, in that I am concerned not with translating but with communication itself. Language, whether spoke or written, is only one way to arrive at communication.

For example, my husband was a native Swiss-German speaker who was raised in the Italian-speaking Swiss canton of Ticino, who lived in the French-speaking canton of Neuchâtel with his English-speaking American wife. In spite of his manifest linguistic abilities, I could communicate better using pantomime and drawings than he could with his perfect multi-lingual learning.

Once, when our family left our villa in rural Switzerland to go on a long holiday, we left our home and our dog (a border collie called “Tim”) in the care of a young francophone local. We left him a long list of things to be done about the house, and with a list of commands for Tim. It wasn’t until after we’d written the list of commands that we realized that the dog was tri-lingual.

Tim “heeled” (“fuss”) in German. “Sit” is pretty much the same in both English and German. The command to “stay” was given in English. Tim stopped (“arrête”) and was instructed to calm himself (“doucement”) in French.

Of course we also communicated with Tim using body language. The point is that we were communicating with the dog, and that the communication was reciprocal. Tim couldn’t speak but he obeyed commands, asked questions as to the validity of obeying commands by hesitating to execute them, refused to act on commands that he considered wrong, and occasionally caused us to rethink commands by pointing out another alternative, as when he would refuse to go down a certain path in the high Alps after a storm because he knew the footing would be bad and led us to a better path.

Adriana doesn’t have much experience with dogs, but she is in direct communication with any number of cats. This type of communication is very different from the business of translating.

The business of translating (and here I mean the hands-on activity of the process, not the bean-counting, money-making aspect of translation) and of a translator is mostly conducted via a computer. As an aside, I know graphic artists, social workers, legal advisors and others who conduct their primary business on-line.

Nowadays, most of us communicate via computers and other electronic devices. We derive a major part of our entertainment from them. It wasn’t always so. I first worked with computers back in 1975 when disk-drives were the size of refrigerators; printers were the size of large washer-dryers and spewed out attached, sprocketed pages by the bale, when a night-time cleaning lady’s vibrating vacuum cleaner could lobotomize even the most sophisticated computer brain. The computing power on the Apollo space missions was a joke—the cheapest modern “burn phone” has orders of magnitude more computing power than any device had in the 1970’s, even on devices employed on space missions.

When I arrived in Switzerland from my native USA in the early 1980’s, phone calls were ruinously expensive while the mails were relatively cheap. Now the reverse is true. There was no internet at that time. Now, the internet is all-pervasive. It is easy, practical, inexpensive and instant.

We have been seduced by the advent of the internet and electronic communication devices.  I am not a fan of the Jurassic Park films, but there is a line spoken by a “scientist” in the first one that goes, “Just because you can doesn’t mean that you should.”

Smoke-Signal Communication!
Smoke-Signal Communication!

And it doesn’t mean that you must. Transfixed and enthralled (really) as so many of us are by modern electronic interconnectivity and instant results, we often forget that there still are other avenues of communication, and that sometimes it might could take a while to get a message through. I am not suggesting that we should, for example, communicate by carrier pigeons or smoke signals (though the folks in Colorado appear to be headed in that direction). However, I often hear people complain about not being able to connect instantly using electronic means.

“I’ve emailed him half a dozen times,” they lament, or “I’ve been trying to call for a week but it all just goes to her voice-mail.” I ask them if it has ever occurred to them to send an old-fashioned, snail-mail postcard.  Nope, they respond, it never has.

But archaic postcards can be a good thing, just like children drawing chalk lines on the sidewalk and playing in the late afternoon sun.

Emails are formulaic and ephemeral. They cost nothing except for a small monthly fee to a server. They take no effort except for a quick fiddling of the keys on a sensitive and flexible keyboard. And, you can blip off an email or a voice mail message at the touch of a button.

A postcard is not ephemeral. You must go to a shop, pick one out, go to the post office to buy a stamp to send it on its way. You must take a pen in hand and write a message on it. You have to carry it to a post-box. The person who receives the card knows that. Knowing that, it’s that much harder for the recipient to drop the thing into a trash can than it is to blip it off a screen.

I love postcards. I send them to people whom I care about all the time, people who live near and far. I adore receiving them. Yes, I also like emailing. Cheap, fast, and more practical than phone calls, especially for people who live many time zones away from their loved ones. But emails are confetti in personal relationships: postcards are messages of love.

I care about my brother very much but he’s a workaholic and is often so focused on his daily professional business cares that he forgets or neglects some of his familial commitments. If I send him an email he will answer it faithfully but the point of my email will fall by the wayside of his myriad commitments. It blips off his screen.

An actual, physical postcard is not so easily disposed of. It kicks around on his desk. It dogs him a little. Eventually, wanting to get rid of the darned thing, he addresses the issue on it, confronts and deals the message on the postcard. Emails very seldom elicit similar responses.

This is the essence of communication. My brother is a great communicator, but his focus is narrow and he will often sluff off peripheral messages. No amount of emails or voice mail messages can get his attention. But an old-fashioned, physical postcard can do the trick.

The translators at Adarve Translations work hard to achieve meaningful understanding. They seldom have the opportunity to discuss issues and questions verbally because nearly all their work is done via computers. But they are at the ready to deal with any translation and communications needs you might present with.

Send an email. Send a postcard. Or give us a call.

If the phone isn’t answered right away, please let it ring on. Adriana and her fellow translators might just be out on the sidewalk, playing with the cats and drawing designs in colored chalk on a sunny late afternoon!

All the best,

Donnamarie Leemann, La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, & Adriana Adarve, Asheville, NC

Adriana AdarveDonnamarie


About the Authors:
 Adriana Adarve is the owner of Adarve Translations and is fluent in three languages (English, Spanish & French), as well as multi-cultural. Donnamarie Leemann is an artist and writer who has for many years contributed to the BBC and to many other public forums, and who collaborates at present with Adarve Translations as Head of Marketing.

5 thoughts on “Postcards, E-Mails… Smoke Signals!”

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