Tuesday, 10 November 2015

First impressions

I always seem to have kept journals of my travels, however sketchy or shorthand. Mostly, these written recollections end up in boxes or gather dust on bookshelves. Clearing up in my cellar recently, I came across a wirebound notebook from my student days, mostly full of lecture notes, references to academic articles and letters of application which had been drawn out in rough. At the back of the notebook however, I found some interesting jottings I had penned on my first ever trip to the Netherlands in March 1979.
Little did I know that I would spend the greater part of my adult life there. At the time, I was 21 years old and studying Geography in my final year at Newcastle University. Part of these studies involved a week-long field trip to the Netherlands and Germany, taking in the Rhine delta, the new polders (now Flevoland) and the German Rhineland as far south as Mainz.
It would be a further 5 and a half years before I eventually moved to the Netherlands, but my notes of that trip give a brief account of my first impressions of the part of the world where I would later settle. Below is an extract from the Dutch section of these travels.
On Friday 23 March 1979 we crossed the North Sea by night ferry from Hull and landed the following morning in Europoort ...

Saturday 24 March 1979 
Arrived Rotterdam (Europoort) at about 8.45 after passing refineries, ships and tankers unloading etc., a really enormous place. Weather is still fine but not too warm.
First sight of Holland (it’s so flat anything that sticks up tends to stand out). PS It’s a power station [see above].
Left Europoort at around 10.00 a.m. (General route during the day – Europoort > Oostvorne Brielle > Haringvliet barrage1 > Ouddorp (stop for lunch) > Stellendam > Dirksland > Nieuwe Tonge > Dordrecht (via Hellegatsplein) > Gorinchem > Bunnik (Utrecht))
Holland (or should I say, the Netherlands) is very flat (shock, horror!) Everything seems geared up to keeping the water out and there are hundreds of drainage ditches and dykes. Houses are very prosperous looking. Every aspect of life is neat and tidy – land use, litter, even social order. There are no hedges to fields.
The youth hostel is a riot – very loosely organised – disco, bar and Dutch people. It doesn’t shut. The Dutch we have spoken to are quite a rabble of drunkards; but perhaps that’s the sort of clientele that youth hostels attract. Holland is very uniform: the towns and villages are very similar. There is a preponderance of water (in ditches, etc.) and new houses (very tasteful) are often accompanied by a stream in the garden. There are lots of cars even though the motorways are nothing like as good as Britain’s. If there are more cars in relation to Britain, there are even more bicycles. Roads have cycle tracks alongside and everyone seems to own one. This is possibly because Holland is so flat with no hills to climb. One Dutch fellow (who couldn’t understand why the British earned so little) told me he took a dislike to mountains (he may have meant small hillocks) and preferred to have his dykes and ditches any day. 
The toilets – at least in this youth hostel are weird. Compare with the British.  
Most [of my fellow students] seem to be little impressed with Holland, except for the youth hostel (Bunnik).
Sunday 25 March 1979 
Spent the day on the Zuider Zee looking at polders. First of all – after breakfast – we went into Utrecht. The professor, who was to have shown us round, had the flu so it was left to ourselves to look round. Utrecht has a (large) shopping centre, much cleaner [than Newcastle’s] and very expensive2. Cathedral tower very impressive. No shops open of course, except a stall at the station which adjoined the shopping complex. Holland does have its yobbos – some teenagers kicking cans around the station forecourt. The most recently reclaimed [Zuidelijk Flevoland] was really bleak – untouched, flat – and the connecting road to Lelystad was flanked on one side by the sea and on the other by the bleak landscape3. Really strange. The information centre on Nieuw Land was interesting – (information provided on request) – on the outskirts of Lelystad – a brand new town.
Farms are very large in this area and, of course, very new. The farms on the mainland’ are worthy of note. Barns are peculiar, the roofs of which move up and down according to the quantity of material stored4. The majority of houses are piecemeal, except in towns where they are inclined to be more uniform, especially the larger towns where deck-access development features. 
Most of the normal houses are similar in shape,
with low [exterior] walls and steep roofs from front to back. Apparently, most usually have cellars.  
Some thatching occurs, but red tiles seem to be the norm. Around Arnhem, the landscape becomes more undulating. Most is covered with heathland and woods5. It is positively hilly. 
The YH itself is modern and more like a hotel with heating, showers, a tiled bathroom, disco, bar, television, games room, etc. Very smart. 

It was a brief stopover in the Netherlands. The next day we moved on to Germany for the best part of a week, although the motorway journey back to Rotterdam a week later skirted Aachen and Heerlen.

Historical/geographical notes: 
1 The Haringvliet barrage was completed in 1971 and forms part of the massive construction programme intended to strengthen the sea defences in the south east of the Netherlands in the wake of the devastating inundations of 1953 in Zeeland. 
2 When it was built in 1973, Hoog Catharijne was the largest indoor shopping mall in Europe. 
3 The Zuidelijk Flevoland polder was part of a major land reclamation scheme which drained the south western sector of the Ijsselmeer (formerly Zuiderzee). Although there were plans to reclaim more land from this inland sea, Flevoland ended up being final piece of the jigsaw. Work to drain the land was started in 1959 and the enclosing dyke was completed in 1968. 
4 Known in the UK as ‘Dutch barns’ or ‘hay barracks’. NL = hooiberg 
5 The Veluwe.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Werner Mantz in the Mijnstreek

It was two decades ago that I first came into contact with the work of Werner Mantz. At the time I was studying photography at the Kunstakademie in Hasselt, Belgium and had asked an acquaintance of mine to model for some portraits I had been assigned to do. My subject happened to be a daughter of Dutch architect Frits Peutz, one of the leading lights of the modernist movement in the early 20th century, such as Bauhaus. When I presented my model with the photographs from our studio session, she was so enchanted by the results that as a token of her gratitude she gave me a photo book with a retrospective of Werner Mantz’s works1. The photographs included several studies of her father’s most famous creations, which Peutz had commissioned Mantz to photograph, not least the Glaspaleis in Heerlen. The Glaspaleis was put on the list of the 1000 most important buildings of the 20th century by the International Union of Architects in 1999. It was a kind gesture on her part and I treasure the book (and its photographs) in much the same way as a footballer might prize a cup-winner’s medal.

Recently, I was asked to translate a number of texts into English for a catalogue dedicated to Mantz’s work in the coalmining region of Limburg (de Mijnstreek). I was delighted and of course jumped at the chance. The catalogue was being published to coincide with an exhibition in Heerlen, organised as part of the year-long Jaar van de Mijnen event (‘year of the mines’) to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the coalmines being closed down and to throw some light on the region’s industrial heritage. Like Peutz, Mantz was a man of his time, his work likewise reflecting a passion for modernist architecture which is clearly visible in the works on display.
Below is the translation of an extract from an introductory text to the catalogue written by exhibition curator, Flos Wildschut. It provides us with an interesting insight into Mantz and his work in the Mijnstreek …   

In the 1930s, the German photographer Werner Mantz (b. Cologne 1901 d. Maastricht 1983) was commissioned to produce an extensive series of photographs documenting the Limburg coalmines. At the time, Mantz had two photographic studios, one in Cologne and the other in Maastricht, which he ran together with his colleague Karl Mergenbuam. Mantz had been visiting Maastricht on a regular basis since 1926 and his interest for contemporary architecture in the Netherlands led him to decide in 1932 to set up a photographic studio in the city. For Mantz, who had a Jewish background, the political situation in Germany at the time also played a role in this decision. He kept both studios until 1938. After the Kristallnacht in the November of that year, he closed down his studio in Cologne to settle permanently in Maastricht.

Internationally, Werner Mantz is considered to be an important photographer in the field of portraiture and architectural photography. In Cologne he produced photographic portraits of key figures from politics, science and art. He also made a name for himself as a photographer of Nieuwe Bouwen, a movement for modernist architecture, which he documented in line with the ideas of the Nieuwe Zakelijkheid ('New Objectivity'). His subject matter he portrayed in all its beauty and simplicity, with meticulous attention to structure and form. Famous German architects, such as Wilhelm Riphahn, Clemens Klotz and Erich Mendelsohn, asked Mantz to photograph their work. Likewise in the Netherlands, he attracted the attention of architects. He was commissioned to do work, amongst others, for Frits Peutz, Toon Swinkels, Jos Wielders and Alfons Boosten. In 1936, Mantz photographed the Schunck department store, also known as the ‘Glaspaleis’ (glass palace), for Peutz. In the two photographs taken of the roof terrace at Schunck, the Limburg mines are clearly visible in the background. Here, modern architecture becomes one through the combination of industry and technology.

Both photographs might be considered as forerunners to the two key commissions that Mantz was given in 1938 to record major works of industry and technology in Limburg. The provincial ministry of transport commissioned him to document the regional network of roads. In two of the photographs from the 'roads' series included in this publication, the mines can be seen in the background. The Dutch state mines also commissioned him to photograph various mines in the region. At the end of the 1930s, Mantz began to concentrate more and more on portraiture photography in his Maastricht studio. From that time onwards, his standout work would be portraits of young children, often dressed for their first communion, using natural light. As a result, for a long time his work of the 1920s and 1930s faded into obscurity.

A change in this came about in 1975. It was in that year that the Cologne-based art group, Kölnischer Kunstverein, organised an art exhibition entitled ‘Vom Dadamax bis zum Grüngürtel’. This helped put Mantz's photographs into the context of international photography for the first time and led to a rediscovery of his work. By that time, Mantz was an old man. He had closed his studio in 1972 and retired to live in Eijsden.
A year after the exhibition in Cologne, Rudolf Kicken organised the first solo exhibition of Mantz's work in his Lichttropfen gallery in Aachen. A major breakthrough ensued in 1977 when a series of ten of his photographs entitled 'Mijnen in Limburg' were included in a specially compiled exhibition to celebrate 150 years of photography at Documenta 6 in Kassel, organised by Klaus Honnef, head of exhibitions at the Rheinisches Landesmuseum Bonn. In the catalogue, the photos were placed alongside the work of Germaine Krull. During this period, the aforementioned museum in Bonn and the Bonnefantenmuseum in Maastricht both acquired photographs by Mantz for their collections. Nowadays, Mantz's work appears in many collections owned by museums at home and abroad.

Since the renewed focus on Werner Mantz in the 1970s, his work has been regularly seen and discussed in exhibitions and publications. These also included photos of the mines. Nevertheless, until now Mantz's series of photographs of the Limburg mines has never been seen or published in its entirety. The ‘Werner Mantz in de Mijnstreek exhibition and publication brings an end to this. On the basis of archival research and an inventory of various (inter)national photograph collections, an attempt has been made to reconstruct Werner Mantz's commission from the Dutch state mines using existing vintage prints. To this end, no new prints have been taken from negatives or photographic plates, which are kept in the Nederlands Foto Museum. However, a number of contact prints have been included in the exhibition and catalogue. These prints and negatives have been researched to identify the coalmines which are pictured and to gain a better understanding of the way in which Mantz worked.

The quest to find the photographs which Werner Mantz produced of the mines in Limburg resulted in 79 assorted prints of vintage quality. In fact, Mantz's body of work on the coalmines appears to be much wider than the remit he had been originally given by the state mines.
They testify to the special way in which Mantz went about his work. The style of Nieuwe Zakelijkheid ('New Objectivity'), which he had adopted during his time in Cologne, was used here too: the emphasis is on form and structure, experimentation with light and shade, with particular attention to aesthetics. But his work appears to contain more dynamism too. In the series of the various mines, we see a photographer at work who tries to capture the soul of architecture in cinematographic style. Together with Mantz we - as viewers - can reconnoitre the pitheads or climb one of the tall smokestacks in order to study the construction of another from a different perspective, in both space and time. First, we get a bird's-eye view of the mines and then zoom in on the details.

Mantz’s photos of the Limburg mines represent an important documentary record of their time. Through his eyes, we can observe the reality of the 1930s: a glorious industrial era which we look back on now from a completely different perspective. Back then, no one was aware of carbon emissions, climate change and lung disease. Nevertheless, it's not just about the historical dimension. Mantz's photographs demonstrate a truly documentary approach, in which the subject matter is meticulously researched, with the power of the images playing as much a role as their documentary significance.

Extract from a translation from the original Dutch of the introductory text to the 'Werner Mantz in de Mijnstreek' exhibition catalogue, written by Flos Wildschut, exhibition curator.
The exhibition in SCHUNCK* Collectors House, Heerlen runs from 20 September to 25 October 2015, where the accompanying catalogue (ISBN: 978-90-74106-41-2) can also be purchased.

Photograph: Emma state mine, Brunssum/Hoensbroek, ©Werner Mantz / Collection of the Nederlandse Fotomuseum, Rotterdam

1 Werner Mantz / Fotograaf, published by Drukkerij Rosbeek BV, November 1990 (ISBN 90-73367-02-6)

For more information on Werner Mantz (in Dutch): https://wernermantz.wordpress.com

See also: De geur van kolen

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

One crowded hour of glorious life

On July 14 every year, I would phone my dad and we would reminisce about events that had unfolded a century and more previously. Since my father’s passing away last summer, for the first time that opportunity has been sadly denied me. It’s a shame, he would have rhapsodised about the remarkable feats which led up to the moment when the Alps’ most iconic peak, the Matterhorn, was scaled for the very first time on this day 150 years ago.

Ever since I was old enough to remember, a colour photograph of the Matterhorn decorated the wall above the mantelpiece in the living room of our home in Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester. I was too young at the time, but my eldest brother recalls my father coming home from work one evening with a brown-paper parcel from Boots’ picture-framing department containing the said item. The picture depicts a snow-covered mountain, its almost perfect pyramidal shape rising imposingly above the lush green meadows below. Occupying the foreground is a line of four timber haylofts, which drop away from the centre right of the picture. In the background, against an otherwise brilliant blue sky, are faint wisps of cloud around the summit.
We do not know what my father had in mind when he bought the picture, but, for some reason or other, the mountain held a spell on him. What sparked his fascination remains a mystery.
Whatever, my father (and later myself) developed a curiosity in the mountain. Our local library held a copy of Edward Whymper’s Scrambles Amongst the Alps, a title that was otherwise long out of print, so in order to satiate our interest in the author’s escapades we had to keep renewing the loan on the book. I was in my early teens and was already familiar with intrepid tales of exploration, such as Scott’s Last Expedition: the personal journals of Captain R.F. Scott and Shackleton’s South. For me, Scrambles Amongst the Alps was another such blockbuster read.

In 1865, the Matterhorn was the last major peak in the Alps which remained unclimbed. A steady flow of amateur climbers had been coming to the continent from Britain over the previous decade. Middle-class Victorians were moneyed and had plenty of free-time on their hands. Those with a sense of adventure headed for the mountains. Over a period of ten years, slowly but surely, the highest peaks in the Alps succumbed to their endeavours. It became known as the Golden Age of Mountaineering. Of all the summits, the Matterhorn, which straddles the Swiss-Italian border, was the one mountain that eluded the climbers of the day. At 4478 metres, the mountain is by no stretch the highest in the Alps – Mont Blanc is 4810 metres - but its isolation and apparent inaccessibility made it a formidable proposition. To add to its claims of invincibility, superstitious locals spoke of spirits that dwelt on the mountain which would hurl down vengeance from its impregnable heights on anyone who had the audacity to approach.
In 1860 Edward Whymper arrived in the Alps for the first time. He was a 20-year old wood engraver from London who had been commissioned to produce a series of alpine scenes by a publishing company. Brash and brazen and with little trepidation, he used his time to pursue a newly found passion for climbing and the young artist soon became an accomplished mountaineer, ticking off many of the major Alpine peaks himself, some as first ascents. More than most however, he was drawn to the Matterhorn and was one of the first to believe that the peak was surmountable.
He made his first sallies on the mountain in 1861 and in the years that followed made no fewer than 8 attempts to reach the summit. Employing local guides with mountain skills and a knowledge of local conditions to assist him, he tackled the Matterhorn from various angles, most frequently from the Italian side. His first-hand accounts of his forays on the mountain in Scrambles Amongst the Alps provide a fascinating insight, not only into the fledgling sport of mountaineering, but also into 19th century life in the Alps.
Despite the miscellany of assaults on the mountain by Whymper and his contemporaries, by 1865 the Matterhorn still remained unconquered. On 10 July of that year, Whymper found himself in the village of Breuil on the southern Italian flanks of the mountain. He had been hoodwinked by local guides, whose services he believed he had commissioned for yet another attempt on the peak, but who instead had been enlisted by a team of Italians. Not to be outdone, Whymper hurried to Zermatt in Switzerland, assembling a motley group of climbers, consisting of assorted English gentlemen and Alpine guides, to tackle the mountain from the northern side, still thought to be the most difficult of the two most viable routes to the summit.
There were now two teams of climbers, simultaneously hell-bent on winning the race to the top of the Matterhorn. The Italians were vying for the glory of their native valley and the fledgling Kingdom of Italy. The English-led group, on the other hand, were headed by a man who was obsessed by the idea of being the first on the summit. The latter group, under the command of Whymper, included 2 Zermatt guides (the Taugwalders Sr and Jr) and Michel Croz, an accomplished French guide, well-known to Whymper from many of his previous expeditions in the High Alps. Also in the group were three English ‘gentlemen’: Lord Francis Douglas, Charles Hudson and Douglas Hadow, the latter a climbing novice who was on his first tour of the Alps that summer.
Whymper’s assault from the Swiss side began auspiciously. Relative to the Italian ridge on which so many attempts had been previously made, the Hörnli (or Swiss) ridge proved surprisingly easy. On the night of 13 July 1865, they camped at 3400 metres and at 6.30 a.m., on a bright summer morning, they started for the summit. They were astounded by the relative ease of the climb. Apart from one difficult section on the Matterhorn’s northern face, they encountered little resistance and by 1.40 p.m., incredulously Whymper and his companions stood triumphantly on the summit. At that point it was still not certain whether the Italians had set foot on the summit ridge, but with no sign of fresh footprints in the snow, it was clear that Whymper and his companions had won the day. The Italians were eventually spotted several hundred feet below. They threw a torrent of stones down the cliffs at which “the Italians turned and fled”. The victors spent an hour on the summit. Whymper’s (partly  paraphrased) account below captures the moment: 

We paid homage to the view. The day was superlatively calm and clear and the atmosphere perfectly still, free from all clouds or vapours. Mountains fifty, maybe a hundred miles off looked sharp and near. All their details - ridge and crag, snow and glacier - stood out with faultless definition. There were forests black and gloomy, and meadows bright and lively; bounding waterfalls and tranquil lakes; fertile lands and savage wastes; sunny plains and frigid plateaux. There were the most rugged forms, and the most graceful outlines bold, perpendicular cliffs, and gentle, undulating slopes; rocky mountains and snowy mountains, sombre and solemn, or glittering and white, with walls turrets pinnacles pyramids domes cones and spires! There was every combination that the world can give, and every contrast that the heart could desire. We remained on the summit for one hour - one crowded hour of glorious life*. It passed away too quickly, and we began to prepare for the descent. 

In such perfect conditions, the climb back down should have been a formality for experienced climbers, even of the Victorian age. However, the combination of a hastily put-together team and slipshod equipment represented the weak link in the chain. They roped up and went down the mountain. As they faced the most difficult part of the descent, Hadow, the most inexperienced of the group, who was in the leading section, lost his footing and slipped. He dragged Croz, Hudson and Douglas with him and together the four of them hurtled earthwards. The rope should have broken their fall, but somehow, the section of rope between the top three and the lower four snapped. “For a few seconds, we saw our unfortunate companions sliding downwards on their back and spreading out their hands endeavouring to save themselves. They passed from our sight on to the Matterhorn glacier below.”
The Matterhorn, freshly vanquished, had claimed its first victims.
The survivors, Whymper and the two Taugwalders, returned to Zermatt in a semi-traumatised state. Afterwards there was an inquest. The survivors of the tragedy were initially accused of having cut the rope, but they were later cleared of any culpability in the accident. The fatal section of rope it seems had been substandard. Nevertheless, alpinism was widely condemned as a sport in the English papers and what was for sure, mountaineering had lost its innocence. The accident was a defining moment of 19th century exploration and mountaineering and effectively marked the end of its Golden Age.
Whymper survived to tell the tale and continued a career in wood engraving and mountaineering, but never at the same intensity. He wrote the book Scrambles Amongst the Alps, not just his own account of the first ascent of the Matterhorn, but also all his previous attempts on the mountain. In it he relates the events leading up to its culmination, not least with a description of the main protagonists. Scrambles Amongst the Alps is more than just an account of the unfolding drama on 14 July 1865, but is a tale of companionship, heroism, rivalry, humour, compassion and, ultimately, tragedy. Sometimes fact can be more powerful than fiction and for me, that’s what makes it such a wonderful read.

My father secretly fancied himself standing on the summit of the Matterhorn. As he got older he realised that it would be an impossible dream. At the age of 71, he first set his eyes on the mountain on a crisp clear autumn day in 1987 and he walked up to almost the exact spot where the photograph he bought at Boots’ picture-framing department was taken. I’m sure it was one of the most magical moments of his life.

Yes, I’m sad that I won’t be able to ring my father this year, but I’ll be forever grateful to him for that photograph on the wall.

* quote from The Call by Thomas Osbert Mordaunt

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Going native


When I’m teaching, I always tell my English students that vocabulary (the bricks) and grammar (the mortar) are the building blocks of language learning. A learner of English, or of any other language for that matter, must master these two aspects in order to communicate to a competent level in that language. In fact, the principle applies at whatever level of proficiency you operate: the more creative your communication, the better your command of the language’s vocabulary and grammar must be.

The most effective way to do this is through total immersion, where the learner spends time in an environment operating solely in the target language. But not everyone has this opportunity and even then complete immersion might last several decades before ‘total’ proficiency is attained. This is not to put language learners off of course: by no means do all students of a foreign language aim to achieve the highest possible standards, they may simply wish to use that language in a way which serves their purpose, possibly asking for directions or reading a recipe.

When we consider vocabulary, we immediately think of individual words, but these words by themselves do not unlock the door to successful language learning and usage. If learners and users of a second language wish to express themselves fluently and accurately in speech and writing, they must learn to cope with the vast wealth of word combinations and permutations (for instance, nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs and prepositions) that make up that language. A normal dictionary, an essential tool to learning vocabulary, splits up meaning into separate words. However, words in isolation are much less powerful when we are constructing a text.

A single word may have different meanings, depending on the situation in which it is used, but only becomes clear when set alongside other individual words to make a phrase or sentence. Take the word ‘work’, for example. It is both a noun and a verb. The noun itself has several different dictionary definitions, such as: the product of effort (as in, ‘it was back-breaking work’); a job (‘I do secretarial work’); an artistic creation (‘Beethoven produced some masterly works’); a building programme (‘major restoration work is being carried out’); or (usually in the plural) a factory (‘the works’ canteen’). As these examples show, only when the word is seen as part of a sentence or phrase, can its exact meaning be deduced. Context therefore, is the all important key. 

The examples I give here make the meaning of the words clearer because they ‘collocate’, that is, the words combine to produce natural-sounding speech and writing. So we refer to these word or phrase combinations as ‘collocations’. In English, we say ‘strong wind’ and ‘heavy rain’, not the other way round. For a native speaker ‘heavy wind’ and ‘strong rain’ sound completely unnatural, but early learners of English will not recognise this distinction. So whilst collocations – or chunks of vocabulary – may be highly predictable to native-speakers and used without a second thought, to language learners this is anything but the case. 

Roughly speaking, there are two categories into which collocations can be grouped: grammatical; and lexical.
Typical grammatical collocations in English include prepositional expressions: afraid (of); dependent (on); (on) the bus; (in) hospital. Prepositions are amongst the biggest obstacles to successful language learning because they are language-specific. A Dutch learner, for example, might unwittingly say, ‘afraid for’, ‘dependent of’, ‘in the bus’, and ‘in the hospital’ because they collocate with different, non-corresponding prepositions in their own tongue – and although they would be understood, it would single them out immediately as non-native.
A lexical collocation might be a typical construction such as: ‘to do your homework’; ‘to take a photo; and ‘(her message was) crystal-clear’. Here, even competent Dutch speakers of English might say, ‘make your homework’, ‘make a photo’ and ‘glass clear’, without realising that these are unnatural collocations. 

To illustrate the enormous diversity of collocations that are out there, let’s take a look at the language of work. Language learners and professional linguists beware! 

Often, I’m asked what line of work I’m in. Mostly, I tell people that I make a living as a freelance translator, but I also dabble in teaching. I have been plying my trade in this business ever since I was made compulsorily redundant 20 years ago. 
People who are unlucky enough to have their jobs axed may have to go on the dole for some time while they seek out pastures new, in other words a career change. This will probably involve scouring the classified ads and then writing a letter of application for a suitable position. Potential candidates may be called for interview at which they will be quizzed about their work experience, educational qualifications and personal qualities and perhaps questioned about their burning ambitions. The successful candidate taken on by the company - before being offered a permanent contract - will have to work a probationary period or follow on-the-job training to first earn their spurs. To get on in the world of business you may have to be prepared to assume managerial responsibilities. Rapid promotion may ensue for outstanding work and help you step onto the next rung of the career ladder. Ultimately, you might progress to a position in middle or senior management and perhaps enjoy fringe benefits, such as a company car, an expense account, private health insurance, annual bonuses and other perks. Alternatively, you may end up in a dead-end job doing run-of-the-mill tasks and find yourself having to get out of a rut. Having a job with no career prospects can be demoralising.
I must admit, working as a freelance translator – within reason – it’s possible to organise my work as I wish without having a humdrum nine-to-five existence. Yes, all the red tape involved in being self-employed, for example, sending off VAT-returns every month, can be a bugbear, but the diversity of assignments, the freedom of being able to work almost anywhere, not to mention being my own boss, gives me enormous job satisfaction

Whilst the correct use of collocations is just one way of achieving proficiency in a foreign language, I’m not arguing here that fluency is solely a question of applying grammar and vocabulary appropriately. It is much more than that. For example, pronunciation, proper use of punctuation, recognising the difference in and the correct use of formal and informal register, and apposite use of slang and swear-words - aspects of language that come naturally to a native speaker – all have to be learned as well, usually through trial and error. 

Concluding thoughts of a translator ...
When it comes to collocations, it’s not just beginners who make mistakes. In fact, far from it. However proficient you might think you are at a foreign language, unless you have undergone complete immersion, it is well-nigh impossible to build up the same wealth of collocative vocabulary as a mother-tongue speaker. I know this from experience: even after being in direct contact with the language for 30 years – many would call me fluent – I find myself tripping up over Dutch idioms and expressions. This is where translators who claim they can work ‘professionally’ into a second non-native language – working at the cutting edge of communication - can really get found out. That’s why I don’t do it. 
Indeed, I find it strange that a competent native-speaker translator would want to put their professional credibility at risk by translating into a second language they have not fully mastered, a phenomenon which is flabbergastingly prevalent in the translation industry.
The use of collocations is just one example of why native-speaker translators are invariably better at translating into the target language: they are simply more competent in recognising and using the natural-sounding equivalents of source-language collocations in their mother tongue.