Are you paying attention?


The world today is full of constant distractions, constantly tempting us to flit from one activity to another without a second’s thought. How does this affect our learning, its effectiveness and our productivity?

Claire broached the subject in her blog ‘The Distraction Trap’ last year with some handy tips to reduce distractions in our work. In this blog I want to focus more specifically on learning, sharing my experiences from the ‘Learning how to learn’ course I took in January.

I started the course as I felt that I had become increasingly scatty and forgetful as 2015 drew to a close, so this year I decided to make a conscious effort to reduce distractions and improve my learning.

The concept of ‘Deep Work’

As part of the background reading for the course, I read ‘Deep Work’ by Cal Newport, which looks at the value of uninterrupted, focused concentration on our work and study.

A state of constant distraction in which multiple things are going on in your mind at once puts a huge strain on your working memory. This means that you will be unable to effectively retain information, or concentrate on one task properly to innovate or solve problems. As regards memory, this implies that you may use the information once but will not retain it for later use. You may say that this doesn’t matter, you have Google, but I believe that this negatively affects your productivity and also means that you are likely to advance slower than colleagues who are capable of working deeply (applying focused concentration to single tasks or problems). Being able to concentrate and to fully explore ideas, to learn and apply new knowledge acquired (relatively!) quickly through effective working is desirable in all areas of life.

How does this relate to translators and interpreters?

I believe this concept is key to both our work and learning. Translation and interpreting are professions in which you need to be able to grasp new concepts quickly, while honing your language skills. Learning how to learn and to acquire periods of undistracted focus in your day will help you to improve your translation speed (both through lack of distraction and heightened expertise), will improve the accuracy and fluidity of your translations and/or interpretations and help you to gain specialist knowledge more efficiently.

Are you really learning?

I had been increasingly finding myself in the situation at work that I knew I had come across a term or concept before but I was unable to recall its translation or meaning. I recognise that at times this is inevitable, but it should not be the norm. Here are some tips that may help you to recall past information better.

Just reading and rereading doesn’t work

As Claire mentioned in her article – are you actually reading or are you scanning? Focused reading is the first step to remembering information.

Recall is in fact one of the simplest ways to properly remember some information – just think about if you tell someone about what you have learned in comparison with if you don’t. The former stays with you much longer. This works as it strengthens the links used to retrieve the memory, reinforcing the neural pathway to this memory.

Spaced repetition (reviewing new information at spaced intervals over time) is another example which works on the same principle.

Anything which requires that you manipulate the information will help you to remember it, such as answering questions on the subject or manipulating the information to adapt it to something practical (a blog post, for instance). These sorts of activities will help your brain to analyse the information, which promotes chunking, or the collation of various elements of information into one, easy to handle piece.

Why is chunking important?

  • Means you have understood
  • Takes less effort for the brain to use
  • Can help to link different aspects of information from different areas

NOTE: the more ‘real’ learning you do, the quicker you will understand texts and be able to link previous work to what you are doing now. This highlights the importance of specialising.

Do you suffer from einstellung?

The brain applies two modes when thinking: focused and diffuse, which it switches between throughout the day. Focused thinking is when you are concentrating on a specific problem and tackling it directly. Diffuse thinking is when your mind wanders, such as when you go for a walk, or look out of a train window. Both of these modes are important for advancing your learning and innovation.

Einstellung describes when our brain gets stuck on a loop, which does not retrieve the correct answer, but our focused mind does not allow us to conjure up a different solution. The course taught us about the importance of intertwining the two modes of thinking.

Focused mode is important for a specific task with specific goals, but diffuse mode allows you to open your mind up to other possibilities. Also, in diffuse mode your brain continues to process ideas in the background while your mind wanders onto other topics. This is why if you skip an exam question you can often tackle it better when you come back to it later, or that word you were searching for so desperately comes to you in the middle of the night.

Beat procrastination!

I will only mention this briefly, as Claire wrote an interesting article about time management last year for those interested in procrastination-beating techniques. I will mention however that the course emphasised the importance of not only breaking down daunting tasks into smaller chunks but also focusing on the process, rather than the product, of the task. This means focus on doing a little bit frequently (‘I will do half an hour on …’) rather than ‘I will finish the blog post today’. This way you will reduce the amount of willpower required to embark on the task, without the added stress of feeling that you have to complete it right away for it to be worthwhile.

So, are you concentrating?

To conclude, we live in an attention-deprived era, which often promotes multi-tasking as a bonus. However, it severely affects productivity and your ability to learn. Since completing the course I have applied many of the techniques mentioned by Claire, and I already feel much more focused and productive. Just being aware of your triggers can be a great start to a new, focused you.

What do you think? Do you think multi-tasking is detrimental to your work-life? I would love to hear your thoughts on how you learn best, any tips you may have.







Last Night We Had A Dream

By Felicity Pearce

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Spot the translators! Credit: Luis Malibran

Welcome to our first bilingual post! Last year Paula wrote about our trip to Madrid as part of an ongoing collaboration between us (and a number of other translators) and what was then a Spanish-language magazine Anoche Tuve Un Sueño. Now the global magazine (just a few articles can take you to places like Paris, South Africa, Rio and Mauritius, to name but a few) is beginning it’s English journey as Last Night I Had A Dream.

To celebrate this success and all the hard work, love and perseverance that is behind it, we asked publisher Julia Higueras and editor-in-chief Fernando López del Prado to share the story of the magazine and their experience of the translation process, naturally in both Spanish and English.

We hope you enjoy this interview and the magazine as much as we have enjoyed working on it and with Julia and Fernando.

In Spanish:

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Julia at the Premios de los Optimistas Comprometidos, the awards ceremony organized by the magazine. Credit: Luis Malibran


FP: Primero, ¿nos cuentas un poco la historia de la revista, cómo empezó y qué representa?

JH: Hace 5 años tuve un sueño, rescatar la vocación de servicio público del periodismo y liderar un nuevo estilo de vida: el pensamiento sostenible. Así nació Anoche tuve un sueño, una global magazine, la revista de los optimistas comprometidos. Desde ese instante nos hemos dedicado a conectar causas, personas y marcas que creen que nuestras acciones de hoy tendrán un efecto positivo en las generaciones del mañana y en eso trabajamos cada día, con ilusión y optimismo, aportando soluciones y siempre desde la esperanza. Somos la generación del cambio, somos gente bio-tiful.

Después de todos estos años remando a contracorriente, nos hemos convertido en pioneros y referentes del nuevo periodismo comprometido, responsable, crítico e independiente. Hemos creado una comunidad internacional integrada por personas optimistas y comprometidas, de multitud de países, que hablan distintos idiomas pero que tienen un nexo común: creen en el pensamiento sostenible y actúan en consecuencia, y luchan por mejorar la sociedad en que vivimos.

Hace 5 años tuve un sueño: unámonos NO para hacer lo posible sino para HACERLO posible.


FP: ¿Cómo y cuándo surgió la idea de la revista en inglés, o siempre era el plan?

JH: La revista nació con la vocación de ser una Global Magazine, pero la crisis económica – que ha azotado de forma especialmente virulenta a los países del Sur de Europa- retardó mucho los planes de la revista en inglés… La gran lección que aprendimos es que  nunca hay que dejar de creer en los sueños. Nosotros NUNCA dejamos de creer que Anoche tuve un sueño sería: Last Night I Had a Dream… ¡y el sueño se hizo realidad! ¿Cómo? Pues gracias a un grupo de traductores maravillosos que creyeron en lo que hacíamos y decidieron poner lo mejorque sabían hacer – traducir- a disposición de los demás… traduciendo dan a conocer el trabajo de mucha gente anónima que trabaja para conseguir hacer realidad los sueños ajenos y para ofrecer, además,  a las generaciones venideras un legado digno… La revista en inglés te enseña que los sueños no tienen fronteras, los sueños unen y dan sentido a nuestras vidas…   A Fernando – hacedor de este éxito- siempre le suelto una frase de la escritora Gabriela Mistral que me motiva mucho ante la dificultad (ahora a él también):

‘Donde haya un árbol que plantar, plántalo tú. Donde haya un error que enmendar, enmiéndalo tú. Donde haya un esfuerzo que todos esquivan, hazlo tú. Sé tú el que aparta la piedra del camino’

Y en eso estamos ahora, apartando la siguiente piedra del camino…


FP: ¿Fue tu primera experiencia trabajando con traductores, y cómo ha ido?

FLP: Sí, ha sido la primera vez. También la primera vez que tenía que coordinar el trabajo de nueve traductores a la vez, a los cuales no conocía y estaban haciendo un trabajo voluntario, desinteresado. La experiencia ha sido positiva. Me ha ayudado a entender el todo el trabajo que hay detrás de una buena traducción. Desde luego es mucho más que cambiar palabras de un idioma a otro. Traducir un texto es algo muy complejo. Un idioma es la manera que tiene un país o toda una región de comunicarse, de expresar sentimientos y pensamientos complejos. El ejercicio de trasladar toda esta información de un idioma a otro y conseguir que mantenga su significado original es muy difícil. Implica conocer el idioma y la cultura que lo rodea. Además el traductor/a también tiene que tener un poco de escritor.


FP: ¿Has aprendido algo sobre el proceso de la traducción?

FLP: Por supuesto que sí. Como decía antes, traducir un texto es un proceso complejo y aprendí que hay que preparar muy bien cómo se aborda el trabajo. Para empezar, es fundamental entender bien el texto que se va a traducir. Para ello es necesario hacer una lectura en profundidad. Hay que entender cada palabra, cada expresión, cada coma, cada punto. Si no, es imposible realizar una traducción de calidad. Además, hay que contar con un buen conocimiento sobre el autor y el marco en que el texto se concibe, por lo que una investigación previa es siempre muy útil. También aprendí lo importante que son el número de palabras y la fecha de entrega, sobre todo para los y las traductoras que trabajan por cuenta propia.


FP: ¿Por qué ha sido importante para vosotros tener traducciones de calidad y producidas por escritores que tienen el inglés como lengua materna?

FLP: Al fin y al cabo, Anoche Tuve un Sueño es un medio escrito y la calidad de los textos es un componente al que una revista no podía renunciar. Además de las imágenes, la otra herramienta de trabajo son las palabras y hay que tratarlas con mucho mimo.

Las personas que traducen, idealmente, tienen que ser nativas y conocer bien  la cultura que rodea a ese idioma. Solo así, se hará una buena traducción. Para mí, la traducción perfecta es la que no se sabe que es una traducción. Cuando es simplemente un texto bien estructurado y bien escrito, cuando se lee de manera fluida, que logra trasladar los mismos sentimientos que el autor imaginó en el texto original. Y eso es lo que sentí cuando leí la primera edición en inglés de Anoche Tuve un Sueño.



Dreams come true

And in English:

FP: Firstly, could you tell us a bit about the magazine, how it started and what it stands for?

JH: Five years ago I had a dream: to rescue the public service vocation of journalism and to lead a new lifestyle – sustainable thinking. And so Anoche Tuve Un Sueño was born – a global magazine created by and for the committed optimists. From that point onwards we have been connecting causes, people and brands that believe that our actions today will have a positive effect on the generations of tomorrow. This is what we work towards every day, full of drive and optimism and providing solutions from a place of hope. We are the generation of change – we are the bio-tiful people.

After all these years of uphill struggle, we have become pioneers and leaders for a new type of journalism that is committed, responsible, critical and independent. We have brought together an international community of people who are committed and optimistic, from all over the world: people who speak different languages but who share a common bond: we all believe in sustainable thinking and we act on it, striving to improve the society in which we live.

Five years ago I had a dream – not to come together to do what is possible, but to make it possible.


FP: How and when did the idea of having an English version of the magazine start, or was that always the plan?

JH: The magazine was born to be a global magazine, but the financial crisis – which has been acutely felt in southern European countries – really put the brakes on the plans to launch the magazine in English. The lesson we learned was to never stop believing that Anoche Tuve Un Sueño would become Last Night I Had a Dream. And the dream is coming true, thanks to a group of wonderful translators who believed in what we were doing and who decided to use their skills to ensure that the texts could be enjoyed by a wider audience, and to spread the word about the work of many anonymous people who work to carry out the dreams of others and to provide future generations with a worthy legacy. The start of the magazine in English teaches us that dreams do not have boundaries, dreams bring people together and give meaning to our lives. I often share with Fernando – the man behind the successful start of the magazine in English – a quote from Nobel Prize Winner and writer Gabriela Mistral that often spurs me on during difficult times (and now spurs him on too):

“Where there is a tree to plant, plant it yourself. Where there is a mistake to undo, let it be undone by you. Where effort is needed and everyone shirks, put yourself forward. Let it be you who removes the rock from the path.”

And this is where we are now, removing the next rock from our path…


FP: Was this your first experience working with translators? Was it positive/negative?

FLP: Yes, it was a first for me, and also the first time I was responsible for coordinating the work of nine translators at once – people I did not know and who were working voluntarily and selflessly in support of the magazine. It has been a positive experience. It has helped me to understand all the work that goes into a good translation. It is certainly more than changing words from one language to another. Translating a text is very complex process. A language is the way through which a country or a whole region communicates and expresses complex feelings and thoughts. Transferring all of this information from one language to another while ensuring that it retains the original meaning is extremely difficult; it requires a knowledge of the language and the culture surrounding it. A translator also needs to have a talent for writing.


FP: Did you learn anything about the translation process?

FLP: I certainly did. As I said before, translating a text is a complex process and I learned that good preparation is needed when approaching a translation. This means an in-depth reading, understanding each word, each expression, each comma and full stop. Without this, a high-quality translation is not possible. The translator also needs to have a good understanding of the author and the context within which the text was written, so some preparatory research is always helpful. I also learned about the importance the wordcount and the delivery date have for freelance translators. J


FP: Why was it important for you to have good quality translations by native English writers?

FLP: Last Night I Had A Dream is ultimately a written medium and the quality of the texts is one factor the magazine could not compromise on. In addition to the images, the other tool at our disposal is the written word, so this has to be re-produced with great care.

Ideally, people who translate should be native speakers and should have a deep understanding of the culture surrounding the language – only then can a good translation be achieved. For me, the perfect translation is one that does not read like a translation. A text that is simply well structured and well written, that can be read fluidly and which communicates the same feelings that the author conveyed in the original text. And this is what I felt when I read the first edition of Last Night I Had A Dream.