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Translating David Grove's
Basic & Specialised Clean Language Questions

Wendy Nieuwland

Quite a few Dutch people have been or are involved in the Clean Community. Up till some time ago, several attempts to translate the questions led to a variety in Dutch translations. Within Gewoon aan de slag, we have invested a lot of time and research to get to translations that work. The most important criteria in this process are/were:

-staying as close as possible to the original questions, while at the same time:

-focus on what the question aims to do – getting the type of answer they aim to get;

-keep them as 'clean' as possible – which can be different in different languages;

-formulate them so that they are as natural to ask as the English ones are, keeping people within their landscape;

-bearing in mind possible cultural differences which can lead to different reactions (and decide what that leads to).

The process that led to the questions currently used in the Dutch versions of the modules 1 to 4, started over 3 years ago and will probably continue still. To give an impression of what it took to get where we are now, a few important steps in this process were:

  1. making the translations during our first moments of training, constantly modelling the questions and coming up with possible alternatives in Dutch
  2. lunch-meetings with James, Penny and Wendy S. to find out more about the choices of words and constructions of sentences used; while also talking them through alternative translations to discuss the pro's and con's (this seriously enhanced our understanding of the questions by the way; worth it just for that sake even!)
  3. making a working list of Dutch questions to try out ourselves in facilitating
  4. noticing the effect of the questions while using them in different settings (one-on-one & groups; personal coaching & business applications)
  5. discussions between us to improve again, using the criteria above and the experiences when using them
  6. finding out about other translations used by Dutch people, trained in the UK, and see what they could add
  7. etc. etc.

Steps 3 to 6 are iterative steps, which after the 3 years mentioned before, led to the current translations. Which, as counts for the English ones, may still undergo slight amendments to make them even better fitting the clean intention and the aim.

Some questions are trickier to translate than others. Talking to people with other nationalities, we found that some are harder for most languages, whereas others depend largely on the language/culture involved. The trickiest ones for us turned out to be:

-the metaphor question (and that's … like what?), mostly because this cannot be translated into a finished sentence like in English, closing it with the word 'what'. We went trough a few options, and the current one seems to fit the bill best. We did try using a more guided question first (literally translated: 'and what could you compare that to?') but this seemed to distract clients too much. So we stuck with leaving a gap at the end of the question now. Consequence is that sometimes clients do wait for the facilitator to finish the question or look somewhat surprised, and it seems we need to make even more sure that in English to say it slowly and have plenty of ingredients that may turn into a metaphor. With that, it gives some wonderful results!

-One that seems silly and easy, is the word 'whereabouts', which can mean 'where more or less' and 'where specifically' all the same. Alas we do not have such a word in Dutch, therefore settling for 'waar (ongeveer)' ; literally translated 'where (about)'.

-What would you like to have happen, being such a basic and important question, has an interesting structure, adding the word 'have' before happen. In the final translation, we made sure to add both the pleasant rhythm that is important for this question and the future/present nature of 'have happen'. Luckily, this ends up in a similar alliteration in Dutch: 'gaat gebeuren' What is does not cover unfortunately, is the activeness to the client that is part of the phrasing of 'have happen': they will have it happen. Still, the effect seems to be the same so far; not leading to enormous and unrealistic daydreams.

-The last one I will mention here is the basic 'and is there anything else about'. To make it into as much a day-to-day question to ask, it was very tempting to add the word 'tell' in the Dutch translation. After a few trials, we decided to drop this word again though, even though it means a slightly less natural question, we felt that asking someone if there was more to tell about something added to much of a presupposition that it is about telling rather than anything else. Also the word 'else' we had to drop, because that takes much more emphasis in Dutch than intended for. It asks more about something different than just anything else (we do not have the distinction between anything and something in Dutch).

Really, most questions have a story like this to it. If anyone finds some difficulty in making a specific translation, drop us an email and we'll tell you the story we went through to get to our translation!

September 2008

Go to the next page to see the translated questions.

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