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Call George Trail



Foreword: I meant this to be a relatively “fun” blog, but you have to speak French for the “fun” part of it to apply in your case. You will see.

In the modern world, where access to foreign countries and cultures has never been easier, no-one should be that surprised to know that attempts to teach even very young children the basics of a foreign language are common. Surely there can be no other explanation for the existence of, for example, the character Tilly in Tots TV on British television. And in the United States you get Dora the Explorer, who, to my reasoning, is a character who speaks Spanish as well as English; according to the Wikipedia entry for this programme: “Each episode is based around a series of cyclical events that occur along the way during Dora’s travels, along with obstacles that she and Boots are forced to overcome or puzzles that they have to solve (with “assistance” from the viewing audience) relating to riddles, the Spanish language, or counting.”

But that’s enough talk about TV programmes aimed at pre-school children. I now want to draw readers’ attention to the following translation exercise – that’s what this blog is really all about. If your mother tongue is English and you speak at least a bit of French, I invite you to translate the following sentences into English – I think you will be entertained. (Remember: practice makes perfect.)

Elle vend des coquillages au bord de la mer.
Peter Piper a ramassé un picotin de poivrons marinés.
J’ai vu Susie Shaw assise en un magasin de cirage de chaussures.

And the other way round:

Three tortoises were trotting along three very narrow rooves.
How much do these sixty-six sausages here cost?
Five dogs were hunting six cats.

Well, they say that this is a good way to master pronunciation…

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This Youtube video has received a lot of attention for its (otherwise unintended) humour factor: www.youtube.com/watch?v=lj3iNxZ8Dww

I can imagine lots of people insisting that we must consider that she must be under stress and all that, but I don’t believe that people would have thought less of her if she just took a brief moment to consider what she was actually saying, if only so that she could be sure of sticking to her point or points, even if – and I’m only saying if – she secretly had good reason to believe that she wasn’t covering them as well as she liked. Or maybe she’s just pretentious and ignorant and not worth the title. Either way, seriously, if you are not helping on any given issue, being in love with the sound of your own voice and being desperate to be heard will not help; not that I am accusing her of these things without knowing the full story.

That said, this video is more than ten years old now, and has 67 million views – so can anyone say by now that they are any wiser as to what she meant to say? Myself, being a self-employed translator with plenty of ideas, I suggested looking at her speech from a perspective of it being translated into French and German – by a professional, of course – just to see where it leads. Admittedly, it most likely wasn’t worth the effort, but what are you going to do?

Let’s start by putting the text of what she said right here (for which I ask you to bear in mind that things like punctuation can be a bit ambiguous in this case, so bear in mind if – and I’m only saying if – they are not always properly accounted for).

“I personally believe that US Americans are unable to do so because some people out there in our nation don’t have maps and I believe that our education, like, such as in South Africa and Iraq – everywhere, like, such as… and… I believe that they should… our education over here in the US should help the US – should help South Africa and should help Iraq and the Asian countries so we will be able to build up our future for our children.”

In French:
“Personellement, je crois que la raison pour laquelle les américains ne peuvent pas faire cela est qu’il existe quelques personnes en notre nation qui n’ont pas de cartes géographiques et je crois que notre éducation, comme, comme en l’Afrique du Sud et en Irak – partout, comme, comme… et… je crois qu’ils devraient… notre éducation ici en les États Unis devrait aider les États-Unis – devrait aider l’Afrique du Sud et devrait aider Irak et les pays asiatiques pour que nous puissions construire notre avenir pour nos enfants.”

In German:
“Aus persönlicher Sicht glaube ich dass der Grund, warum Amerikaner das nicht machen können ist weil es einige Leute in unserer Nation gibt die keine Landkarten haben, und ich glaube dass unsere Ausbildung, wie, so es zum Beispiel in Sudakfrika und Irak ist – überall, wie, sowie… und… ich glaube, sie sollten… unsere Ausbildung hier in den Vereinigten Staaten sollte den Vereinigten Staaten helfen – sollte Sudafrika helfen und sollte Irak helfen und sollte den asiatischen Ländern helfen, damit wir unsere Zukunft für unsere Kinder aufbauen können.”

Maybe someone out there would care to try this with other semi-legitimate comments? Say what you will. I’m done here.

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