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Posts from 2013

[The most recent one is at the bottom.]

While my income-earning activity amounts to little more than sitting at a laptop searching for translation projects online, receiving them, doing them and sending them back, I can agree that, in this day and age, it is highly recommended for business owners to have a blog or a newsletter, or something like that; hence me having this business Facebook account and adding comments to it where I can. And of course I appreciate it every time someone takes the time to read comments I have included on my Facebook business account (for whatever reason). Having said that, it’s not as if the thing I offer (translation) is really something that frequently “changes with the times” clearly and conspicuously – certainly not like electrical products or music, for example (although the current situation with machine translators and CAT tools has certainly shaped the field of translation, including the translation profession).

In fact, in all candour, I would say that, given the details of what I specifically do in my role as an entrepreneur, the range of relevant things I could write about here while being confident about not sounding hopelessly flat or aimless, is very limited compared to certain other entrepreneur profiles. Although it’s all very well to write about the impact that something like society or the economy has on your own business activities or on your industry in general, if there’s one thing I refuse to do it’s to write a comment about every other translation project I’ve done ad nauseum – I just know that loads of those would get boring and repetitive to read; it would be stupid.
But I am determined to write about my experiences with some of my latest projects, for the simple reason that I do think it’s worth it on this occasion. And I’ll start this by talking about an ongoing translation project I’m doing which is translation of questionnaire responses related to Nokia products (French to English) – easy stuff, at least in theory. All these individual responses, of greatly varying length, are usually all written in casual French, and spelling mistakes and punctuation errors are common (this includes a lack of a full stop sometimes, so it takes a bit of time to identify where one sentence stops and another begins). Here’s an example (unedited):
“Très bon téléphone très fluide robuste mais pas de possibilités de changer la sonnerie des sms par un son perso accessoires façades + chargeur vraiment cher de plus la promo sur les accessoires n est valable que le jour de l achat (sachant qu ils n étaient pas dispo dans la boutique le jour de mon achat … Un petit geste commercial serait le bienvenue surtout pour un fidel de Nokia comme moi.”
They say that listening to your customers is only good business, but it’s hardly an exaggeration to say that not all customers are equal. And it’s not just about how much money they have or how likely they are to be interested in what you offer to begin with; at the end of the day, their various needs and wants dictate everything. They have different values and attitudes to the things they buy and consume; details of how they actually use what they buy from you are not always the same; some have this expectation or that expectation, some don’t; some will show this prejudice or that prejudice, some won’t. And when you keep seeing vague terms like “good” or “nice” or even “perfect” in customers’ feedback, you start to realise that they can’t ALWAYS be talking about the same thing / feature / idea every time they use one of these terms to describe it. One of the shorter comments that I have read in the original version of said project is, “Je n arrive pas a utiliser ce telephone.” Do they really mean, “I cannot use this telephone”? Or, on a more subtle level, is it more like, “I will not use this telephone!” i.e. “because from what I’ve seen so far with it, I think it’s a piece of c**p!” Just a thought. Another one is when I read, “je trouve que le Nokia musique est top”. Do they mean music composed by the Nokia staff or the Nokia theme? I don’t know, but then even if we knew the name of whoever posted this, it would be such a silly idea to try and track them down just to find that out! When I read “Quasiment genial!”, I first thing I thought was, “But who on Earth says ‘Almost great!’ in English?”… in the end I decided that the best thing to put as my translation of this was “It is great!” Good idea? You decide.
Another translation project I have done recently, also from French to English, was a couple of Powerpoint files talking about the French agricultural industry. When I read, “Un poids économique majeur”, I knew better than to translate “poids” literally as “weight”, which is why the English translation I eventually wrote for it was “a major economy player” – looking back, I suppose “contributor” would have been a better word – but the thing is that I put that even though the subject matter of the original material was not economics per se. When I read “La filière agroalimentaire” in the original, given the context in which I read it I just had to check it online; and one source I consulted translated it as “the food chain”, something which I suppose indeed shapes a country’s agricultural industry. I was originally going to put something along the lines of “the food industry” – but I also guessed that even if this were the correct meaning of “La filière agroalimentaire” in this context, there was every chance that the correct terminology might have been “agricultural sector” – “real government and politics discussion talk”, so to speak. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this document also talked about business in connection with the French agricultural industry, and I had to point out that I was not sure whether “Déficit d’image” meant “compromised / tarnished image” or “lack of exposure” (my project manager eventually said that it was “lack of exposure”).
A third translation project I have done recently was medical-related (this one French to English as well). Apparently, “Il est probable que” can mean, “It is likely that”, which is more than, “It is probable that”. And “patients non immunisés” can mean “non-immunised patients” or “non-immune patients”, the latter of which seemed odd to me at first.
And now I will talk about a fourth translation project I have done recently: about the recent activities of skiing products manufacturers, this one from German to English. One of my favourite bits of this in the original (in terms of thinking of a fitting English translation for it) was a headline that went, “Tourengehen leicht(er) gemacht”. I didn’t want to write anything square-wheeled and it didn’t feel right to put, “Touring made easy(er)” or “Touring made (more) easy, so what did I write at the end of the day? “Touring made (yet) easier.” I’m proud of myself for that idea.
18th January 2013

I’m guessing that it’s easy to say – or should that be “plead”? – that believing in things like power and beauty alone does not always amount to believing in worthy art, or something similar. Myself, I’ve heard it said often enough that translation is an art… and would be among the first to agree that believing in things like accuracy and clarity alone – and I won’t try to argue that that doesn’t sound vague – does not always amount to following the path of good translation.
I look back on all the translation work I have done since I started as a professional translator in 2008, and I want to make it clear that, for all the diligence and commitment to the correct message (not to mention linguistic inventiveness) that I’ve shown in it, it still finds a way to test my imagination from time to time. Granted, I’m extremely used to proofreading and editing, and to reading things that I have written down out aloud if only to ensure that the reader won’t be left guessing even if they do agree that it passes for good work. However, that alone wouldn’t suggest that I agree with the statement that the best translations are ones which do not read like translations. When someone doesn’t agree with a text that they know to be a translation of something, it is just too easy to blame the translator for… well, something. I would find it most frustrating to write a translation of something that succeeds in being loyal to the original in every respect but which encourages an attitude of the reader toward the subject matter of it that no-one could have predicted. If it’s a negative, possibly unfair impression or conviction – especially in the likely event that it will not always be acknowledged (possibly by even the very person it started with!), let alone discussed – then chances are that it will hang like an evil whisper in the air, all because of an innocent but unlucky (careless?) choice of expression on the part of no-one but myself.
The use of hypotheticals helps – but for the purpose of my work I have let it extend to “impossible hypotheticals”. Not like that English sign in a bar in Norway which read, “Ladies are requested not to have children in the bar.” As silly as what that makes people think is, it is still logically possible. I’m talking about obviously contrived interpretations of things I read, which just could never happen at all even if the sentence “makes sense” purely as a language creation, if you know what I mean. It’s probably easier to illustrate this using a sample from a language other than English: the German sentence, “Die Gabel hat Peter geworfen” can indeed mean “Peter threw the fork”, but it can also mean, “the fork threw Peter”; no-one would “buy” the latter over the former.
Let’s look at the sentence, “As far as we knew, it hadn’t been formally adopted due to the high cost of production – looks like we were wrong”. I believe that chances are that one will be coaxed to view this as the statement of someone who is admitting that they were wrong in their thinking that the thing had not been formally adopted, the reason being the high cost of producing it. I’d say that the “looks like we were wrong” bit at the end makes this especially likely. But here’s the catch: it’s not impossible that this could be the statement of someone admitting that they were wrong in their thinking that the thing had not been formally adopted… due not to the high cost of production, but for another reason – let’s say because the whole project was abolished by someone from above – even if said reason is not specified. This is rather subtle, but deliberately choosing not to specify the reason like this could be viewed as an attempt to twist the meaning of words or to distort the reality of a situation.
As I write this, it has reminded me of that time at school when some other people and I were reading Oscar Wilde’s “An Ideal Husband” in class and I was incarnating one of the characters, and there was a line that read, “I’m quite looking forward to meeting your clever husband, Lady Chiltern.” I read that line but made the mistake of saying the words “husband” and “Chiltern” in such a way that it suggested that Lady Chiltern was a man! …Definitely not!
That’s about the best explanation I can give of how, during a translation task, knowing how to read and write both languages properly may not always suffice. Even if you’re aware of relatively little-known language rules, like the whole comma splice thing in English. Indeed, there are plenty of people in the translation industry who have compiled glossaries devoted entirely to what is supposed to recognised as the “proper terminology”, which suggest rigid but sometimes hard to digest ideas about what people really mean (or “should” mean) when they say this, that or the other. (I suppose that this is the kind of mentality that Eurocrats are notorious and ridiculed for.)
On my website, I show “Communication needs the right words” as my motto. Compare this to that of this translation company http://de-office.eu/: “Communication comes first.” I really do feel like that explains my own motto better than I do! Let’s not forget that there is the “communication” of an individual statement, but there’s also “communication” in general: how it really is in relation to what we do, past present and future.
4th February 2013

I’m sure that I just missed something out with my last business Facebook comment – I’d say that this is the best I can add to it.
I’m sure it won’t be hard to understand what I’m talking about when I say that translating for a living is just fundamentally different from the translation work I did during my language classes back at school / university; mainly because I always do it for someone other than myself – as it is, I don’t even expect to be informed of their identity with more than 90% of the translation projects I accept!
The so-called “art of translation”, what is that exactly? I’ve stumbled on the idea of comparing “reading without trying” vs. “reading with trying”. You just know as well as I do that people tend to do the former all the time – certainly when they’re reading things written down in their mother tongue – although they may think of it as more like the latter when they are trying to “read between the lines”… whether that’s something related to reading a newspaper story or something else entirely. And while accepting translation as an art may well help to bring out your creative side when you do translation, I would dismiss translation as an art in the sense that, when I do it, I’m “not here to be expressive, but to be reflective.” In other words, personal preconceptions or prejudices must never be allowed to get in the way of my reasoning of the material that I am supposed to convey the meaning of in a new language; and I would say that that indicates an example of the difference between the concept of “objective” and the concept of “subjective” if there ever was one.
Not that it stops with what I acknowledge in the source material. I am compelled to “try to read” the English translation I write because, even if a translation does its job in theory, people can still get ideas in connection what it’s supposed to be about that I never intended; and then who would be “to blame” if not me? I talked about hypotheticals in my last comment. I embrace these hypotheticals not just in the domain of reasoning of what I understand in the original version in a translation project, but also in the domain of what I actually write in the translation product. What follows is an example of the latter rather than the former. This week I did a translation of a technical document for which one translation sentence I wrote was, “If higher settings are required please inform Fram.” I needed no help to look at that sentence out of context (in detachment), and that’s why I asked myself, “should I add the word ‘accordingly’ on the end or not?” For choosing not to add it would suggest the idea of merely informing Fram that higher settings were required; but to me, adding “accordingly” on the end suggests a little bit more than that. For a moment, I put myself in the shoes of the user: I find that “to inform Fram accordingly” here (as opposed to “to inform Fram”) means to inform Fram not just of the fact that higher settings are required, but with the inclusion of details of exactly what higher settings are actually required. And I thought of this without being briefed on what might constitute applicable settings.
And that’s that.
6th February 2013

Breaking news: I’ve started using CAT tools in my professional translation work! Isn’t that great? I’ve wanted to start using CAT tools in my work for ages.
I recently got a translation job from an agency in the Netherlands for which they expected me to use MemoQ, and they helped me get myself established with it, including providing me with a licence. Since then, I’ve been able to confirm being able to do this project using this software, and that they’ve received some sections of it the way that they expect.
I think that only professional translators use software like MemoQ. It’s not like most software. It’s “online software” which you save on your hard drive after you download it, but I have to log in and keep synchronising the work so that it will be updated online – and I have to know exactly which version is being used, because if I get it wrong, I won’t be able to use it for a given project in the first place!
How MemoQ works: it has one column on the left with many rows, and it takes the content of the text to be translated and puts the sentences in this column, one sentence per row. For each row, you write your translation of the sentence in the column on the right. And it’s helpful in that it has a built-in glossary and suggests multiple translations of certain individual words that it picks out in the original; depending on the word in question, these suggestions may vary greatly. Apparently, the French word “phénomène” can mean “phenomenon” or “effect” in English! That’s one thing I didn’t know. I really do agree that I can depend on it to help me identify the correct terminology in places.
If I’m not mistaken, Trados – which, in my experience, is more commonly used – is pretty similar, as are certain other packages. I look forward to learning more CAT tools soon!
15th February 2013

One person who has recently offered to connect with me on LinkedIn is Susana Hourbeigt, whose profile lists her as a “Personal Assistant to Bemberg Group President” in Argentina. According to her background, she actually a completed a postgraduate degree in “reverse translation” in 2007… so what is that all about?
Maybe she’s become particularly accomplished at translating FROM her mother tongue (Spanish) rather than to it, in which case good for her. (By the way, I can promise that I have done professional translation work from English into French and German before; but rest assured that I do try to avoid taking my chances.) Or maybe it’s a concept born out of taking on more challenging translation work, where the person doing it, even if they have proven themselves for translation talent, fully agrees that getting it right is going to be a frustrating experience at nearly every turn and they think that sometimes they will just need to have to find a non-straightforward and unusual (if carefully considered) solution and hope for the best. Maybe “reverse translation” is something that is meant to address more elusive translation concepts, like getting the terminology right. Having said that, even today I wonder whether or not I have commented on correct terminology in the field of translation as much and definitively as I can – I feel I should be doing this, at least, considering that I am a self-employed translator.
These days I note two different kinds of “literal translation”. The first is the obvious kind, like with that English sign in a French hotel next to a lift in it which was no doubt written by a French person, for what it read was, “Persons ignorant of the maneuvers of the ascenseur are prayed to address themselves to the concierge” – in proper English, what is meant here is, “Persons who don’t understand how the lift works should ask the concierge”, and I know this because I speak French well enough that I could work out the French that the English used in the sign was based on, it was something like: “Personnes qui sont ignorantes des manoeuvres de l’ascenseur sont priées de s’adresser au concierge”. This purely speculated French does “make sense to me” in that I have understood it correctly, so to speak, even if it is not the kind of French that I would use myself, but then that shouldn’t be much of a surprise.
And the second kind of “literal translation” is the sort that readers more contrive to find. I’ll provide an example of this kind later.
It is based on this that I’m going to be writing about proper terminology again in this article, referring to two recent translation projects I have done.
The first translation project in question was an accident report, from French to English. One section heading in the original material read, “Présentation de l’entreprise”, and in my translation I wrote, “Presentation of the company” for it. Now, to me, although this works quite well, I really should have put “Description of the company”, as true as it is that when native speakers of English hear the word “presentation” in English, what they think of is usually rather different compared to what they think when they hear the word “description” in English. And I would regard both as commonly used words – certainly more common than jargon and all that. After all, to me, out of context, if one read “Presentation of the company” in my translation here without looking at the rest of the document, they’d probably guess that it was more like advertising of said company rather than the accident report that this project was. Does this make sense?
The second of these translation projects was a medical report, from German to English. I kept seeing the word “auffällig” in the original – I have seen the same word more than once in other German medical reports just like this one. It pertains to investigation of the patient and a common translation of it in English is “inconspicuous”, as in “inconspicuous findings” / “nothing irregular noted”. But I recently started believing that my use of the word “inconspicuous” as my translation of “auffällig” in writing my English version of such material would be taken by some as a “literal translation”. I’ve started viewing “inconspicuous” as the translated word for “auffällig” as seen in German medical reports, as an example of the second kind of “literal translation” mentioned above. So what do I put as my translation of “auffällig” in this context? Strangely enough, it’s not even an alternative adjective, but rather “no findings” or anything that fits around that.
I feel like saying that this article went on longer than I thought. Then again, as far as I’m concerned, I can’t afford not to be thorough when I do a professional translation project. And that’s why I’m ending thus: is the sentence, “The following diagram provides a good explanation” a complete or an incomplete sentence?
28th February 2013

Recently in my work as a professional translator I have been focussing on pre-set expressions, and asking myself whether or not they go against the astute linguistic creativity I am ever ready to exemplify in my translation projects.
Although I agree that it is never a good idea to translate “literally” (even if a given literal translation would reflect the intended meaning of the original albeit in a weird and likely difficult-to-follow way), sometimes in my translation work, when I am writing English sentences that are translation sentences of something in French or German, I have no problem writing “help sentences” before I formally decide on and write down the one that is actually to be applied. In the earliest stages of the translation process, I am not too worried about writing a “rough” sentence that may well be “square-wheeled” as long as a) the individual sentence fragments are properly defined; and b) it reflects consideration of every single word in the original (after all, I don’t want to omit any information in my translation product) even if I am not utterly convinced that I have no need to revise the English translation meaning I have attributed to any word that I have acknowledged in the original. The application of an enhanced level of literacy to write a final translation version that is likely to be easily understood and followed by any reader – something that is essentially as reader-friendly as possible – can wait.
After all, when one is translating it cannot be over-emphasised how important it is to write something that doesn’t solely “make sense” only in the way that it is wholly correct language of the target language. It is important that the translation be loyal to the original in meaning, and the reader, who would normally be receptive to ideas suggested in the translated text to at least some extent, should be able to clearly grasp ideas that are credible considering the subject matter and know that they have grasped them, together with being able to re-identify independently exactly what bits in the translation document instilled in them the convictions in question. Hence, the art of real translation indeed extends beyond the art of language – beyond resolving to get your grammar or word order or punctuation etc. correct; beyond being eager to see what you think when you decide to try stating a given idea this way, or seeing what happens when you use that linguistic construction. I’m talking about the requirement that those who do it be in touch with the “art” of experience and the kind of imagination that can probably only be described as a commitment to and pursuit of common sense.
Once again I find myself echoing a point that I have seen stated in more than one place: the prevalent assertion that the best translations are the ones which don’t read like translations. It may seem like a paradox, but who wouldn’t say that that’s the case. I believe that anyone who has read something in their mother tongue before being told or finding out that it was actually a translation from another language and being surprised by the same, would vouch for the truth in that. The “help sentences” I mentioned in the first paragraph are sentences which, while they are (at least in my case) the output of careful consideration of what I read in the original material and they “make sense” on both on a level of proper language in the translated material and at the level of common sense as far as the subject matter is concerned, ultimately may (just may) still be “too literal”, and what this means is that it is likely that one would (correctly) guess that it is a translation of something else.
Call this a generalisation, but some people are more suspecting than others when it comes to reading something that is a translation i.e. being able to judge that something that they are reading which is a translation of something, is indeed a translation, without any prior suggestion of the same beforehand. But when I talk of people being “suspecting” here, let me also proclaim the idea that one can also be “suspecting” or “unsuspecting” with regard to the subject matter that is supposed to be imparted in something they are reading which is a translation of something (whether or not they know or suspect that said material is indeed translation material is irrelevant) – or maybe it would better to say “wary” or “non-wary”. I would suggest that my best work is when I have mustered a translation which would be capable of convincing someone about its subject matter when they are NOT wary of it – I would encourage anyone to cherish and think about that one.
I suppose the perfect translator doesn’t exist. But however highly any of my clients may think of me, I would just do well to remember certain common expressions in English when translating certain things from French or German into English. Even if it is the case that literal translations (can) work – and not “work” in that the text in question CAN be understood (with effort) even if the particular words make it genuinely peculiar and / or hard to follow – time and again, after I have finished translated something I find myself recalling a certain English expression that is pretty much a “default” expression, which it somehow seems silly that I didn’t initially appropriate as my translation of a certain bit in the original. It’s just that I agree that, sometimes in translation work, it is actually well worth considering the use of certain individual words in the translated material whose equivalents are NOT present at the corresponding place in the original material, or purposely omitting certain individual words in the original material, not to include their equivalents in the translation material. In a nutshell, it’s about paraphrasing for the sake of effect and clarity. For example, it was only recently that I learned that it is said that the phrase “Revenge is a dish best served cold” is said to have originated from the French novel “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” by Choderlos de Laclos; on its Wikipedia article one can read the French phrase “La vengeance est un plat qui se mange froid”. Translating that phrase literally would result in one ending up with “Revenge is a dish that it is eaten cold” (if not “Revenge is a dish which eats itself cold”, which any native speaker of English can see makes no sense). English “Revenge is a dish best served cold” is but a product of paraphrasing and it’s not hard to argue that it is more effective than “Revenge is a dish which is eaten cold”.
But, to go back to the subject of my work, I have noticed an improved ability to think of parallels of this independently when I am translating something for someone else who we both know has put their faith in me to do it right. And this is what has been the source of my income from October 2008 to this day…
Look at these examples, taken from certain past translation jobs:
German: “Brandschutztüren”
This German word literally means “fire protection doors“, which I suppose works well enough as it is true that everyone knows that they are a safety thing, and that they are not there for the so-called “protection of fire”! But “fire doors” is the more commonly used expression in English – it just didn’t strike me straight away, for some reason.
German: “Die Türen müssen immer geschlossen sein und dürfen nicht unterkeilt oder arretiert werden.”
English: “The doors must be kept closed and may not be wedged or locked.”
The German sentence, “Die Türen müssen immer geschlossen sein” may mean, “The doors must always be closed”, but I felt that to say “kept closed” better reflected commitment to safety / following the safety guidelines in place that are under discussion here.
German: “Jeder Externe muss von den internen Sunrise-Kontaktpersonen am Desk abgeholt und dort auch wieder verabschiedet werden. ”
English: “Every external person must be registered by the internal Sunrise contact persons at the desk, and dismissed at the same place.”
Misunderstandings can occur when someone is left with a conviction of something based on something that they have heard or read which is not the one that the speaker / writer sought to leave them with. The reason I included a comma after the word “desk” in the English version (even though there isn’t one after “Desk”in the German version) is that the registration and the dismissal would not happen at the same time. But that’s just what I think.
German: “Der Sortimentsumfang bietet mit acht unterschiedlichen Bürstensorten jedem Zahnzwischenraum die optimal angepasste und effektive Reinigung.”
English: “With eight different brush types, the range is able to muster the best adapted and most effective cleaning solution for every between-teeth place.”
In the English version I made a point of including the word “solution”.
German: “Das neue Ebnat Oral Care Sortiment lässt sich sehen.”
English: “The new Ebnat Oral Care range is impressive.”
The German version could be translated literally as “The new Ebnat Oral Care range lets itself be seen”, but as it’s a marketing text there is every reason to believe that it should be read as more than being about letting this product be seen; surely the marketer would want it to be read as like, “this product distinguishes itself.”
German: “bis zum Beweis des Gegenteils”
English: “Until proven otherwise”
The German word “Gegenteil” is composed of the words “Gegen”, meaning “against”, and “Teil”, meaning “apart”, but here it means nothing like “opposing part” or “opposing side”or anything like that. It is supposed to be understood as “until proof of the opposite ”. This is a reminder of how not all languages work the same way, and that some use constructions which are not found in others. I would have put “until proof of the opposite ” if not for the fact that, in my experience, “Until proven otherwise” is a much more common English expression.
German: “Die Standpunkte haben sich angenähert, indem in Deutschland voreheliche Vereinbarungen einer gewissen Inhaltskontrolle unterzogen werden und in England voreheliche Vereinbarungen ein Element bei der Beurteilung der finanziellen Folgen der Scheidung geworden sind.”
English: “The viewpoints became more aligned when pre-nuptial agreements in Germany became subject to certain content control regulations while in England pre-nuptial agreements became an element in assessing the financial impact of divorce.”
In this example, the Geman word “angenähert”, of “annähern”, refers to the viewpoints, and to say that viewpoints which become more aligned have as such become “closer” sort of works, but at the end of the day is just too literal, especially if you are not accustomed reading this sort of thing.
French: “Outre les éléments relevés précédemment…”
English: “In addition to the items noted above…”
This French example is taken from a French-to-English contract translation project. The clause “Outre les éléments relevés précédemment” is capable of misleading because it is not referring to items that were noted at some earlier point in time, but to items indicated earlier in the text of the document in question. Hence the paraphrasing “In addition to the items noted above” in the English translation.
29th March 2013

At last, my new business video’s up on the Internet.
1st April 2013

Although this comment isn’t related to what I do professionally per se, it is very relevant to entrepreneurial life, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see its content shape my own professional life at some point in the future.
Having spent money on various business advice packages and related events with Chris Cardell, I remember certain things that he’s said to me. One of them is that it’s a myth that people buy primarily based on price. He says that if everyone always bought whatever was cheapest, everyone would be wearing the cheapest clothes, driving around in the cheapest cars, eating out in the cheapest restaurants and blah blah blah. And no-one would have iPhones – he recently told me this again in one of his advertising videos, and when he said that he produced an iPhone, saying no-one would have them.
But I got to thinking: wouldn’t people buy iPhones if, against all odds, they were the cheapest thing on the market? Or would they not exist at all? Part of me thinks that, if everyone did always buy the cheapest stuff, then iPhones wouldn’t exist, and although I don’t own one myself… how sad would that be?
I’m sorry – what a stupid thing to say. No-one would be sad that iPhones didn’t exist, precisely BECAUSE they had never been invented!
15th April 2013

I continue doing pretty well as a self-employed translator (which is very comforting to know when the economy’s like this). It will soon be time for me to make the really big step of starting to get to know Internet marketing at a fundamental level, and learn how to spot trends in it and stuff; but I also want to get registration with the Institute of Linguists or something similar pretty soon.
In short, I’m fairly confident that it won’t be long before I’m playing at a level higher than merely looking for translation agencies to send my CV out to, doing this and then doing translation work as and when it comes along; which is what I want. After all, I’m sure most people would agree that not ALL important “things” in business speak for themselves.
Even so, nobody’s perfect, and I’ve been fighting the war against translation errors (real or imagined) a lot more resolutely lately. A case in point: one of my latest projects was a very small German to English one about motor racing, whose headline went “Rennabwicklung bei widrigen Bedingungen”. A literal translation of that in English would be like “Racing handling in adverse conditions.” But when I started the project I decided on “racing performance”, thinking that it was about drivers’ approaches to racing in adverse conditions.
But as I was doing it, I noted that what it was really all about was how the organisers of racing events manage the races in adverse conditions. Hence, when I did my final proof of the project at the end – as confident as I was that I had done a “good” job – I was just compelled to change the title from “racing performance” to “racing conduct”.
Also, I translated “Mischbedingungen” as “erratic conditions” rather than “mixed conditions”.
16th April 2013

In my last comment I talked about moving up professionally. Well, there is “general translation” and “specialist translation”. But not all specialist translation is equally specialist. Sure, I’ve done my share of translation projects where actual familiarity with the subject matter was required, but what is “too specialist” when it comes to what I do?
I am effectively a professional linguist, so how about I invoke an example related to what I do (language)? It does seem to me that chances are that a fair number of people who are poorly educated won’t have a clue what a “noun”, an “adjective” or a “verb” is. Yet these are things that people use all the time, in basic conversation, AND they are just so easy to define. A noun is a word which relates to an object; it’s a label of something. An adjective is a word which indicates a characteristic about a noun. And a verb is a word denoting some kind of action. It’s as simple as that.
But I have also tried to think about this further, and I would say that, sometimes, a phrase or sentence is a whole lot less complicated than it may sound. For example, take “conducting research”. You might think that “conducting research” usually means something that is anything but straightforward, and that a person cannot do it without leaving their own personal comfort zone.
But take this scenario: a young child’s father is away, and their mother has told them that he will be coming home on Day X. The child believes it, but agrees for himself / herself that it would nice if they could know exactly (or roughly) what time he will be home – it’s just that, as far as they’re concerned, their mother doesn’t know when it will be; or else wouldn’t she have said so at the time she said that he was coming home on Day X at all? However, the child knows that their father left for wherever he was going on a train from their local station – maybe he / she was there at the station and his / her father gave them a hug goodbye before boarding the train; you can imagine that that happened if you want.
Anyway, the child has an idea. He / she does happen to know where their father went, as well as the company of the train he should be arriving home on (they overheard it in a conversation between their parents or whatever). He / she walks past the train station when walking to / from school. Before Day X, on one occasion when they walk past the train station they walk up to it for a bit, to have a look at the timetables, so they can find out the times when trains will be arriving at their local station in the evening of Day X. Put two and two together and they will agree, “Well, if a train [which is a train of the company that their father will be arriving home on] will be arriving here at so-and-so time in the evening of Day X, that means that Daddy should be at home about fifteen minutes after this.” To me, the child’s looking at the timetables for this reason is essentially an example of “conducting research”.
17th April 2013

Does “language character” exist? Why is it that sometimes people say that a language is “nice” or “horrible”? Does that even make sense? Sometimes I get asked to “proofread something in UK English rather than US English”, and I’m still none the wiser…
When I talk about “language character” in this post, I don’t mean how its nature depends on what words are used. I’m not talking about register, about how it may or may not be formal or dramatic or casual or whatever (as in how “You are kindly requested not to consume food within in this area” and “Nobody eat any f**king nosh round here” may mean the same thing, but they are indeed different in nature: people are often discouraged from saying the latter rather than the former for obvious reasons).
I am very fond of the old comedy TV series “Mind Your Language”, where Barry Evans plays a teacher who teaches English as a foreign language in an evening class. Although you can still get it on DVD and watch it on Youtube, according to Wikipedia they stopped showing it when someone said that the national stereotyping of the students was offensive. What a pity. Sure, it’s not particularly unlikely that the natives of a country will regard foreigners there as “different” – and not unlikely that they will not keep quiet about it – but that’s no reason to believe that the natives will be intent on victimising the foreigners just because they are different. …Well, isn’t it? Surely that would be as ridiculous as it would be shameful?
I can just about appreciate that sometimes it’s the case that, even if foreigners in a given country are not mistreated by the natives as such, they are simply fed up – maybe even a bit upset – of the natives having prejudiced (if innocent) views and opinions about them. They must feel so irked sometimes at natives appearing ignorant as to who they really are, labelling them as only, for example, “Mr. Beret and Baguette” if they’re French, or “Ching Chong Rice Lover” if they’re Chinese, or, in my case, “That Jolly Good Fellow Who Loves Drinking Tea And Playing Cricket” (I don’t play cricket, by the way), and persistently attributing unnecessary humour to it. But uncomfortable? Maybe it’s something you only get used to after you’ve travelled the world enough. It is of course fine to be proud of where you’re from, but no-one should forget that, ultimately, foreigners are as foreigners do. It’s not enough to state that “foreigners are what they are” – foreigners make themselves what they are. Just like any human being, really.
So what has this got to do with “language character”? Well, sometimes when I want to send an application for freelance work with a translation agency and I say that I translate into English (mainly), sometimes I specifically get asked whether this is “British English” or “American English”. I don’t really think of the two as “different” except for how the Americans say things like “sidewalk” rather than “pavement” and “candy” rather than “sweets”; and they leave out the “u” in words like “colour” and “favour”; and end words like “recognise” with “-ize” rather than “-ise” and so on.
Some people in Britain like to make jokes about how the Americans “don’t speak English properly”; they will virulently claim that it is British English is the correct, conventional, standard form of the language. There can be little doubt that these are the same British people who say “Americans are stupid”, as if that alone is enough to suggest that they can speak with authority about the Americans. But there are people whose English is not their first language who speak it very well, and very bad users of it in London, Oxford and Cambridge. Are we encouraged to regard British English as categorically different from American English merely because of popular opinion about “what British / American people are like”?
At the end of the day, even if Americans actually are… less bright than the British, it does seem to me that these attitudes encourage stereotyping. Is this why I’ll likely never see the fourth series of Mind Your Language?
Sometimes when I’m filling in an application form and I mention that I translate from French and German: if it’s French I specifically get asked if it’s French (France), French (Canada), French (Belgium) or whatever; if it’s German I might specifically get asked if it’s German (Germany), German (Austria) or “German (Switzerland). So how are the variants of those different, not just in linguistic concepts, but in character?
Isn’t anyone going to tell me?
25th April 2013

Well, I’ve just spent another day ensconced in the study in my house doing what I do for a living: translation. It’s quiet, and no-one bothers me. But another day’s work well done. Even if the conditions are anything but tough – when I listened to one of Chris Cardell’s lectures this afternoon, making notes, I was actually lying on my bed – the work itself is far from without challenges.
But it can get very monotonous sometimes, not that I don’t try to avoid adopting routine behaviours and attitudes to excess when I do my work. My readiness to be inventive wherever necessary – or should that be wherever possible? – tends to pay off. I’ve been doing this for four and a half years and there are still times when I feel a little surprised by some of the stuff I read that I am expected to translate. Which is harder: challenging what you know or challenging what you think you know? I can’t tell.
Here’s my latest collection of examples:
German to English
“Alles auf einen Blick – Dinge in der Ostschweiz, die man gesehen haben muss.”
“Everything at a glance – things in East Switzerland which have to be seen.”
That’s the proper translation. Not “which one must have seen”. Every native English speaker would agree that that suggests something else entirely.
German to English
“Das sichere und mit 23 Pistenkilometern überschaubare Gebiet ist wie geschaffen für Familien mit Kindern”
“The secure and manageable area, with 23 km of slopes, is perfect for families with children”.
In the original version, “wie geschaffen” literally means “as if created”, but it’s supposed to be read, so to speak, as “perfect”.
German to English
“Geniessen Sie eine Reise vom tosenden Rheinfall aufwärts an das Bodenseeufer, in den Thurgau mit Obstplantagen wohin das Auge reicht.”
“Enjoy a journey from the thundering Rhine Falls up to the shores of Lake Constance, into Thurgau – your eyes will catch sight of the orchards there.”
This one really had me wondering. Where it says “mit Obstplantagen wohin das Auge reicht”: when I submitted the project in question I had to ask if its real meaning in English was like, “with orchards as far as the eye can see.” I speak German pretty well but to me, this is a good example of a foreign language expression that is beyond me, not because it’s really tough linguistically, but because it just looks like an expression that only a native would use; one that is just too abstruse for a non-native speaker to think of – be it on the spot or if they were preparing a speech in a given foreign language, if you know what I mean.
French to English
“10 techniques pour faire connaître son site et générer du trafic”
This is the title of an article in French I found on LinkedIn, which I would translate into English as, “10 techniques to get your site known and generate traffic.” But there is one thing. If not for the “et générer du traffic” bit, I would definitely have thought that the “faire connaitre son site” bit meant “to get to know one’s site” (and that’s hardly straightforward – likely requiring any number of actions, simple or not so simple).
French to English
“C’est un parcours aux paysages changeants : les formes, les matières et les lumières évoluent au fil du parcours, participant ainsi à la stratégie du jeu.”
“It is a journey into a changing landscape: the shapes, the materials and the lights change across the course, thus contributing the strategy of the game.”
Is that really a correct translation? When you think about it, only the players “contribute” to the strategy of the game. The environment will merely affect it / have a bearing on it (possibly).
What do you think of when nothing makes sense? I say that not as some kind of philanthropist, but as a guardian of quality in my work; like when I need a bit more convincing that my translation of this, that or the other actually will do what is expected of it – and no-one else is going to any such convincing, after all. When this happens, I would say that it challenges what I can fathom in terms of synonym expressions and figurative language; something I enjoy as a perk in my work (usually). These things are surely easy to accept as key aspects of verbal creativity. And, as I write this, I think of freestyle rap battling – ever seen 8 Mile? – and one of the best ones I can find on Youtube is this one of Anecdote and 360 vs Prime and Purpose, in Australia. Not all of their statements are based on actual events or anything, but it’s still nothing short of amazing to think that they didn’t prepare it (as far as I know, anyway).

I would love to be able to do that. But go to 2:00, where it’s Anecdote who’s “spitting”, and he talks about Prime and Purpose being delivered in hearses. Surely it’s easy to think of something that passes as a synonym for being delivered in hearses / what it reflects. He doesn’t talk about Prime and Purpose being dead per se, but I’d say that it’s the case that the only reason he mustered a passable reference to them being dead is that he merely thought about them being dead at all – while it made sense, it was a somewhat irregular statement by the standards of everyday parlance, if you know what I mean; but it was just the rhyming of it that counted. But back to the topic at hand: it‘s hardly that different from saying that, thanks to him, they will soon be “infested by maggots”, or “marked by large stones” i.e. gravestones or whatever.
So what do I really have to say about what I’ve done today? It really does seem that it’s practically impossible for me to discuss fully how my own imagination helps me in my work. But I‘m going to end this comment with a question: what if I suggested that if not even one’s imagination made sense when nothing else does, is a sign of madness?
15th May 2013

On Monday 20th May I went to Chris Cardell’s Internet Revolution 2013 event in London (Hilton Metropole Hotel, Edgware Road). It was clear to me that Cardell was trying to get us to review our characters (our mindset) as well as the entrepreneurial techniques we used; which, I suppose, is supposed to be par for the course in everything he does. This isn’t the first time I’ve been to a Chris Cardell thing and I fully believe that he endeavours to get his visitors to view him as a bold (not just knowledgeable) kind of person. And why not? This is a man who was once more than £100,000 in debt – that’s more than the whole of what I’ve earned since I became an entrepreneur back in 2008! – and he now runs a £20 million business.
Here’s some more evidence to back up this claim, in something I received from him titled “A Personal Message from Chris Cardell”:
“If you’d met me when I was five years old, you would have met a very different person. I was so shy I wouldn’t look people in the eye. I was having speech therapy because I couldn’t speak properly.
If you’d met me when I was 13, you’d have met a very different person. I wasn’t doing well at school. I was a rebel with nowhere to go. I still wasn’t looking people in the eye and my teachers were convinced I was heading for a life of… not much.
If you’d met me at 21, you’d have met a very different person. I had overcome much of the above and was now a successful radio broadcaster. I thought I knew it all. I was wrong.
If you’d met me at 28, you’d have met a very financially broke person. I had decided to become an Entrepreneur and had managed to create debt of well over £100,000. I had no obvious way to direct my talents. I had started to discover the basics of Marketing and PR but frankly, I was all over the place.
Then Everything Changed…
When I first discovered Advanced Thinking…”
Indeed, when I went to his event on 19th and 20th October, he was keen to tell us sometimes amusing stories of his earlier life.
I have played with the purely made-up idea that, when Vanessa Carlton, whom I’m very fond of, released an album called, “Be Not Nobody”, her implicit “real” message was, “Forget about trying to be ‘the true you’; seek to be ‘a’ true you!” But I would agree a lot more readily that Chris encourages us to develop goals which are conducive to our entrepreneurial lives (during this event he made it clear that he doesn’t tell us how to run our businesses. He only tells us what works.). He certainly discourages us from having a business website which only really says, “This is us, this is what we do, give us a call if you need anything” and leaving it at that. He specifically said that.
In this paragraph I will look at the probable reasons why I am prone to regarding translation as monotonous. When I sit down for another day at this job: for all my prowess in it I don’t usually expect to remember anything particular about it for a long time, possibly the rest of my life; like when Chris encouraged us to remember certain, shall we say, entertaining things about him from the aforementioned stories of his earlier life. I mean, if you are honest with yourself, what specific things would you expect people to remember about you in, say, a job interview? Or a date? Just things that stand out and “identify” you, and not for all the wrong reasons, do you know what I mean? I tell you, I have watched my new business video and found just myself going, “…yep…that’s me. …great” in a somewhat bland way, as if I only half-appreciated it, or appreciated it but didn’t relish it as much as someone else might think.
Between the advice that Chris Cardell gives everyone who goes to his seminars, and his reminders of the importance of implementation (those are very common), he said that it’s a myth that successful people don’t have problems. It’s how they handle them that counts. In fact, in the August 2012 edition of Business Breakthroughs the article on the very first page has the title, “Are you failing enough?” …Somehow I’m actually “proud” of this near-mistake I made in a recent translation project:
German: “Die Daten selber sind gemäss Aussage von Saulius Grakavinas um 08.00 Uhr bereit”
English: “The data itself is ready by around 08:00, according to Saulius Grakavinas.“
…not “as per the decrees of Saulius Grakavinas”, like I originally thought; but I DID understand from an earlier point in the document that this guy Saulius was a project manager – and remembered it.
Sometimes in my work there is ambiguity as to whether the ideas I have for my translation of things are correct or not. In the same project as that referenced above, I saw “IST-Situation” in the original – “Actual situation” or “Current situation”? It’s not like I don’t compare it with “aktuell” (German) and “actuel” (French), words which are well known as faux amis.
26th May 2013

It is easy for someone to ask, “Am I an accurate translator?” I can provide good evidence that I am. But I don’t ignore that “accurate” can be vague here – the good news is that I’m not reluctant to discuss it at length.
There used to be a time in my career as a translator when, every so often, I took a bit of time to take some words out of my French of German dictionary and write them in a notebook, with English translations, for the purpose of broadening my French and German vocabulary just like I did at school. I’ve ended up not really that concerned about doing that any more, mainly because I want to spend more time and energy focussing Internet marketing; which is precisely why I went to Chris Cardell’s “Internet Revolution 2013” in London recently. Of course, I can’t help but appreciate that French and German native speakers are more inventive with the words of their own language than I am; and it’s not just about multiple stand-alone meanings. I’m talking about idioms and proverbs and that sort of thing. If I had to do more to keep my French and German up to date – without paying for trips to France and Germany – I would try looking for native speakers on Facebook.
When I’m doing anything that involves reckoning with vocabulary of English and French or German, I am aware that not all words, and their counterparts, have the same status. Slang words are definitely of lower status, there’s no doubt about that. But I have no idea what name people give to certain categories of manufactured words which are not without an air of humour (if that’s what you call it) attributed to them.
Like “Sheeple” (I know I’ve talked about this in a comment dated 14th November 2012). A portmanteau of “sheep” and “people”, it refers to those people who always follow the crowd, not showing any independent thought of their own. This is a word that actually has its own Wikipedia article, if you can believe that.
“Embiggen”, taken from the episode of the Simpsons “Lisa the Iconoclast”, is a different kind of “manufactured word”: it is supposed to be recognised as a transitive verb that basically means to make something bigger – who has ever argued with that? Many know it to be a token of humour – even though many “get” it, no-one uses it, and everyone knows it. Like I said, how do you refer to words like that?
Seeing as I have mentioned the so-called word “embiggen”, I thought I might as well say that I am aware that that word is listed in urbandictionary.com, which I’ve definitely referred to in an earlier comment here (6th December 2012). It is easy to regard urbandictionary.com as only a list of slang expressions – so many that even very complacent and idle teenagers aren’t likely to have heard of all of them. And it’s not the case that each expression always has the same nuances for every individual person. Some of them are nouns, some of them are adjectives, some of them denote actions within a given interest (usually something of some sort of “cool” nature) where a lot of people who do not pursue that interest would have definite frustrations as far as understanding it is concerned. But it also has expressions that are nouns or adjectives or which denote actions pertaining to phenomena outside of the realm of popular culture, which all kinds of people – not just teenagers, or ostensibly the cool (or the uncool) crowd – do.
But if I could also bring up something more relevant to my work: I was recently given some German-to-English translation work with a style sheet that was unusually prescriptive (by the standards of my experience, anyway); among other things, it mandated that non-breaking spaces be used between individual words within a brand name and in certain other circumstances. A non-breaking space, as explained in its very own Wikipedia article, is a kind of space which essentially prevents the words / characters on either side of it from being separated at the end of a line in an electronic document; whatever happens, they will always be on the same line, as if they were a single word. The style sheet explained how to implement them, and implement them I did; and chances of me forgetting how to do it are minimal. But I don’t wish to talk about non-breaking spaces as such; I want to refer to the name that the Germans use for them, specifically the German expression for them I first came across, in the style sheet of the project in question: “geschützte Leerzeichen”, literally translated as “protected spaces”. I got to thinking that, had I come across this expression in school, in any material which did not include anything that specifically explained what they are like this style sheet did, I never would have guessed that it meant “non-breaking spaces” (but back then I didn’t I even know what “non-breaking spaces” were or what they could have been. It sounds crazy, doesn’t it?).
Final note: if there is a word for that feeling you get when you don’t know whether or not to feel (or look) offended, then I don’t know it. Maybe I should make one up?
28th May 2013

This is a link to my earliest business blogs, which I was writing as early as 2009:
28th May 2013

This is a second link to earlier business blogs:
28th May 2013

I do most of my work in the form of translation projects for translation agencies abroad, online. Probably the most frustrating thing about my work is when, after I have submitted a completed translation project to someone who is the project manager allocated to it, that project manager gets back to me insisting that they have something to say about certain English expressions that I have used in my translated product, even though their mother tongue is not English like mine is. Sometimes they merely point out minor typos but from time to time they also make very good but unexpected correction suggestions that I am compelled to agree with, or at least appreciate whole-heartedly. This happens even though I undertake my work with great care: I’m committed to thorough consideration and scrutinising of the content of the original as well as the expressions I use in my translation product. I certainly know that a casual and “rush” approach when translating anything that is supposed to be formal in some way is a very bad idea. But there are times when I struggle to translate a really difficult phrase in French or German with confidence and conviction, but I always put something that reflects a definite level of consideration and a diligent and sincere approach, even if I do have to insert a note which points out that I am not too sure about it.
I have worked for people in countries all over the world: the list includes the Czech Republic, Thailand, Lithuania, and Ecuador to name a few. I definitely don’t always speak the native language of the project manager giving me a translation project. But when they do have something in my translation work to criticise, sometimes I wonder if it was something to do with the learning of their own language which helped them to catch what I missed, or imagine something that I, for all my own education and knowledge, just couldn’t. Ultimately it is a matter of what they “see in the material”, and not just the concept of merely understanding the words on the paper (or should that be the screen?) as a message that exists to convey some sort of information, and only that, in language which is (well, certainly should be, if my work deserves any kind of merit) linguistically correct. (Of course, I should add that sometimes I need to realise the particular register is supposed to play a role beyond just stating something that makes sense; like persuasion.)
For example, “destinataires” is the language of emails in French – not the correspondence contained therein – in that it means “recipients”. Here I “see something” in this French word and its English counterpart which I don’t think everyone would from the start: when you write an email you have to insert the list of recipients, the person(s) whom it is “destined” for. But we shouldn’t overlook the fact that just because an email is destined for someone doesn’t mean that they actually will RECEIVE it as the recipient (and even if they do, will they actually open it and read it? But that’s another subject.)
I want to compare writing a translation to writing a story. When I write a translation for someone else I’m not the author of the content of the original or the story behind it, like I would be if I wrote a story. And while works of fiction always have a fixed, rigidly defined beginning and end, translations usually refer to real-life events and situations that are but parts of a bigger ongoing picture. For example, I’ve translated lease documents before, but these are just part of the bigger story of someone renting property for a given purpose and for whatever period of time. I have translated French and German marketing material knowing full well that it would end up as part of the business history of whatever company requested the English version. But neither of these things are any of my business; I just play the role of translator. Compare this to the fact that, if I write a story… well, whether it’s good or bad, everything in it is my business, simply because I decide everything that happens in it. It all depends on my imagination. And I call upon my imagination when writing translations as well. But anything can happen in stories – maybe you’ve seen cartoons where a character walks off a cliff or something and is then walking on thin air, but they don’t fall until they realise that they are not standing on anything. And there lies the difference between the imagination required for story writing and the imagination required for competent translation work: when I do translation work I have to agree that I can somehow justify or explain everything that I write. Mind you, like I said earlier, in all honesty, there are times in my work where I leave a comment for the project manager asking for someone else’s opinion about something because, as far as I see it, that is the only thing that helps me to agree that I really am conveying the right and accurate meaning about something to someone else… a paying customer, no less.
That said, this is the point where I start talking about the song Friday (Rebecca Black). Yes, that awful song. If I’m not mistaken, it originally came out on Youtube. I say this because one thing I have noticed about it is how the lyrics depend on the video to let people know what’s happening in the song – show people what they are supposed to think…
“7 am, waking up in the morning,
Gotta be fresh, gotta go downstairs,
Gotta have my bowl, gotta have cereal,
Seeing everything, the time is going,
Ticking on and on, everybody’s rushing,
Gotta get down to the bus stop, gotta catch my bus,
I see my friends…
Kicking in the front seat,
Sitting in the back seat,
Gotta make my mind up,
Which seat can I take?”
Consider this: try to imagine the average person who knows the song, and then ask, what are the chances that they first listened to it on Youtube, where they saw the video accompanying it? I’d say it’s pretty high, wouldn’t you? Although it’s widely agreed that the song is bad in several ways (I certainly agree that Rebecca was a fool to pursue fame as a singer with it), I’d say that one of these is that the lyrics, at least certainly those of the first verse (above), just defy any form of sensible or logical explanation and they quite literally jump from one thing to the next, seemingly at random, and it’s all very quick. At the very start of the video she wakes up in bed and sits up, and sings a little bit, then all of a sudden she’s standing somewhere else indoors, and she sings a bit more then walks away; next thing we know she’s at a bus stop. By this point, she has specifically mentioned in the song that she has got to catch a bus, yet her friends turn up out of the blue in a car for some reason, at which point she decides to take her lift with them – what? And then she says, “which seat should I take?” even though there’s only one left (if you watch the video you’ll see that there are four people in the car before Rebecca gets in it; something no-one involved in the production of the music video seemed to notice, but that observation is part of a “A normal day for Rebecca Black” joke floating around on the Internet).
But what I’m trying to say is: I would say that if people don’t have the option of watching the video with the song when they hear it for the first time, it is not unlikely that they will end up confused and not knowing what to think – even if it is only for a bit. For example, when she says that she’s got to go down to the bus stop to catch a bus, and then she sees her friends, and then all of a sudden she starts talking about seats… can you imagine, “oh, so her friends are in a car, are they?… I didn’t catch that until just now, when she said the words ‘front seat’ and ‘back seat’ after she happened to mention that she had seen them at all… I just thought that they would have been standing at the bus stop…” Like, what are we supposed to think?
5th June 2013

I recently did a multilingual abstracting project for a Russian translation agency, which required me to read all these documents related to certain lease contracts written in German and identify certain bits of information from them which I was supposed to include in these forms. It was a case of fill in the blanks; the answers lay in the documents – somewhere. I think I included most of the important information where it was due, but sometimes I wasn’t sure what to put for certain blanks in the forms, or not even too sure what a certain question was asking. And I had to deal with the (unestimated) probability of no information for certain questions waiting to be found in the documents, or if I could forget about having to fill in certain blanks. I say this because I (sort of) believe that there is not knowing what to think; then there is not knowing what to think if you tried. Does that make sense? Too much of the latter would probably be enough to drive a person crazy, wouldn’t you think? (Having said that, didn’t I basically make the exact same point in a different way in a Facebook comment I submitted on 15th May – the one with the link to a rap battle?)
Yes, one thing I can’t overlook in my work is my belief that to become too comfortable with doing things that are straightforward is perilous. Basically, knowledge is everything… and guess what, I feel like talking about knowledge here! I researched the difference between a priori and a posteriori, and in my writing of this comment I have committed myself to talking about things like the differences between empirical knowledge and intuitive knowledge, and how I apply them in my work for better results. If you feel like reading further is going to be daunting, can I just ask: which one is the real “common sense knowledge”? (LOL)
Now, some knowledge is not knowledge worth the name. I think Namibia is an example of a very little known country in the world. I say this because I could tell you that its capital is Windhoek, and this is something that you could say to everyone else and it would pass for a correct statement. But if you don’t know where Namibia is (anyone?), then it’s all just… fake, you know? Even if you KNEW that Windhoek was the capital of Namibia like I’ve just told you here (and didn’t know it before), and you KNEW it to be correct, if you just said to someone, “Windhoek is the capital of Namibia” without knowing where Namibia is or anything like that, you could not hope to prove anything verifiable other than source you heard it from. Seriously, what would be the point? Note that I’m specifically not including a link in this comment to anywhere listing basic information on Namibia; if it matters to you, you can find it yourself. Turn to Google, turn to your geography teacher, turn to a toy globe – turn to whatever you want; just don’t ask me to provide you with anything that confirms that Windhoek is the capital of Namibia. I won’t. Full stop.
But I want to talk about knowledge in connection with my work as a translator. To exhibit an interest in performing masterful translation work in its true form is to accommodate a multi-faceted imagination challenge. As a language professional, I guess the truth is that I’m always seeking a priori truths in the field of linguistics (and, to a certain extent, the subject matter of whatever it is I happen to be translating) to make things easier and help me feel more confident, but what I really can’t ignore is a perceived need to question my a posteriori knowledge of given words or expressions on a very frequent basis. When deciding what I should really write for this, that or the other, I never act like I expect to find the solution through something like the basis of deduction (which I think is a more maths and science thing anyway).
On translator forums, like ProZ.com, talk about a translator having specialised knowledge in a given field is common. Some go out of their way to emphasise that it is important, and I can veritably agree to a certain extent. I am just one of many people who have discussed how translation requires certain skills and knowledge that are not specifically taught from textbooks in a classroom environment. It may be easy for some to agree that there are some things that you may learn, but never master, until there’s “a part of you”, “something inside of you” – something most personal and intangible, like a thought or an idea (and it doesn’t matter if it’s as detached from reality as anything you’ve seen on Power Rangers) – that you have come to habitually relate to activity involving the subject in question. Have you ever been discouraged from trying to learn something because something about it was put to you in terms that are usually familiar to you, but not on that occasion – terms that most people are familiar with? For example, consider the expressions “internal use” and “external use”. I could understand if you only think of “internal” as meaning “inside a thing” and “external” meaning “outside a thing”, and feeling hopelessly lost as you respond like, “…meaning?” wherever you see “internal use” and / or “external use” mentioned.
And these are the things I ponder as my stories of how I deal with the utter abstractness of language in translation work continue…
In German “Nachweis” means “proof” but it also means “certificate”, depending on the context. In a sense a certificate is definitely proof, although “proof” in English can be something tangible or just the concept of proof, evidence.
In one German to English translation project, I read the word “Raumlüftung” in the original. “Room” or “space” ventilation? Specifically “rooms”? What about corridors and whatnot?
In one German to English translation project, one bit in the original was “Der Projekt-Ansprechpartner des Auftraggebers kann die Agenda bis zu zwei Werktage vor dem Koordinationsgespräch ändern und/oder ergänzen”, which I translated as “The client’s project contact partner may change and / or supplement the agenda at any point up to two working days prior to the coordination meeting”. But I nearly translated it more literally, like “they can change it up to two working days prior to the coordination meeting”. The former English translation and the latter one are not quite the same, for what they suggest about the valid change possibilities. The latter sort of suggests that only one change occasion is permissible. I’m very sure that, had I put the latter, someone out there would have labelled it as a bad quality thing.
The German word “Projektabwicklung” can mean project management or completion / transaction. As both project management and project completion are common things to hear in connection with the world of work, it’s important not to get confused there, huh!?
In another German-to-English project, the German word “Schnecke” meant not “snail”, but “screw” – but I instantly saw what they have in common (spiral traits). But I would not necessarily have seen things like this in the past. It used to be the case that whenever I saw the German word “Schnecke” I thought, “snail” in English, but never “screw”. This would have been most likely when I was at school, I think. Sound familiar?
In another German to English project: “Wo dürfen Getränke aufgehoben und konsumiert werden”. I wondered: does it mean where may drinks be “picked up” (from surfaces), “or removed”? My answer: I put “taken” – it “works” whichever it is, when you think about it!
7th June 2013

I’ve been reading Chris Cardell’s latest issue of Business Breakthroughs, from which I’ve learned that it’s harder to start something than to improve it. That is something I agree with… well, maybe not always. I’ve become used to pursuing my work for improvements even if I just about never would have guessed that any improvements were necessary to begin with.
But speaking as an entrepreneur, even if my business marketing has gone up in recent months, I would say that I wouldn’t know whether to agree with that or not. It’s not that I can’t present myself without confidence – even if there are certain errors I commit which someone like Chris would be quick to point out – but mastering the Internet is certainly anything but straightforward. Here’s how I see it: me tailoring my business marketing packages and using them the truly best way I can given my situation, is me trying to improve something someone else has done, not me; and that’s the real test of my patience and resolve. It all reminds of Chris suggesting that entrepreneurs should redefine their identity: call themselves “marketers” rather than stating ad nauseum what they do. In other words, me saying “I’m a translator” too much would work against me after a while.
11th June 2013

Here’s one thing I think: when you’ve done as much translation as I have – and I do it for a living – you start to relate the concept of imagination (including your own personal imagination) to translating work – certainly if you’re serious about doing a good (and not merely passable) translation job.
I am aware that some people grow up speaking more than one language as their native tongue. I’m not one of those people myself, but I am also aware that it is said that your imagination is most active when you are very young; of course, when you are very young is also when you are at your most naïve and least socially competent etc. And while I have to admit that I am no psychologist, surely I can’t be the only person who has ever established a link between “imagination” and “human nature”.
Having said that, when I think of “human nature”, I think of cultural rebels, who are usually eager to paint a picture of themselves as self-appointed “revolutionaries” as far as culture is concerned. In my personal experience, these are the kind of people who are full of scorn for MTV or who are anything but prone to hiding the woe and / or disappointment they feel whenever someone reveals an infatuation for Big Brother. They act all proud because they spit in the face of conditioned attitudes, whether or not they would define it in that way or a similar way. But what I reject no less readily is conditioned imagination (try relating that to the concept of attitudes of habit – I have already suggested in earlier comments that too much of that can be detrimental to productivity and satisfaction in the workplace). I look at how far I’ve come since I started this job back in 2008 and I claim that, in my pursuit of quality in my translation work and my virulent desire to avoid making mistakes in it, I have “escaped the curse of conditioned imagination”.
Paramore have a song “The Only Exception”. What is supposed to be meant by, “I’m on my way to believing”? Admittedly, maybe I’ll never know – if that makes me “ignorant”… well, you can call it sad if you want. But I like Paramore and their music; I much relish their style as being passionately expedient yet evidently with heart, as I would put it. I think that, back when I was a teenager, I would definitely have listened to Paramore music repeatedly if they were around back then and I came across them, in which case I would probably have ended up rigidly thinking of “The Only Exception” as a “typical” or “classic” (“unmistakeably”) Paramore song. How many people who call themselves Paramore fans would agree with me on that one, or just “understand” me, so to speak? How about the band themselves?
But look, I don’t want to babble on too much about an over-generalised topic like some group and their music, where, for all the enthusiastic consensus one frequently encounters in connection with that sort of thing, everybody’s right and everybody’s wrong and none of it really matters unless you want it to. No, I’d rather talk about RAC, by which I mean “Relief Addiction Cure”. I used to think that this was a term of affection that it was obscene to use casually. And it is easy to point out that it speaks for itself: it is not enough to mention that it is a term of affection that it is obscene to use casually; it is an A PRIORI term of affection that it is obscene to use casually! But I want to defy all that and claim that it could pass for a term of reverence! Does that make sense? Either way, if you’re still reading: as I see it, you are now in the perfect position to fathom its meaning to the full; hence, logic would suggest that you will never use it…
You can think what you want about all this. Just know that the reason I write these comments is for the sake of promoting myself as a professional translator; think of it as blog material. The point of this particular one is that, when I do translation work, I aim to transcend scenarios in which I feel like I’m too bricks short of a loaf.
That was a deliberate faux pas. Who could refute that?
25th June 2013

One recommendation for advancing as an entrepreneur is to send prospective clients things that could benefit them – something related to your industry that is likely to be of interest to them or even benefit them; like a free report (Chris Cardell, if you’re reading this, I’m sure you’re much more knowledgeable about the strategy than I am). And one thing I did actually recently consider was to send collections of bad translations to possible customers e.g. “Lost in Translation” by Charlie Croker. The ever present humour factor aside, there are very good reasons to believe that books like this do a good job showing how easy it is to stumble across a translated message that’s not quite up to scratch. So to what extent do they really paint a picture of what you can expect (maybe there are times when you’ve read poor translations and been quick to claim that you could do better – really?)? Speaking as a foreign languages professional, sometimes a deficient translated message may well be trying to communicate something very serious (like if it’s a business or a legal document) – the problem is that it is just let down by one or more poorly chosen words, or a clumsy phrase.
How to categorise translation error? How about not in my eyes but in the eyes of foreigners, who may write things which, while they know them to be 100% grammatically correct and even easily understandable, are still just “broken English” – maybe it’s to do with a word or construction or something that is not present in both languages. I can’t think of a definite example but the book referred to above contains this entry, which might give you an idea of what I mean:
“Massage offered at a hotel in Kandy, Sri Lanka:
Body massage is done synchronously, to prevent parts of the party getting over activated.”
Sometimes, doing it fluently or laconically is just impossible, or damn near it. And one thing sure to add to this kind of frustration is the fact that, sometimes, language changes over time. The changes may be something straightforward, like spelling, or it may be something more abstract like, say new meanings. For example, this blog is proof that the German word “interessant” can means “interested” rather than “interesting” in English.http://selbstversorger-blog.over-blog.de/article-p…
In my last comment I talked about a link between imagination and translation work. But there’s imagination, then there’s applying imagination (ever heard anyone say, “I’m trying to think”?), and what if I suggested that sometimes the latter is the only thing that saves a person from embarrassment or worse? (I think of the time when I heard a story where “Gérard Depardieu a assisté à un viol” was once translated from French to English not as “Gérard Depardieu witnessed a rape” but “Gérard Depardieu assisted in a rape”.) Does that sound like something you connect with bad translations, like those waiting to be read in the book mentioned above? Mind you, the situation is that I have not started sending copies of this book or anything like it to possible translation clients. The particular book mentioned above – and this is just one example of many of its kind – is just a list of bad translations, with no discussion of any theory behind anything. I suppose not everyone can discuss linguistic phenomena with equal alacrity – and I’ve already stated earlier here what I do for a living – and in case it’s not obvious, I would say that this is the perfect place for me to be doing exactly that (I should probably be wary of giving too much succour to my competition, though).
So yes, like I said before, there’s imagination, then there’s applying imagination; and I fear that I may be trying to sound like a smartass, not necessarily doing a very good job of it. But I believe it is a phenomenon that could be closer than you think. Imagination isn’t always about talent for making up things to include in works of fiction, jokes, whatever. Why do you think people say, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer”? Or, “The things you own end up owning you”? Surely all kinds of people have said those things.
But I want to write about translation / translation work here. If I’ve stimulated any discussion about the various (supposed) better and more reliable ways to do it that people have stated, then I’ve done my job. And let’s forget that people didn’t always have access to machine translation tools (and it’s not just stuff like Babelfish; there’s also Trados and MemoQ etc.).
Word-for-word? I certainly avoid putting too much faith in that approach. Indeed, some people seem to think that “word-for-word translation” and “literal translation” are one and the same; and I have to agree that it’s common for a word in a given language to have multiple meanings i.e. have different, utterly separate lexical implications (see also the second paragraph). Anyone who has read my comments will know that I have mentioned language-related anecdotes I have known in my own translation work – those fall under this. Like when I said that a certain German word could mean “certificate” or “proof” in English. In everyone’s mind, including my own, a certificate is but a piece of paper which evidences something; but just about anything could qualify as “proof” of… well, something (or at least something that supports a specific argument).
So, word-for-word aside, what else have we got?
…I have to admit, even I would find it hard to suggest a conceivable alternative. I don’t know about sentence by sentence – at the end of the day, like I said, grasping the right meaning of each word matters in the writing of a message that is correct in every sense of the word; but even then, it pays to consider its readability and the possibly of it being falsely interpreted. But the times I really agree I’m being tested are when I need to translate a sentence which uses one or more words in a way that I would not see used with the counterpart word(s) in English. And it’s not as if expressions like “It’s raining cats and dogs”, which definitely sound peculiar literally, don’t exist in languages besides my own mother tongue.
How about phrase by phrase? As an example, I recently wrote this in one translation job; “The lent sum shall include interest from the day that it is paid”. I say that there are two phrases in this: “The lent sum shall include interest” and “from the day that it is paid”. Now let’s look at it out of context. “The lent sum shall include interest” could pass for a grammatically complete sentence on its own, and while the words “lent”, “sum” and “interest” all have alternative meanings in English, you just know that no-one would bring them up here. That’s a given, isn’t it? As for “from the day that it is paid”: from the day that what is paid? Is the day specified anywhere? Would anyone have any pre-determined ideas about what the payment action would involve?
For all I’ve said here, everyone would love to see the perfect translator, but then everyone says that nobody’s perfect. Come to think of it…
I was recently walking through a meadow when I found a lamp on the ground. Being curious, I picked it up and rubbed it and a genie came out and he offered me one wish, and my wish was to be the perfect translator. The genie said to me, “hold on… you’re George Trail, aren’t you?” And I said, “yes…” And the genie said to me, “Do you think your translation work could be improved?” All I could say was, “how nice it would be, and how easy my job would be, if I knew I was the perfect translator.” The genie offered to look at my most recent translation work, which I accepted. After a bit he said, “Very interesting. So, do you want me to make you the perfect translator?” I said yes, and he said, “OK, here goes…” and he clicked his fingers. “You are now the perfect translator. However, I’m afraid there is a limit to my magic here. I wouldn’t say that you were a ‘bad’ translator to begin with, but I’m afraid that you won’t remain the perfect translator forever, and don’t ask me why.” “Oh dear, that’s a shame,” I said, “So when will it run out?” “That I’m not telling you,” he said. “But I believe you can be trusted to remember what matters in your performance of your work. Keep it up!” And then he disappeared, leaving me to do what I wanted.
30th June 2013

So I’m a translator by profession, and, at the risk of sounding boastful, my foreign language skills are better than those of a lot of people. Although technically what I specialise in is “languages”, I find myself believing that the subject of communication, in the real world, matters when producing translation work of the right quality level that will do the job. It’s a broad topic, I know – one that is easy to talk about in terms that are vague, where points are not necessarily backed up by solid arguments – but nevertheless an essential one.
In this comment I want to touch on the subject of writing for oneself. Don’t we agree that people get attached to their own writing? I think we do – certainly if the public policies that the French have had prohibiting the use of franglais are anything to go by. And I think that people say that a person’s writing reveals stuff about them (look at the basic concept of style, after all), and that this includes the expressions they use to say very mundane things. I find that, in a way, communication is like fighting. You may do it well or badly. Everyone may be right or wrong. But whatever your reason for doing it, what matters that you will inevitably reveal who you are when doing it. Always was the case, always will be.
We’ve always kept records of our lives, and this includes when we write comments that are not meant for anyone’s consumption but our own; like diary entries or private memos. Of course, the exact content of these is as varied as can be, but I don’t think I’m being fatuous when I claim that it’s common for people to write messages meant for no-one’s consumption but their own which, on some level, wouldn’t make any actual sense to anyone but themselves – maybe they are not MEANT to make any actual sense to anyone but themselves. (Hey, I was a teenager once – and I was born with an autism condition). But I think anyone would agree that it is possible that someone could write a message meant only for their own private consumption only to find, when they came back to it at a later time, that they agreed that it has lost the meaning or significance it once had. I also believe that one could write a message meant only for their own private consumption in a way that is less than articulate where, when they come to back it at a later time, they find that they have problems reading it even though they know they wrote it!
This is an entry taken from the book “The 176 Stupidest Things Ever Done” (Ross and Kathryn Petras):
The editors of the Encyclopaedia Britannica contacted the head of a major Western university history department. They sent him a historical article that had been in the encyclopaedia for years and asked him if he would be interested in revising it.
The professor promptly sent the article back with a biting note, turning down the request and commenting that the article was “inaccurate… badly disorganized and full of errors.”
At this point, the editors wondered who had written such a weak article. They went through their files and came up with the name – it had been written by the professor himself, many years before.”
What do you do with your life?
Myself, I haven’t forgotten the time I attempted a RHYMING English translation of part of a French song in what I regard as an audacious piece of business marketing (scroll down to 3rd October 2011). But one thing I wanted to include in my latest comment is a translation of something else, written specifically for myself and my own ends (business interests, even though I won’t be paid for it), but I am happy to let anyone read it. And this translation is a translation into French, of “that speech by the angry kid in the Greenpeace advert”.

Here goes:
La communauté scientifique a publié un rapport qui indique qu’il n’y aucune doute que le monde s’échauffe. Le réchauffement climatique est le résultat de choses que vous – les adultes – faites… et de choses que vous ne faites pas. Si on ne fait pas de mesures drastiques bientôt, quand je serai adulte, il n’y aura pas de poissons dans la mer. Les forêts tropicales et l’air pur seront des choses historiques. Les calottes polaires seront disparues; les océans s’éleveront; des pays entiers disparaîtront. La vie se changera, et en de façons que vous ne pouvez pas même imaginer. On pourraît connaître de la famine… des épidémies globales… l’espérance de vie sera plus courte. …Et on ne parle pas seulement du “futur”. On parle de “mon futur”.
Mais vous, les adultes, vous connaissez ceci depuis des années, n’est-ce pas? Et vous avez pu faire quelque chose pour combattre ce problème, mais ça n’a pas été le cas. Vous pouvez dire, “Ce n’est pas mon problème”. Vous pouvez dire, “Je ne serai pas en ce monde en 50 années.” Mais maintenant, vous ne pouvez dire, “Je ne savais pas.”
Dès aujourd’hui, les lignes sont dessinés. Il faut choisir un côté. Soit vous êtes pour mon futur, soit vous êtes contre. Vous êtes un ami, ou un ennemi. Aujourd’hui je ne suis qu’un enfant, mais les choses seront différentes demain. Ceci est la dernière fois que je parle à vous les adultes. Vous avez eu votre chance pour résoudre ce problème, et maintenant nous avons la nôtre. Nous ne serons pas timides, nous ne serons pas traités avec condescendence, et personne ne nous niera notre futur.
Now you can compare that to the French version provided by Greenpeace themselves, said by the same kid, interestingly enough. The title of this video is “its-not-too-late”. I watched it myself and some of the differences I noticed are as follows:
Right at the start, the verb “publier” is in the perfect tense in my version but in the present tense in the official Greenpeace version.
The Greenpeace version says “Il n’y aura plus un seul poisson dans la mer” – “there won’t be a single fish left in the sea”. My version doesn’t put it like that.
Whereas my version talks about the “ocean” rising, the official Greenpeace version talks about the “level of the ocean” rising.
At the beginning of the second paragraph, the official Greenpeace version says “Mais je ne vous apprend rien, n’est pas?” Think of this as, “But I’m not telling you anything new, am I?” and compare this with the phrase with the word “surprise” in the English version. With my version, the “surprise” is supposed to be recognised from the “n’est-ce pas” bit.
Compare “you could have done something about it but you haven’t” with “you could have done something to combat this problem, but this hasn’t been the case” (the English translation of my version) and both with “you could have done something to remedy it, but you have done nothing” (the English translation of the official Greenpeace version).
As usual, you can say what you want and let me know what you think, and if you’re French, hey, so much the better.
Maybe you’re wondering: does any of this actually have any parallels with my actual translation work? I fully accept that there are other translators who know things that I don’t – for example, some translators are proven “technical specialists” or “medical specialists” whereas I’m not (well, not yet anyway). But I want to end this by leaving all past and prospective clients of mine with a “thought for the day” – you should know who you are if I did not acquire you through an agency, but I’m not naming names. However I write my translations, I suggest that I know them to be good enough for professional purposes if they convey the correct information and in a way where anyone else’s unguided retelling of it would sound credible even if they didn’t have the option of quoting from my work directly whenever they wanted.
2nd July 2013

Sometimes when I’m doing a translation project I’m compelled to ask about a given word / expression in the original material – I include my best attempt at translating it in the translated material where I can (with a note explaining that this is something that needs looking at), for guidance. It’s all part of delivering a translation of the original material which is complete but also… well, correct. Now I have to say that, based on personal experience, relatively few failed translations actually fail to convey the correct message of the original material or at least make it understandable even if it does require a bit of extra thinking on the part of the reader. As an example, I don’t think many people whose mother tongue is English have seen many English “translations” as incomprehensible as this:
Ad for Japanese noodle bar:
“The noodles of a phantom with the resistance to the teeth of boast our shop. The exquisite rainy season which repeated trial and error and was completed. Colourful red pepper of Asia. Domestic careful selection pork with little fat of female liking is used. It has healthy vegetables with salad feeling fully.”
But whatever the situation is when you’re doing a translation job, there is little hope of delivering a piece of translation work which is correct if the truth is not embraced. When I do a translation job, pleasing the client means respecting the truth of the original document that its writer would have me (well, someone at least) identify and remember, and then spread (and not necessarily solely to a specific readership). However… this probably won’t come as much as a surprise, but the truth doesn’t always speak for itself.
In a nutshell, the truth is not always a one-liner. How to elaborate on what I mean by that? Well, for a start, I think we all know that people often disagree on the best way to do things or how to get the best results in any kind of scenario, if you’ll pardon such an over-generalised statement. That said, there’s no denying that people often long to know the truth about possibly difficult and/or awkward matters – relationship issues and the like. But you never know when you’ll inadvertently come across something that explains the answer, the truth about something that you’ve never quite properly understood; which could be something of a quite mundane nature. This includes language and word awareness as much as anything else. Recently I was briefly scanning over the headlines of the day’s newspapers when I saw one of them – the Daily Star – mention that it provided the latest “News, Goss, Pics and Showbiz”. I could see that “goss” here is short for “gossip”, even though I’d never heard of the term “goss” myself until then – I just think that, had I seen or heard “goss” anywhere other than, say, amongst the words “news”, “pics” and “showbiz” like I mentioned above, then I would have been slow guessing that is indeed short for “gossip” (certainly in my younger days, but that’s another story).
But I’m not just a linguist; I’m a professional linguist. That’s a given. And I think it’s a good thing that the concept of the truth and its elusiveness is something that I’m sensitive to in the domain of business as well. I want to quote this from an email sent to me by Chris Cardell:
“The late Earl Nightingale used to say ‘don’t compete… create!’
What did he mean by this?
Well, it’s simple. The moment you try to compete with your competitors… you set yourself up for a ‘price war’. And you’re immediately susceptible to your products and services being ‘commoditised’, like a pint of milk or a packet of generic aspirin.”
I honestly think that, had I heard the name “Earl Nightingale” prior to reading this comment, I would have labelled him as “some royal figure of the past”. Even after I did actually read it, what I originally thought was that he was “some royal figure of the past who was a significant entrepreneurial figure in some way”. But no – I looked him up and apparently he was some American guy who was not royal at all (Earl being his first name, like my first name is George), who was an acclaimed motivational speaker and author. And I would not necessarily have ever known what was meant by Earl Nightingale’s quote if not for an explanation of it such as that provided by Chris Cardell here.
Getting back to the link between the truth and my work and as a translator: as it is, I still get most of my work from translation agencies throughout the world and this means that, with most projects that I am awarded, I don’t know the identity of the client. And if the thing that I am required to translate for somebody could be of a confidential nature, like a business agreement or a lease (and I’ve done plenty of both of those)… well, within the bigger picture (i.e. its agenda) it’s done of my business; but I’d better affect to embrace the truth of it even though I’ve never “been there in person” / “seen it for myself” and can’t expect ever to be so!
The Avril Lavigne song “Keep Holding On” includes the lyrics, “There’s no other way when it comes to the truth”. I couldn’t have put it better myself. Well, when it comes to people understanding / endeavouring to understand the truth about a matter that is something real life and important in some way, surely 99 times out of 100 they would want everyone to agree on exactly what the truth is. And that is all the more reason for me to be careful with regard to the words that I choose and use in the production of the translated documents that I produce. Basically, the wording must be clear, because that is the only thing that lets the message be clear; and that’s the only thing that lets the truth be clear.
I think the situation is pretty clear. When I do a translation job for someone, a commitment to the truth is required. But let me carry on discussing this. It does seem to me that most people only associate the word “commitment” with lofty goals: like acquiring a gold medal, or learning how to cook something that is gourmet (maybe to impress friends). And once such a goal has been achieved, it’s usually all followed by a load of applause and celebration before blandly moving on (like, “what’s next for me?”). What I mean to talk about here is explicitly “commitment to the truth”, like when you practice a religion based on some personal acceptance/conviction (clear or otherwise) that it makes you realise things and that this will help make you a better person. After all, sometimes when I do professional translation work, it really does feel like I’m being denied the truth: a truth about something that the to-be-translated document is supposed to refer to (directly or indirectly). I tell you, however much talent I’ve evidenced in my career as a professional translator, sometimes it still feels like I’m being denied the truth, and I think that that is so cruel.
Now, I’ve heard of the saying “the truth shall set you free”. But when you put yourself in my shoes, when you are writing a translation of something, you could say that it’s the other way round. Of course I understand that state what they know to be the truth all the time in everyday speech and writing. But: do you remember in Men In Black 3, very near the end, where Will Smith sees the white guy (if it’s not Tommy Lee Jones then it’s definitely Josh Brolin) talking to some young black boy after that after other black guy – the high-ranking armed forces guy and the boy’s father – has been killed, and then J learns the truth about why K was so distant as a partner like right at the beginning when K made that speech? Like, the boy is actually J when he was much younger (he probably is actually Will Smith’s real life son, like in After Earth and other movies). Because right now, as I write this, I’m having an imagination of myself explaining to myself much younger that, when I have been assigned to do a translation job, the truth is literally in my hands – even if I’ve not been briefed about it from the beginning. I may not have the power to change anything major, but I do have “the power”. Translation isn’t just about writing messages that are correct on a linguistic level; I have to devote SOME consideration to the actual material for what it is. Thus, letting the truth speak for me is irresponsible in this respect. On the contrary, I should commit to the truth, and SPEAK FOR THE TRUTH – does that make sense? I mean, I really have started to think that if it is true that the truth shall set you free, then it is also true that you can let the truth speak for you too much and with this it will imprison you.

9th July 2013

Everyone in the translation industry regards proofreading / editing as a means of ensuring the quality of translations. (For the record, people on online translation forums, like ProZ.com, keep insisting that there is a difference between “proofreading” and “editing”. Proofreading is merely checking for spelling errors and clumsy phrasing and things like that, whereas editing demands a more critical view of the text for its content; it includes things like getting style and terminology right.) And I’m no exception: I make a point of setting aside time to proofread my own work before I send it off. After all, many, MANY things can be labelled as translation errors, and we’ve all heard of the saying “nobody’s perfect”…
When I’m not translating stuff from French or German into English, I’m often proofreading stuff that has been translated into English. Translation agencies offer me proofreading jobs all the time, implying from the outset that they are willing to pay me for them. Consider the “four eyes concept” in the translation industry.
When it comes to the concept of proofreading, if a proofreader is dealing with a bad translation with lots of mistakes in it it’s surely easy to imagine them finding it irksome having to correct them all, and especially if this asks for rewriting whole clauses and such. But I can tell you that, however many mistakes a translated document may have, the thing that really tests a proofreader’s patience is when a translated text that they are looking it is poorly translated in a way that it just leaves the reader awfully confused time and time again.
On the surface, this is a reminder that you have to be properly articulate – at a higher level – to be a translator. The meaning of a sentence can be changed by the smallest of things, such as the spelling of a word, or the inclusion or omission of a certain piece of punctuation e.g. an apostrophe. Ring any bells? And I don’t think you need to be all that articulate to at least begin to understand what I mean by that.
Yet however articulate I may be, I resolutely avoid adopting the kind of approach to my work where one is not really focussed on anything other than doing their bit toward getting something done to the point of “satisfactory” and leaving it at that. You don’t see or consider any kind of need for initiative, being mentally blind to anything that might or could make sense to other people but not you, and simply ignoring that which the work itself or your own role in it may represent within the (possibly alleged) bigger picture. You don’t care for or consider absorbing anything unless specifically told that it’s expected of you. For example, when a person is asked to do a simple household chore that requires little to no real thought to get it accomplished, like emptying the dishwasher or putting out the bin, they could just adopt this attitude as they did it leisurely and chances are that no-one would care any more than they would (or even notice). But, as far as I’m concerned, this is something that definitely should be discouraged when it comes to professional translation work! It’s what I call “sleep-working”, and I believe that if you do any kind of translation work with this attitude, then there’s a significantly increased chance that the one who would proofread it would end up very frustrated when doing it even if they’re an experienced proofreader. To me, even if they had a good knowledge of the language that the document was translated from, with a copy of the original to consult, in addition to a good knowledge of the language of the translation as they went through the translation, it might not solve everything. Also, it’s worth suggesting that, if you sleep-work your way through a translation proofreading task, you might introduce an error into a translated article no later than eradicate existing ones!
But I have very good reasons for claiming that my own proofreading skills are more than good enough for professional translation purposes. There’s this translation agency in Russia I’ve been doing a lot of work for recently (like, at least three jobs a week!) and my regular project manager there has repeatedly given me tasks of proofreading English documents which were translated from languages that I myself cannot speak. I don’t hide that from him, but it never bothers him. But I have a sound knowledge of French and German as well as English, and he has had enough faith me that, with one project, he sent me a French document with a German translation of it, asking me to read through both of them carefully and register any updated changes already present in the French one, in the German one! Even now, he keeps offering me work which I’m happy to accept; but given what I really need to do to satisfy some of the things he asks me for to do for him, like said French-to-German project (and it tends to include compliance with short deadlines), he is probably the sole client that I’ve had to show the most flexibility with to accommodate and meet his demands. He knows this as well I do. Trust me, there’s nothing wrong with it. I recently asked this man to provide a reference. His name is Ivan Kiselev, of the translation agency ABC Translations in Russia http://www.abc-translations.ru/.
12th July 2013

For all the times I’ve stated how translation is not just about replacing words with words – and I have provided examples, as I do at the end of this particular comment – I think it’s kind of strange that I don’t think I’ve ever truly appreciated the role of “explanation” in translation work until recently. (How ironic that there’s always an “explanation element” in these comments, and this one in particular!) If, when doing translation tasks, you know you’ve risen above habits of translating word-for-word to think of and use expressions that will make the in-development translated product more digestible, good for you. But consider this: there’s certainly very little room for a mechanical approach when translating something where appreciation of a certain style is required, like marketing material.
So what does that make me? “A master of explanation”? I can imagine you thinking “WTF” or “LOL” with that one. Now, I don’t want to get ahead of myself here, and I fear that I risk looking complacent. I can already imagine readers of this comment laughing at the idea of the alleged label “master of explanation” being a “great thing”, but surely a professional translator should aspire to be “a master of explanation” (although consider also the work of teachers, lawyers, doctors and scientists among others). And I know as well as everyone else does that people explain things to other people all the time – and that people’s explanations of things cannot always be understood by everyone (I certainly hope that constitutes an explanation that could be understood by everyone; I’ve done my best to make it so!). For example, you might go to the doctor and, after they have asked you some questions and done some things with you to determine symptoms: when they have identified something that they understand even though they cannot see it directly, which you probably wouldn’t be able to understand yourself even if they tried to describe it to you, you watched as they proceeded to document a report containing “medical babble” that’s just alien to the layman.
And I proclaim that mine is a job which is not to be trifled with (no disrespect to people with low pay jobs like cleaner, waiter, refuse collector etc.), because successful achievement in it depends on a role of sound explanation. The role of explanation attributed to my job basically revolves around words and languages / literacy – and the intended messages contained in that which is written (in both the language of the original article and the language of the translation product). When I mention the latter, this includes how to be sure of understanding the correct message (even if there would be any flaws in how the message is presented in the original) and how to articulate it in a new language in a way that won’t be ambiguous or anything, just for future reference. And gaps and inaccuracies in my knowledge of either language (the language of the original material or the language that I am translating it into) would definitely go against me here! I’m going to host an exercise in explanation right now, with a short passage in French that I myself wrote. Here goes:
“Bonjour, ma vieille porcelaine ! Je suis en train de collecter mon sifflet et flûte, mais après l’avoir retourné à mon chat et souris, je peux venir à toi et nous pouvons aller au croiseur de bataille et boire quelques oreilles de cochon. Trié, mon fils !”
If you speak French, you should agree that this is proper French even if it doesn’t make sense. If you are confused – and I fully expect that you would be – the fact is that no French person would ever talk like this either. Can you see the truth?
OK, here’s the truth. Most French people don’t know Cockney Rhyming Slang, much less use it, but you have to understand both French and Cockney Rhyming Slang to understand that passage. Here’s my translation of it:
“Hello, my old china! I’m currently picking up my whistle and flute, but after I’ve returned it to my cat and mouse I can come round your place and we can go to the battle cruiser and drink a few pig’s ears. Sorted, my son!”
I have some gamebooks (the kind of book where you create a character and go on some sort of quest in a fictional world and roll dice when engaging in combat etc.). One of these is “The Curse of the Mummy” (Fighting Fantasy Series, Steven Jackson and Ian Livingstone) in which, depending on how you play it, there takes place events of your character learning a language and translating from one language to another which simply don’t make sense in my eyes (yes, I know anything can happen in fiction, especially if it’s fantasy fiction, but I’m trying to make a serious linguistics-related point or two here, so if I would appreciate it if you would bear with me). At the start of the adventure the language your character speaks is a fictional one called Allansian, and completing the quest successfully (however you play it) requires that you familiarise yourself with another language (which is, of course, also fictional, if otherwise “real” within the world of the gamebook itself), called Djaratian. What this involves: you have to get a papyrus scroll on which is inscribed a copy of the Djaratian alphabet from Cranno (the actor who keeps a sabre-toothed tiger as a pet) and then, when you get to Lopar the shaman and after having answered his conundrum, show the scroll to him, whereupon he explains how to “translate the hieroglyphs into Allansian”. I’m like: hmmm… how can this be? How can you even develop knowledge of a new language proper with just a copy of its alphabet, let alone muster translations from it? Surely you need some grasp of the grammar and vocabulary of that language? Does Lopar actually know Djaratian? (I’ll never know, because the writers include no clues anywhere in the book as to whether he does or not; but then chances are they never properly considered it anyway, if you know what I mean.) Or do the languages of Allansian and Djaratian have a number of parallels (which I have to admit I couldn’t even begin to define – what they might be is anyone’s guess; and even this is only hypothetical) and that is the only reason that it is somehow possible to translate from Djaratian to Allansian SYSTEMATICALLY (yes, it does sound weird and crazy, doesn’t it)? You probably won’t be surprised to hear this but the book provides no basis for learning either Allansian or Djaratian if you ever wanted to for some reason – what if Mr. Jackson and Mr. Livingstone met the people who invented Klingon?
It does beg one question: if you have knowledge of a language’s alphabet – remember learning the ABCs? (not that I do) – then you can read words of that language, or at least get an idea of how certain sequences of the letters would be pronounced as a whole. And you don’t actually have to know the meanings of these words – I mean, anyone literate in English would know how to pronounce this “word”: “thrave”, even if it is purely made up (by myself); I will specifically clarify that, for the record, it doesn’t mean anything, it has no meaning attached to it. Like I said, it is a completely made up “word”. But I don’t buy the idea that you can “read” hieroglyphs. After all, hieroglyphs look more like “pretty pictures” (like birds and stuff – ring any bells?) than part of an alphabet with which people write words for other people to understand. Funnily enough, I find myself thinking back to my time at University, during which one of my lecturers (Dr. David Hornsbyhttp://www.kent.ac.uk/secl/french/staff/DavidHorns… – and this guy has a First Class MA in Foreign Languages from Oxford, among other university-level credentials) told us that many languages have no written form. But my question is this: OK, so a hieroglyphs writing system includes pictures representing things, but aren’t there any principles that could be applied as to understanding how they are pronounced, like with languages whose writing system is composed of letters? How do we know that Tutankhamun’s name really was Tutankhamun? I actually looked up hieroglyphs on Google and under “images” you can see files in which there are individual hieroglyphs next to individual letters in the English language – like, why? Like that’s how hieroglyphs really work. As far as I see it, English and the language of the ancient Egyptians are as different as chalk and cheese! Especially since, according to Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary Of The English Language (Literary Guild Inc., New York and Toronto, 1958), English evolved from Indo-European; and according to Wikipedia the language of the ancient Egyptians was of the Afro-Asiatic family, a family which isn’t even recognised in the subdivisions of the Indo-European languages (Germanic, Celtic, Italic/Romance etc.).
Back to the gamebook thing: there is a point where, depending on how you play the game, you ACTUALLY LEARN DJARATIAN. Depending on how you play this gamebook, after you (or rather, your character) has learned how to translate Djaratian hieroglyphs into Allansian (and only after they have learned how to translated Djaratian hieroglyphs into Allansian; and again, don’t ask me), there may come a point where you ACTUALLY LEARN DJARATIAN when you are “granted the wisdom of Khunam” – this would actually include a knowledge of the grammar and lexical items (i.e. words) of Djaratian. Think of it as like having a genie or a wizard click their fingers and then all of a sudden you learn (or would “know” be a more fitting word?) a new language. Again, I would agree that it sounds bizarre to say the least, but it is what it is. But if you learnt a new language like this… like, what do you think would be the first things you realised? For a start, to compare your sudden knowledge of the new language to your knowledge of languages that you already know: what differences are there? What similarities (or “half-similarities” – note the inverted commas)? What “new ideas”? And do you think you could always explain it all? Of course, I wouldn’t expect a coherent answer here; I would just consider this a “thought for the day thing.”
OK, I can’t explain the linguistic / literacy facts behind any of this… but if anyone’s going to point it out, I will.
I end by saying that I continue to EXPLAIN linguistic conundrums I come across in my professional translation work projects and therefore the content of said projects…
I recently did a project where – consider this – I had to read the French version of this building specifications document and a similar document in German, and then make updates in the German one based on what I read in the French one. I noted with curiosity that the French version included the expression “le second oeuvre” for which the corresponding expression in the German version was given as “die Ausbauten” – the English translation of these expressions would be “the extensions work”. It’s all easy to translate the French expression “le second oeuvre” as either “the second work” or “the subsequent work” (or words to that effect), but it was supposed to be understood as “the extensions work” in this context, judging by the given German equivalent of it.
In one German to English project I read “der alleine entscheidet” in the original German version. For a phrase of only three words (and relatively short ones, especially in German!) I remember how I had to be careful about how I translated this into English – it could quite easily mean the concept of someone deciding alone (independently) or that of someone being the only person authorised to decide on something (like ruling on a given issue).
How the French and Germans say that something is a priority thing: the French often use “A passe avant B” (lit. “A passes before B”) while the Germans often say “A steht vor B” (lit. “A stands in front of B”). There is a difference in the English equivalents, even though they both mean the same thing.
I find that a part of being truly accomplished at translating is having a sense of things that are correct only in theory (and it’s not necessarily whole sentences). For instance, German “Arno Dietz, früher Geschäftsführer beim Schweizer Händler Bächli Bergsport und drei Jahre lang Schöffels Head of Product Management”, as I read in the original version of one German to English translation project, might be interpreted in English as “Arno Dietz, formerly the managing director at the Swiss company Bächli Bergsport and the head of Schöffel’s product management for three years.” But I didn’t translate it into English as that. To read that English statement alone (out of context), it is credible that Arno Dietz has been the head of Schöffel’s product management for the past three years, or that he is on contract to hold that position for three years (and this hypothetical contract has not necessarily only just commenced!). Thus my English translation of this was “Arno Dietz, formerly the managing director at the Swiss company Bächli Bergsport and Schöffel‘s Head of Product Management for three years”.
During a translation I did of a German marketing document into English, I read “erhältlich ab Mitte September” in reference to certain products. On the surface, this means “available from mid-September” and this would have in fact been a perfectly fitting translation of it given the context I read it in, but I understood that what it really meant was “in shops from mid-September”, and that is how I translated it.
In one German to English translation project I read this in the original: “In Deutschland kamen die Waveboards erstmals 2007 auf den Markt”.
Old English translation: In Germany, the waveboards arrived on the market for the first time in 2007
New English translation: The waveboards first arrived on the German market in 2007.
It does strike me that, sometimes when business quotes speak of what they “include”, it’s not always so much a case of “include” as of “what the deal (probably wholly) is composed of”.
To me, a likely source of ambiguity in communication is when you read what passes for sentences which do not speak for themselves. “I am a professional translator” is a sentence which speaks for itself but “I think so” (when out of context) is not. Any meaning that should be reflected by “I think so” cannot exist without inferring the content of some other communication to which it is related.
In German, “Ausgangssituation” can mean “context” in English – and not “exit situation” or, to put it less literally, “end situation”, which, when you think about it, is pretty much an opposite meaning! (Isn’t it?)
The German word “Raumhöhe” may mean “room height”, but some may insist on the term “ceiling height” in English. Think about it.
With one German to English translation project I did which referred to large machinery, the German term “Außentemperatur” meant “ambient temperature” in English, not “outside temperature”. That’s one thing I’m glad no-one needed to point out to me. It’s just that it’s not a question of the machine in question being used outside (whether it actually is used outside or not!)
Here’s another German term I came across in the building specifications translation project (German to English) I mentioned earlier: “Allgemeinbereichen”. What this means in English is “public areas” and not “general areas” – whatever the exact definition of that is supposed to be.
19th July 2013

Before I start another long and verbose monologue about my appreciation of what I have to do to be successful as a professional translator, let me redefine the term “role-playing game”. In today’s world there are many computer games you can play where you essentially “do something for real” e.g. like when you play as a police officer or a soldier in a shoot ‘em up, or as an athlete or a motor racer in a sports game; but I’m eager to note that there are also such computer games with an entrepreneurial element – Theme Park, Theme Hospital, you get the idea. But I doubt anyone would (or could) attempt a professional translator game and seriously be able to offer a realistic experience in it…
[See image.]
At any rate, I find that there is indeed relatively little room for fixed and mechanical thinking in the realm of professional translation, however much you’re willing to focus and pare down. For example…
One of the frustrating things I deal with in my work as a professional translator is my particular idiolect, which sadly fails to be reader-compatible 100% of the time even though I everything I can to make sure that it is all correct English and that it leans on the formal side rather on the casual side (certainly in the world of work). I say this because, in situations in which I have done a translation job for someone and my idiolect fails to be compatible with the one reading it, it can result in them not responding to my translation work as positively as I would have liked despite the diligence with which I pursued the project; they might suggest that I have written things constituting errors (these are mostly totally borderline errors). These errors might be real errors or imaginary ones. Naturally I do all I can to avoid mistakes in my translation work, and while the very few errors I do make can usually be corrected with something more suitable easily (for it is very easy to deduce what is meant at the point in the translated text where the mistake is present – after all, isn’t getting the message across what translation is all about?), the fact is that I’m encouraged to feel ashamed of it. It’s not as if I’ve never been ashamed at translation errors I have made (I say that for the sake of convincing people of my own humility, if anything), but I’d probably feel more at ease if I devoted as much consideration to when I was being too hard on myself as I do to my work.
But this comment isn’t supposed to be about me, it’s supposed to be about idiolect, so let’s start at the beginning. And how to do that if not provide a definition of the term “idiolect” (seriously)? The term “idiolect” has its own article on Wikipedia, which defines it as follows:
“In linguistics, an idiolect is a variety of language that is unique to a person, as manifested by the patterns of vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation that he or she uses. Conceptually, the language production of each person, the idiolect, is unique; linguists disagree what underlying knowledge of a language, or of a given dialect, is shared among the speakers.”
And it’s really not that hard to exemplify. In this example we see three hypothetical persons, each with a different idiolect; for all the differences that can be seen between their individual idiolects, what they are all saying is undeniably the same thing:
Person 1: “I don’t smoke at a bus stop – it might bother others.”
Person 2: “I agree that the average person is irritated by another person’s cigarette smoke; which is why I refuse to smoke at a bus stop.”
Person 3: “I refrain from having a cigarette at a bus stop on the grounds that the smoke would displease those around me.”
I’ve heard of idioms in English (and other languages), as well as figurative and metaphorical language – I would suggest that two of the best known examples in English are “it’s raining cats and dogs” and “having pins and needles”. But I’m not talking about those when I refer to “habitual” or “set” phrases here – phrases which really do tend to become part of the individual idiolect of many people – and I do mean truly “real and everyday” idiolect: the sort of idiolect that you never know where you might pick up, as opposed to the kind of idiolect you think you “should” use (so to speak) for no reason other than the fact that you’ve been specifically taught it, usually by someone you know. One example of what I have in mind here is someone saying “how did you get this number?” when they’ve received a nuisance phonecall. In this phrase the word “number” always refers to a phone number; and there’s a fair chance that the one who uses it has truly had that phrase ingrained in their idiolect to the point where they are genuinely prone to saying those exact words as part of a fixed statement, and they might find it somewhat surprising to hear that phrase used in a context other than when someone receives a nuisance phonecall. Example 2: there’s a film called Tempo, with Hugh Dancy and Rachael Leigh Cook in it. In this film there’s a scene where they are in a car together and have just stopped outside somewhere; in it, just before Rachael leans over and kisses Hugh, says goodnight to him and gets out, she says to him, “You’re not… involved, are you?” Now, anyone can claim that a person can be “involved” in anything, but this is a reminder that one widespread idiolect idiosyncrasy shared by many English-speaking people is that if they hear that a person is “involved” (the word “involved” on its own), then, as far as they’re concerned, that person must be in some sort of relationship with someone else. Now there’s something to remember if you have not yet reached the age where the concept of relationships between two people, like that of boyfriend / girlfriend, is of significance in your life all the time and you know it.
But I mean to actually relate idiolect to my work at some point here. One job I recently accepted was one from a translation agency in Latvia in which I was paid to go through five finished test translations of a short article, and mark them and comment on them where I felt the need. Although it wasn’t a proofreading or editing project as such, it really wasn’t that far away in terms of the skills it required! And although when I finished the job the person who gave me it said he was indeed impressed with my work, I dare say that it was only because I took a sledgehammer approach. The material that had been translated from one language to another in these tests was dead easy but I was prepared from the start to spend more time on this project than the person who gave me it might have guessed.
I don’t think I would be covering this bit properly without reference to the text within the test in conjunction with my own comments which I included with the various translations of it. It was an English to French translation test (yes, I marked French translations in this project even though French is not my mother tongue) and the original was this:
“Argentine lake may offer clues to life on Mars
A lake in Argentina’s remote, inhospitable northwest may offer clues on how life got started on Earth and how it could survive on other planets, scientists say.
Researchers have found millions of “super” bacteria thriving inside the oxygen-starved Lake Diamante, in the center of a giant volcanic crater located over 15,400 feet above sea level.
The bacteria’s habitat is similar to primitive earth, before living and breathing organisms began wrapping a protective atmosphere of oxygen around the planet.”
And now I quote bits from the various translations of this text, each one accompanied by a comment of mine which was supposed to reflect careful consideration. For the record, I didn’t think it was right merely to include nothing but vague statements like, “this doesn’t really work” or “this was a good idea”.
“concernant la vie sur Mars”
“ ‘Concerning life on Mars’? So it is for certain that there has been life on Mars at some point? That’s what this suggests (or would suggest) in my eyes.”
“L’habitat des bactéries est similaire à celui présent sur Terre lorsque que la planète n’était que dans un état primitif, bien avant la création d’une atmosphère d’oxygène protective par les organismes vivants”
“[with “d’une atmosphère d’oxygène”]: No mention of “the planet” but I don’t think that matters.”
“détenir les secrets de la vie sur Mars”
“idiomatic – very good”
“indices sur la façon dont la vie a commencé sur la Terre”
“More great idiomatic language that most non-French people just wouldn’t think of. Impressive. ”
“L’environnement de la bactérie est similaire à celui trouvé sur la Terre primitive”
“[with the word ‘trouvé’] – “Personally, I would have said something else, like ‘connu’ ”.
“Un lac en Argentine pourrait livrer des indices sur la vie sur Mars”
“[with the ‘pourrait livrer des indices’ bit] I think that this is a fine phrase for the information in question in French even if it wouldn’t work in English. ”
“Les chercheurs ont trouvé des millions de ‘superbactéries’ se développant dans le lac Diamante”
“[concerning the word ‘développant’] – I have to question the suitability of this choice of verb. Presumably we are talking about bacteria multiplying and gaining presence rather than just a given range of bacteria ‘growing up’ ”.
“L’habitat des bactéries ressemble à la Terre primitive”
“Shouldn’t this be more like ‘ressemble celui de la Terre primitive’ ”?
When I did this project I specifically choose to include an overall comment for each test after I’d marked it, each one four to five lines long. The comment that I wrote for one of them is as follows:
“This one had the best translation of ‘survive on other planets’ (end of paragraph 1). Generally it worked well enough but I felt that there were sentences where the meaning was on the verge of ‘deviating’ – even if they were written in such a way that the meaning was made clear again by the end of them.
7 out of 10.”
Another project I recently did was a proofreading project of a 30,000+ word English document (which had been translated from Russian, which I don’t speak). It was not like most proofreading projects I do: it was and long and erudite academic article about the major issue of torture. I was prepared to encounter subtle errors (which maybe nevertheless could have had major consequences if unaddressed) more than obvious errors. But at any rate, I was determined to be doubly attentive, and there follows two examples of what my correction work in this project REALLY entailed:
Good 100% correct to great 100% correct:
Example 1
“the collection of information and the legal component supplement each other” to “the collection of information and the legal component go hand in hand”
Example 2
“To prove the fact of torture or other cruel treatment, medical documents are very important” to “Medical documents are very important for proving facts of torture or other cruel treatment”
But I think that I am very much aptly perceptive with this sort of thing really. At one point in this project, I decided to rewrite something as, “an ineffective investigation is the main challenge for any Russian human rights organisation that aims to combat torture” – but should that be “effective”? Let me explain. With “ineffective”, the sentence pertains to a certain kind of ineffective investigation carried out by the authorities, which the document says that the members of a Russian human rights organisation are supposed to resolve to deal with and overcome in the pursuit of their objectives. But suggest the word “effective” – the direct opposite – and all of a sudden it’s easy to believe that the sentence is making the point that the main challenge of any Russian human rights organisation is the performance of their own investigations that prove effective given the circumstances!
My second example of this is where I read this in the original: “But the practice of the largest humanitarian organisation – the Red Cross – is quite different. Its main activity is saving the lives of victims of war. If in order to get women and children out of fire, it will be necessary to pay a bribe to a senior officer of the roadblock, it will be done”. It’s probably more like “the firing line” than “fire”, because when native English speakers talk of fire they tend to talk about burning buildings and that, don’t they?
31st July 2013

No-one should be too surprised to hear that, as a professional translator, I pride myself on verbal competence and dexterity. So…? Well, some might agree that the discussion of imagination is part of the basis of psychology, but I’m sure everyone would think I would be lying if I claimed (or should that be “boasted”?) that no-one and nothing could surprise me. What I’m saying is, however hard I may try, I can’t think of everything. (Hey, have you ever seen the film “Limitless”, with Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro? Even when you’re on NZT, you might end up surprised at the turns you’ve taken.) So what do you do if, after having done a translation job for someone as a professional thing, you’re expected to confront the idea that you’ve done your job “correctly” (the inverted commas are there for a reason) as a result of the client having the temerity to, say, suggest that you’ve been wholly and pathetically dependent on Google Translate or other translation software when you know damn well that that hasn’t been the case?
This may sound very “loose” for what I would have you believe is an earnest point to make – certainly a broad sweeping generalisation – but… there’s different kinds / categories of bad translation. For example, take the average person whose mother tongue is English, who’s bright and educated, whose command of French is not perfect but still sound – if they were required to say “I want to leave school” in French, do you really think they would do it completely word-for-word and say something like “Je veux à sortir école”? Seriously, if anyone out there knows any blog or anything somewhere on the Internet where people discuss what is meant by “literal translation”, I would love to hear of it.
In this comment I include a part of the English text of the instruction manual for my watch, followed by my own idea of how it might have been written by a foreigner with a language other than English as their mother tongue, whose English is by no means no poor but, to a native English speaker like myself, it is very much… slanted. I hope this doesn’t sound patronising to any foreigners reading this whose mother tongue is anything other than English. Mind you, these days in Britain, the truth is that a lot of British people think that some foreigners moving to Britain speak English better than the locals, and who could blame them, when the depressing truth that we are reminded of in videos like this is anything to go by?

Anyway, here goes.
How the English text in the instruction manual really reads:
“Read This Before You Set the Time and Date!
This watch is preset with a number of city codes, each of which represents the time zone where that city is located. When setting the time, it is important that you first select the correct city code for your Home City (the city where you normally use the watch). If your location is not included in the preset city codes, select the preset city code that is in the same time zone as your location.
Note that all of the times for the World Time City codes […] and Dual Time City are displayed in accordance with the time and date settings you configure for the Timekeeping Mode.”
Now I write down my idea of how a foreigner might have written the same text in English (note that the differences from native speakers’ English are by no means always conspicuously obvious):
“Read This Before You Set the Time and Date!
This watch has in it a number of city codes that were included in it during the time that it was manufactured. There is this important condition when you set the time: you must select the correct city code that is there for your home city (this is the city where you will use the watch in the situation that is the normal situation for you). If your location is not one of the ones that are to be found in the list of the city codes that were included in your watch during the time that it was manufactured, please choose one of these city codes that is in the same time zone as where your location is.
Please understand: the watch displays all of the times that are the World Time City codes times […] and the Dual Time City time in accordance with the time and date determinations that you input in the Timekeeping Mode.”
What do you think? Do you agree that that is this a good and accurate example? Or maybe you have a better example. Say what you want.
5th August 2013

When people can’t believe what you’re saying… can you?
Have you ever resolved to tell the truth about something only to end up very frustrated at being told (or gaining the impression) that what you do in this respect is not enough? At any rate, machine translation is a very common subject these days (even if those who discuss it – including me – tend not to bother trying to invent systems with pre-defined categories or classifications for the purpose of evaluating how good machine translators are). It’s not as if people who have invented translation software are never proud of such accomplishments but the translations that machine translators produce are often the subject of criticism – sometimes for obvious reasons, sometimes for reasons which require a bit of explanation. And however good machine translation gets – however much machines may be able to be trusted to offer apt suggestions of not just individual words, but even short phrases – people who attempt translations exclusively with the aid of machine translation tools and accept what they say uncritically should expect to be ridiculed for it. On the forums of the online translation website ProZ.com I’ve read the occasional story of someone giving someone else a piece of translation work and, when it was sent back to them, the person receiving the translation decided for themselves that it looked like nothing but a product of machine translation – before actually publicly stating the same in a comment in the forums of a translation website like ProZ. Obviously, this doesn’t do a lot of good for the image of the professional translation industry. However, where a translation is poor in one or more places, it’s not always a purely linguistic issue.
If there’s any comment on here where I engage to discuss the need to consider the subject matter when doing a translation task, it is this one. Just for a second, let’s compare it to comedy. It is a common observation that good comedians don’t laugh at their own jokes. But picture someone starting to tell a joke where, at the start, you’ve never heard it before and have no idea where that joke originated – whether they made it up themselves or they heard it somewhere. If it were a really good joke but a joke that they didn’t get – which would only mean that they heard it somewhere – what are the chances that you would fail to understand that they didn’t get it? Pretty low if you ask me. What do you think?
But this is about translation. As common as eager discussions about the “right word” or the “right phrase” are when it comes to translation (professional or otherwise), it is not that infrequently the case that that which is responsible for a defective translation is lack of knowledge of the subject matter. Say what you like about how translators must be properly literate, articulate – I know I have – but when people want to read a translation of something, they basically do it because they want to be informed about something, and that thing may be something that they would fully admit that they do not know much (if anything) about themselves. And the last thing they want is that nagging thought of the fear of believing something that isn’t – the fear of being wrong – a source of stress in a task that should be very simple i.e. simply reading something. I mean, how would you feel if you were made to talk about something you knew nothing about, whether as a gesture of pretence/disguise or otherwise?
Hence translators exchange whole glossaries of terminology for things, which may specify a particular word in a target language for a given word in an original language that is otherwise not that uncommon – it’s just that the average translator may have a totally different “standard” translation term in the target language for a given term in the original language.
The paradox about being a translator is that you are not unlikely to find yourself literally speaking for someone you don’t even know and don’t care a wit about. (This certainly happens when you work for translation agencies all over the world, as I do.) Have you ever read or heard something and found yourself going, “this looks like something written by person XYZ / something person XYZ would say?” Everyone who knows me personally (and anyone used to seeing my new business video) knows what my voice sounds like. My question is – as an example – as you sit here reading this comment, do you hear my voice saying these exact same words in your head, as if I were reading them to you? Would about someone else’s voice – maybe even your own? Why do you think people talk of people being in the love with the sound of their own voice?

And that’s the issue. How much do I really know about the subject matter of any translation task that I am offered? Maybe I could get away with being attached to these comments that exist specifically to promote my life’s work, like they were my own children (even though I’m not actually a father), but I believe that, when I invest a lot of effort in producing a professional translation, I should beware of making it only too “authentically me” purely out of my own ignorance, if that makes sense. I repeat the question I’ve just asked here: how much do I really know about the subject matter of any translation task that I am offered? How can I be sure that, at the phase when I’m considering a translation job offered me, my knowledge of its subject matter really is good enough for me to be trusted with it?
As I’ve mentioned in an earlier comment (see 9th July), sometimes when I do a translation job and I’m not sure about something, I include a post-it note for the bit in question which essentially says something like “please verify” or “please have a look at this” or “how would you put this?” For better or worse, I will admit that there are times when I just don’t know for sure whether or not my knowledge of any given subject matter really is good enough for doing a given translation job in connection with it. On those occasions when that is the case but I do accept the job, I justify such a decision on the basis of the idea that, if my final translated product did show any discrepancies, then they would be relatively minor ones; nothing that the project manager or the client couldn’t correct themselves, even if it did require that they consult someone else about it. But I’ve learned the hard way that that has its limitations. At least I realized by myself that not even having my own opinions in any given subject matter (even if they would be independent) can always be trusted to help me understand / expand my knowledge of what a given document in a foreign language of such subject matter is REALLY all about.
9th August 2013

I’m sure I’ve done work for clients who, at the time that they were looking for someone to do the translation job that I would end up doing for them, specifically had it in mind that they wanted someone who wouldn’t treat the job as “just another translation job”. Quite apart from the common business notion whereby different clients have different needs (and, not uncommonly, different standards / expectations), the truth is that sometimes when someone wants something translated they specifically want a translator with the unique terminology and / or expressions and / or style that they know exist in a given field – not just someone who regards themselves as a “good” translator, and even if they do in fact have some sort of respectable portfolio of evidence to back it up. I thought about these clients in particular as I wrote this latest comment.
Whatever the situation, maybe you’re wondering right now how I would elaborate my own translation approach / strategy. And even if it is every bit as good and effective one as I would have you believe, how to put it forth in a way that wins the interest and confidence of the average man in the street, and without boring them? I must admit, it’s much easier to mention the qualities I endeavour to apply with my translation work: analytical, inventive and speculative are the ones which first come to mind. But I will resolve to state that my own translation process includes the following: I go through it sentence by sentence, and when I read through each one in the original material in turn I am determined to be as responsive as I should be to at least the keywords that give it the meaning it is supposed to have (I do mean its real meaning, not just whatever meaning I see in it) – it’s just that taking common sense for granted is not always a good idea. Then after I’ve finished writing a credible translation of it I check it for typos, coherence and reader-friendliness, including bringing the “feel” of it (as imparted by the existing stylistic aspects) into question. Sometimes I remain unsure about something even after all this, so I let the client know – I highlight the point in question and attach a post-it note saying “Please verify” or “What do you really think about this?” or something like that. To be honest, sometimes the case is one where I have written a translation which I know to be correct even if it sounds a little odd, and the question is, “Do you want to have a go at rewriting this?”
Moving on: it is said that people don’t suspect the obvious; which is precisely why I want to point out here that every part of a translation should make something clear to the reader and one thing only – just like the thing it’s a translation of, really. When it comes to translating something that is specifically mentioned as in a given field or subject: there is a difference between having an interest in a given field or subject (that any to-be-translated document may belong to) and being little more than hypnotised by your own attachment with it i.e. aspects of your own personal history where it can be identified, and your own expectations and biases of it based wholly on empirical evidence.
At any rate, when I write an English translation of something I certainly owe it to the client to write proper and clear English, even I do have questions that need clarifying. In a nutshell, a keen focus and a readiness to justify my decisions coherently are more than things that guide me properly when I do it; they are the norm, even if it is an unspoken one. (Funnily enough, I think of the time I recently said, “I’ll be bluntly” in a phone conversation with someone. To me, “I’ll be bluntly” isn’t correct English, but I was merely caught between saying “I’ll be blunt” and “to put it bluntly” – maybe you surmised that already?) If I really need to provide an example / exercise here, let’s look at the first line of the famous poem “I Wondered Lonely As A Cloud” by William Wordsworth. Do you agree that translators “see language differently” from “ordinary” people? I look at the words “I wondered lonely as a cloud” and just think, “Well, ‘I wondered’ by itself is enough to constitute a sentence no less than all six words…”, “Clouds and loneliness – are there people who habitually regard clouds as lonely or is this just a one-off idea that is part of the content of the poem?…”, “With the words ‘I wondered’, did this person just ‘go wondering from not wondering’ or was it like ‘they were already in a state of wondering when they started having these musings which I see reproduced in this poem…?” …I could read the whole poem and document all manner of random ideas like this, but I won’t. But the point is that everything I think of like this when I am reading the original version of a document that I am translating is capable of having a bearing on how I write its translation. Whether I’m right or wrong, it’s all about my own conviction in the veracity of what I write just being there and easily identifiable to the reader – what else? (Right here I thought of saying “be the reader a suspecting one or an unsuspecting one”, but then we all know that there are all kinds of written texts that just don’t have absolutely anyone as their target readership.) But this is only part of it. Is it really that hard to tell the difference between writing about something and writing about what you see in it? When I wrote about the group Paramore in an earlier comment (dated 25th June) – which was it in that case?
I know I’ve mentioned the old British TV show Mind Your Language before in at least one of these comments (a comedy show in which foreigners from various countries learn English as a foreign language; Barry Evans plays their teacher). Maybe what I’m about to say in this paragraph reflects a true understanding of it and the reasons why it was as successful as it was. I think we would all agree that those whose mother tongue is not English usually have some sort of a properly defined “approach” or “strategy” when it comes to using English, than native speakers of English do. With this, when non-native speakers of English speak English, their comments in the language are much less likely to be shaped by what can only be described as remnants of their own personal experiences which are significant to them (however meaningless they may be to anyone else) or by their own expectations of things in life and biases, compared with native speakers. Compare that with these two things:
1. I received a spam email today whose subject line was, “Do you really know his past? Free background check” (it probably had something to hide). But when I read the subject line my first thought was that this was aimed at women and that by “his past” they were talking about the past of their male partner (so to speak) – all because of that single word “his”. But maybe I really am wrong here? Maybe it could be regarded as more generic?
2. Have you ever noticed that people involved in finance (stocks and shares and all that carry-on) talk about “spikes” from time to time? Assuming you know what is meant by it – a brief period of a boom with something – why do you think they call it that? What if I suggested that the reason is like this: when there is a very short boom with something, what happens is that it’s only a matter of time before it is reflected on whatever line charts by the line going steeply upward for a bit and then steeply back down again – a “spike”.

16th August 2013

A good translator does their translation work with great care and consideration, being aware of at least some of the truths about language and the art of translation and not just sweeping consideration of them under the carpet with the complacent belief that, whatever they write in their translation product, “whatever happens, the truth is basically there for all to see even if it does require a bit of extra thinking / reasoning.” …is it? Either way, it surely takes a great translator to question their own quality policy, especially if this is unprompted. And I’m not the only one who has ever written blogs related to translation; you’ve only got to look at the discussion forums of the likes of ProZ and TranslatorsCafe, or have a look at the sorts of things that translation-related groups on LinkedIn talk about.
A translation quality policy which enables the detection of all errors: is that a possibility (however elusive) or a hopeless (yet possibly mentally debilitating) fantasy? And if it is possible, is one person enough to make it work? To their credit, lots of translation agencies have gone out of their way to define their quality policy on their websites, and in good layman’s terms. And I’m not talking about rules like not having music playing while you do it, which could prove a distraction: this sort of thing is but standard operating procedure to many people in translation work (and other things). I too have gone out my way to define my own translation quality policy. For more than a year now I’ve had a file saved on my computer which basically describes my translation work quality policy / explains why my approach to professional translation is a suitable one; it is just over 3,500 words long, far longer than even any of these comments of mine you see on my Facebook business account. For some time now I’ve been wanting to learn how to include a new page on my website, on which to post it.
There are many kinds of phobias in the world. There’s abnormal fears of certain objects or virtual objects where the reason behind it is actually not that hard to fathom (such as arachnophobia, fear of spiders; claustrophobia, fear of confined spaces; and vertigo, fear of heights). Then there are phobias with more of a social implication (such as xenophobia, fear of that which is foreign; catagelophobia, fear of being ridiculed; and peccatophobia, fear of sinning / imaginary crimes). Bart Simpson’s Guide To Life has two pages of other supposedly “honest-to-God” phobias including some which seem to make no sense at all (including linonophobia, fear of string; cathisophobia, fear of sitting; and pteronophobia, fear of being tickled by feathers). I just wonder what the phobia of making mistakes is – maybe atychiphobia? There must be one! And how close am I to suffering from it (if I don’t have it already)?
When I do translation work, I would say, in all honesty and earnesty, that I find it notably easier to make language-type corrections than corrections which revolve around a comprehensive and astute knowledge of the subject matter of the original article. Professional translators can and do underestimate how likely it is that it will be pointed out or suggested to them that they lack knowledge of the subject matter of a given piece of translation work, even if they do have good reasons to believe that what they have written is close enough to correct and where the truth “really isn’t that obscured”.
As far as this is concerned, it’s worth considering the scope of that which is taken for granted. When people boldly say that they don’t take things for granted, what they mean (well, should mean) is that they don’t take aspects of certain (usually familiar or pre-determined) situations for granted. Knowledge (and common sense), however, is taken for granted far more often with no-one really thinking much of it until it is too late (if it results in anything bad). What’s the best way to illustrate this? As far as I’m concerned, the answer to that is this: don’t you agree that there are times where people meet other people for the first time and then agree that they know stuff about them even though they have never met or seen them or heard anything about them before?
People even take things that aren’t so, for granted. We’ve seen it in Rush Hour where Jackie Chan’s character innocently tries to be friendly with black people in that bar by saying, “What’s up, my nigger?”, just like Chris Tucker’s character did; and Pat Condell shows just how much this can have sinister consequences in his video “The truth is incorrect”, in which he talks about the misleading agenda of the “progressive” consensus. It’s hard for me to imagine anything braver I can do as a professional translator than to show that I don’t take my own quality policy for granted – to question and revise it even if no-one else suggests it. Although, just like anyone else, even if I don’t know the answer concerning something in a given translation project, that doesn’t mean that I can’t seize opportunities to pursue it; and if I have to admit that I can’t do it by myself… is that really so bad? What can I say? That’s life, I guess. Sometimes I wonder exactly who I would be today and what I would be doing today / what my life would be like today if I had born in feudal Japan, or to a mountain-dwelling Inca tribe, or among the pyramids and sphinxes of Ancient Egypt, or…
20th August 2013

No-one likes being told that they can’t write properly, or that they have written in a little-coherent way, especially when the accusing party doesn’t take the time to indicate the supposed errors; and if they are indicated, then they are not the kind of errors that can be checked against anything official. I know that I in particular would find it hard to take mildly any suggestion that I couldn’t write properly (however offhand or casual), not least because I am supposed to be a professional linguist. But everyone with their head screwed on basically knows that “proper writing” is important – I mean, just have a look at this story of someone being wantonly ignorant of it:http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/3252988/… This is an extreme example, but to me it is undeniably a good example, if you’ll pardon the expression.
But for all that, in my experience, if I’m ever going to truly “specialise” in translating in a certain field (legal, medical, whatever), I will somehow need to acquire a knowledge of far more than what I can take my time reading about in books and the like in the cosy confines of my study or bedroom. What do I mean by this? How can I explain it in concrete terms? I’m talking about non-systematic and by no means static approaches in a given industry which have just ended up adopted often enough that they have become widely recognised and popularised throughout the whole industry and everyone knows it. I’m talking about situations / scenarios / things / concepts which people come to habitually reference as part of their dealings with other situations / scenarios / things / concepts; such situations / scenarios / things / concepts may be referred to indirectly through the highlighting of things related to them – is “metonymy” the right word for it? Either way, in short, what I’m trying to say is that focussing on theory alone i.e. what happens in the classroom won’t cut it. Then again, it’s not unlike the matter of the question of what I was supposed to think when I was expected to read French and German news as far back as in my days of studying these languages at A-level (aged 16-18). You could say it’s a totally different kind of thinking; and it’s certainly one want that I want to master at a high level very soon. For the time being, though, I see no reason why I shouldn’t do all I can to be able to sway even the most staunch and rigid doubt and scepticism of my writing skills; whatever it may be based on, and whether it’s fair or unfair. And a big part of it is the subject of verbal reasoning (once again I think of the old British TV comedy “Mind Your Language”, and more specifically what plenty of the jokes in it are based on: verbal reasoning). Having said that, on a personal note, I certainly remember how enthusiastic I was about asserting that RAC was something other than a term of affection obscene to use casually (see comment dated 25th June 2013) – because I say so, so to speak.
Regarding the spelling and grammar mistakes article in The Sun referenced above: I just know that there was once a time when I would have thought of the headteacher’s being “red-faced” and her apology being motivated more by anger and a feeling of humiliation at the idea of people laughing at the teacher responsible (including the children who attend the school, if you ask me) and, by extension, her and the whole school, rather than by mere awkward embarrassment, which is what it feels like to me today. It’s just the way I am, if that makes sense. I say this because I think that this is worth comparing with the more language-related things I discuss below; but the bottom line is that this is about ME and WHAT I DO.
I was reading, trying to absorb the contents of the latest issue of Chris Cardell’s Business Breakthroughs earlier this week, and while doing this I felt myself questioning myself for my own knowledge / reasoning of the term “competitive industry”. Quote: “…from some not-unusual businesses, in the sense that they are both in competitive markets and so are potentially susceptible to being commoditised on price.” I don’t know about you but I know that I always used to view a “competitive industry” as either or both of the following: one with many competing companies in it; one whose companies tend to make a lot of money selling generally expensive and “flash” goods which people are prone to showing off with, like camcorders or stereo systems and other expensive electrical equipment; and, as far as I was concerned, the manufacture of these goods was something which “takes a lot of doing” and “being smart”, certainly compared to “mere basic low-cost things” like buckets or saucepans – commodity goods. People enhance the products of the former category in all sorts of ingenious (and, not uncommonly, abstruse) ways all the time and everyone knows it, whether or not they buy them. But when reading this issue of Business Breakthroughs I came to see a link between said former category and the threat posed to the average business which is the possibility of it becoming commoditised. It is mostly businesses which sell “generally expensive and ‘flash’ goods” that are the most ambitious in terms of their turnover – consider how much pressure they are under not to look commoditised and only doing well enough to “scrape by” (like a business which sells “mere basic low-cost things”, so to speak), probably in the eyes of their competitors more than their customers. After all, commodity goods fall under “the simple things in life” that everyone wants (and needs): like bread or milk, like buckets or saucepans; not like camcorders or stereo systems, and certainly not like such technological wonders as the Xbox or the Smartphone which were inconceivable only twenty years ago. We can argue that not everyone has what it takes to succeed in a truly “competitive” industry, and assert that, in essence, it’s very much about the approaches and just the fundamental attitude of those involved in the “competitive” industries; but that said, I remember this time when I learned of an article on LinkedIn whose title was, “Are you good, or just good at your job?” I think you know what that hints at. Chris says that, whatever industry you’re in, being commoditised means competing with your competitors on nothing but price… and he says that even buyers don’t want that. But I never thought of it that way i.e. a comprehensive grasp of the position of companies in “competitive industries” and what the life of their employees is really like; and not just their products / services of these companies and the implications thereof.
And now for something completely different. With all this carry-on regarding the possibility of governments intervening in Syria with military force: when I was listening to the radio on Tuesday morning I heard someone talking about how those in power did not want to appear weak or “pusillanimous”. When I heard the word “pusillanimous”, the first thing that struck me was that I knew I’d heard it before, but I just couldn’t remember what it meant! So I looked it up in the dictionary again: it says that it means cowardly / irresolute, as in “a pusillanimous governor”. But one of the synonyms I saw listed for “pusillanimity” was “timidity” – I always thought of “timid” being an adjective for “shy”. Indeed, the French word I learned for “shy” back at school was none other than “timide”. If you regard yourself or someone you know as a “shy” person… as unfair as it may seem – and although I may well not know you or them – what if I suggested that people might have a negative view of you / them on the basis of some idea (which may or may not be tested) that you / they were “pusillanimous” or cowardly or whatever word you want to use? I’m only talking in hypotheticals here, but these claims may be discrete or… well, discreet.
A worthy comment, or a waste of time? Again, I can’t speak for you – but hey, I’ve spoken up again!
30th August 2013

I recently introduced the “Quality Feedback Form” in my translation business. When I complete a project for someone, when I send them my translation of it I also send them a copy of this form (which I have translated into French and German where necessary). But I’ve decided that I should include the text of it here for everyone to see, so here goes:
George Trail Translation Services
Project details
My reference:
Your reference (if applicable):
Name(s) of original file(s):
I am committed to producing good quality translation work that those it’s for should feel at ease reading (and certainly “using”). If however you find that I am responsible for elements of poor quality in the translation work that I have recently completed for you, I will listen to your complaints and do my best to take corrective measures.
First of all, how would you rate this translation work in general?
0 – totally unacceptable
1 – distinguishably poor
2 – very poor
3 – poor
4 – below adequate
5 – borderline
6 – far from perfect but still fair
7 – acceptable
8 – good (above passable)
9 – very good
10 – excellent
Your answer:
It is said that the very best translations don’t look like they are translations. How common were the mistakes you noted (certain or alleged)?
0 – so many that comprehension is virtually impossible at every turn
1 – enough that reading (never mind understanding) the text is a challenge in itself
2 – too many; the correct bits are there but they’re few and far between
3 – there are several errors, most of which deserve to be called worse than minor
4 – the text with could do with some wholesale rewriting in many places
5 – quite a few but they’re generally not ones that impede the overall legibility of the text
6 – there are a handful but the minor ones tend to outweigh the major ones
7 – relatively few; there is a small chance of evidence of carelessness but nothing serious
8 – only a few, and chances are they don’t even require much to correct
9 – very few, and even then they are nearly always subtle or hard even to notice at all
10 – there are no or virtually no errors
Your answer:
We will now establish the nature of the mistakes to you claim to have observed. From the categories I’ve suggested below, how would you describe them overall (please provide examples as appropriate)?
• Spelling mistakes (common typos or otherwise), or punctuation, grammatical or syntax errors
• Clumsy / awkward phrasing i.e. phrases / sentences that are hard to follow (even if they could be interpreted as “correct” in theory but chances are that this would not come naturally)
• Poor selection of individual words or specific terms (this could be translating words wrongly in that the wrong meaning was grasped, or it could be failure to use correct terminology, or saying something that, while it may be perfectly normal in whatever other context, sounds out of place or peculiar in the specific context of this text)
• Phrases which, while they may be correct and even educated-sounding, suggest something in relation to the subject matter of the text that those involved with it know cannot be true
• If it’s hard to say exactly, you can say what you want here:
31st August 2013

Every once in a while, after having completed a certain translation project and sent it off, someone writes back to me expecting me to agree that I have not done it right in one or more places; depending on the (supposed) error in question it just might test my willingness to assume ownership of my translation work. It’s not that I haven’t done it with all the diligence I know, but there are times when all I can do is have an educated guess of what word or expression the client would have used – assuming that it would even be a word or expression that I am familiar with.
But consider this: I’ve disown completely the idea that the answer (as far as translation matters are concerned) is always straightforward. For example: “Sobre” means “simple” in French, apparently – not “sober”, for some reason. Yet I know that “sobre” means “above” in Spanish! Although, let’s look at this example case: in this humorous bad translations book “Lost in Translation” by Charlie Croker, I saw that some Japanese person once wrote English “dryness machine” as meaning “tumble drier” – is that really a bad translation?
Let’s look at the latest batch of translation anecdotes I have known in my work as a translator…
Original (German to English): “Die Signal-Funktion der Verpackung verliert auch in der digitalen Welt nicht an Bedeutung. ”
Translation: “In the digital world, as well, the significance of packaging is not diminished.” NOT “Even in the digital world, the significance of packaging is not diminished”. And “Im Gegenteil” meaning “on the contrary” rather than “on the other hand.”
The German word “Parkplatz” can mean “parking space” or “car park” in English – is there any time where the writing the wrong translation of that word in English is perfectly understandable?
Original (German to English): “Heimatverbunden und international begehrt. ”
Translation: “homebound and internationally sought”
… or should that be “sought internationally”? Do these necessarily mean the same thing? I remember that, when I did the project in which I saw this, I considered that – by the standards of the Queen’s English, at least –“internationally sought” probably should be said when one means, “people all over the world seek this out”, whereas “sought internationally” should be used to suggest a case of when a particular thing is being sought by some individual or group of them in locations throughout the world. But this is just speculation; I could be wrong… Mind you, having said that, just how congruent is the sentence “Only a few people have seen it worldwide” with the sentence “Only a few people worldwide have seen it”?
Original (German to English): “Unsere Kueche ist wie unseres Haus”, taken from a piece of hotel advertising written in German.
Translation: “Our cuisine is like our home” rather than “Our kitchen is like our home”?
The German word “Waschtisch” apparently means “basin” in English, even though it’s nothing like a table i.e. in German, “Tisch” means “table” in English. Unlike a table, a basin is hollowed out in the middle. But are you sure you never get “washing tables”? In the project in which I saw it, I only knew it was “basin” because I could see a photo of a basin with it.
Original (German to English, from a technical text about painters and primers):“Überarbeitung”
Translation: in English, in a technical sense this means “reworking” in a technical sense rather than “revision” (as with written documents and whatnot).
The last one (French to English) is:
“Je l’utilise depuis un peu plus d’une semaine et pour l’instant je ne trouve rien à redire mais comme 10 est censé représenter la perfection et qu’à mes yeux la perfection n’existe pas alors j’ai mis 9 donc un grand bravo à Nokia si ce n’est le manque d’un lecteur de mini carte SD”
Translation: “I deduct 1 point owing to the fact that certain major applications are missing e.g. Instagram, and I deduct 1 more point owing to the major applications which do not work e.g. Youtube. Otherwise, it shows good mobile characteristics – it is not among the top 3 but it is on par with its generation; and the camera is excellent for an 8 megapixel one – when will there be a 13 megapixel one? 41 megapixels, that would be OK – but there’s still a lot to do at the end.”
Is that a correct translation?
I stumbled a bit at the end. When you think about it, I really was playing “find the missing word” – like the kind of English lesson exercises you do in primary school English lessons. One of these might be like, “insert a word (maybe from a list) into each of the following sentences to complete them and have them make sense”; another one might be reading, making sense of sentences in which each word has the wrong letter at the beginning or the end. But getting translation right – assuming ownership of translation work – isn’t about being good at that sort of thing, is it? No, what it really demands is a sensitivity and aptitude for… anyone? Consider this: an aptitude for empathy.
Johann von Goethe said, “What you don’t understand, you can’t possess.” If I write a translation about something while not knowing as much about the subject matter as I think I do, then am I at a loss to take responsibility for that translation – assume ownership of it for what it really is? What do you think I would do if this happened? The answer is simple enough: whatever I have to – or at least what I can, when I can. There’s a fine line between deeper consideration of something and acceptance of what is common sense in connection with it – but defining it is often the hardest thing to do. You may have heard the phrase, “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” Well, in a world that exists only in a person’s mind, “Anything that can go right, will go right” – even if it doesn’t make sense (if that makes sense). But the core truth of it always hangs in what is said in connection with it. When you think about it, it really is no wonder that some people show vivid imaginations when it comes to looking at a translation that is supposed to be for them (and not necessarily for them alone).
They say pride is one of the seven deadly sins – this would be the ignorant and self-indulgent kind of pride, where those who exhibit it are not necessarily prone to victimising those who witness it (I think of hubris, such as that shown by Xerxes in 300). But there is also the kind of pride which makes a person feel happy and invigorated, with no element of shame about it. Shouldn’t I be proud of all my successful projects as a professional translator to date – if not without tolerating forever the frustration that my own pride in what I can do in terms of translation is capable of swaying my judgement and thereby compelling me to do things like using certain template or cliché expressions which I like to use as part of my own idiolect rather than looking for and putting anything else which could be better trusted to make the content of a translation product properly clear? And so I bend over backwards to weigh my words carefully. I don’t know everything… but then I shouldn’t forget that I’m only human. I imagine that a phobia of making mistakes is a very nasty thing to have. At least it’s the case that, when I’m doing a translation project for someone who I agree knows more about the subject matter than I do, I don’t commit the ignominy of using that an excuse to make reckless guesses which are only good for leaving others guessing.
Prepare to be alarmed or disconcerted… to me it would appear that there is some sort of so-called sense that is valued higher than “common sense”. “Idealised” is perhaps a better word – a sense which is unknowingly / unconsciously regarded or represented as better than what it might actually be in reality, including in comparison with common sense. I reinforce this claim by stating that people tend to find inspiration and that sort of thing in something that’s more elusive (and, usually, less virtuous) than common sense. One translation project I did recently was a German-to-English one that was marketing for a product referred to as “The Magic Pan”; I quote from it:
Original: “Zeigt Ihnen, wann sie auf Kochtemperatur ist!”
My translation: “Lets you know when the cooking temperature is reached!”
When I agreed to write the translation of it that I did, reproduced here, initially I just thought that the “lets you know” bit meant “an alarm rather than some sort of relatively inconspicuous visual indication.” Like I said, I find that this is indicative of a sense which seems to be valued – no, I’ll replace that word, “cherished” – more than common sense. Only later, I read none other than this in the original: “Kein unnötiges Zuwarten: Erstmals zeigt eine Pfanne, wann die optimale Temperatur erreicht ist!” – translated as “No unnecessary watchful waiting: for the first time: a pan which shows when the optimal temperature has been reached!” Something which effectively negates what I wrote earlier. I tell, you professional translation, as boring as it may seem, is not without its roller coaster rides. Yet even when I wrote “No unnecessary watchful waiting” I was torn between the following two notions: a) “no more watching the pan during the cooking” or b) like: “No more waiting, for there is this product available on the market now!”)
What about ownership of satisfaction i.e. “having” satisfaction? What is satisfaction of something if it is not real? Let me ask you this: how many things can you think of that it seems that people are expected either to like or to hate with a passion? Wouldn’t you say that this applies very much among celebrities? And online talent shows – for example, while Britain’s Got Talent introduced us all to such wonderful talents as Paul Potts and Susan Boyle, there are people who are fond of making jokes about how much that show is bad or an embarrassment, to hear them say it. And I recently read a joke about Facebook that went like this: “I posted a comment which said that Facebook is for losers who have no life. I got 156 likes.” My dictionary describes a “vicarious thrill” as “a thrill enjoyed by someone through his imagined participation in another’s experience” – ring any bells (I suggest you be honest with that one)?
You might watch a film or something and insist that you “like it” – that is, find it appealing or whatever – while having no idea what it’s all about. Or it might be jumping on some bandwagon, whatever. Don’t you believe that there is always a time and a place for the definition of any given satisfaction? For example, if you were playing a computer game which had characters in it which definitely stuck in your mind somehow, then how likely would you be to read more information about these characters if it were just presented to you out of the blue (like you just inadvertently ran into it while surfing the net)? What is it that you identify with exactly? What is its position in your life, and indeed the life of the society that you live in?
But I wanted to keep this comment relevant to my work as a professional translator. Try to imagine for a moment: a story of an English person in a foreign country, where so much is alien to them, and not just the language (and yes, I know I spent a year at the University of Poitiers as part of my degree) – now try to think about this: what about a story of a foreign person in some other foreign country? How would someone respond to something like that?
Unlike some people, I am anything but prone to linguistic mishaps i.e. just plain awful spelling and grammatical errors such as that sign which said, “Cars posted here without a permit will be toad away.” Even so, the fact is that sometimes when I do a translation project for someone they claim that I don’t understand the subject matter (“their thing”) rather than my own linguistic work in the project (“my thing”), even if they would be willing to admit to being jealous of what I can do on that score (prompted or otherwise), and even if “their thing” is none of my business personally (there is a reason where I am expected to sign confidentiality agreements in connection with translation projects from time to time). Yes, professional translation work should be more than “correct” from a purely theoretical perspective; the fact is that my clients want to be able to “own” my translation work just as I once owned it (certainly if they intend to apply it in work pursuits or whatever).
But I would like to ask: if the concept of mistranslation / representation of a text in another language is one that you can debate with some level of confidence, where and when was it really born for you? In one French to English translation project I did recently, when translating the text, “Je regrette seulement de ne pas retrouver exactement mon Outlook comme avec Windows 6.5 de mon HTC… EDWIN MAYER.”, I thought for a bit before ultimately and formally deciding on “the only thing I regret is not being able to find my Outlook in EXACTLY THE SAME WAY AS WITH WINDOWS 6.5 with my HTC… EDWIN MAYER”.
I like to believe that keeping my eyes open for chances to use particular expressions here and there which will definitely reflect faith in my translation work, is enough to keep my spirits up. Although everything said in the original document of a given translation project means one thing and one thing only, understanding is properly is but half the battle; there is any number of ways that it could be represented in a new language, but I knew a long time ago that eager creativeness in this regard should be exercised in moderation, and not recklessly! At least I can promise to place the faith in my translations that my clients don’t have time for and / or wouldn’t know how… all so that one day the client will be able to put their faith in them.
Come to think of it, if a client gets back to me about a piece of translation work that I have done for them determined to challenge me on what I believe to be a good, well-informed idea contained therein with what I can agree is a good, well-informed idea of their own (nothing capricious!), then that must ultimately mean that they place faith in my translation work like I am supposed to do! So I can’t have done that badly! I should remember to take the risk and let my translation work have the presence and influence that it is supposed to have!
9th September 2013

Could I define “translation consistency” if I had to? What do people think they mean when they say that? …What would I think I meant if I said that?
With some of the professional translation tasks I do I know that I am expected to keep my translation of this or that certain term or expression the same throughout the entire text, and that passes for translation consistency, at least to a certain extent. But I insist on elaborating, taking the discussion of the whole thing further. My latest two translation-related anecdotes from my work as a professional translator are as follows:
German to English, original: “Mit voller Akku-Ladung kann der Haar- und Bartschneider max. 45 Minuten netzunabhängig betrieben werden.”
Translation: “When the battery is fully loaded, the hair / beard trimmer can be used for a maximum of 45 minutes with no connection to the mains necessary.”
With the “with no connection to the mains necessary” bit, I put that without really thinking about it – I must have dismissed talk of “independent of the network” unconsciously!
German to English, original: “Stimmen unserer glücklichen Gewinner”
Translation: “The statements [rather than “voices” / “votes”] of our lucky winners.”
Here we see two cases where I decided to use one or more items of vocabulary in the translation where the counterpart words in question were nowhere to be found in the original, foreign language version. I merely saw it as the best way to generate / keep optimal flow and therefore consistency of the translation, so to speak – the best way to ensure a reading of it where, in the eyes of anyone, the IMMEDIATE GRASP OF IT will actually be categorically along the lines of the subject matter; even if one could view the original ideas that I was inevitably going to have (i.e. “independent of the network” in the former, “voices” in the latter) as enough to reflect the intended message and clearly (in other words, pass for satisfactory / do the job) – maybe.
Although I have never interpreted professionally before, I know that there is one key difference between translation and interpreting, and it is this: translation is the rendering of a written message from one language into another, while interpreting is the rendering of a spoken message from one language into another. I definitely, definitely know that people have specifically said that on the ProZ forums at least once. On the basis of this, I readily suggest that written translation is viewed as more definitive than spoken translation. For written material tends to be regarded as the final output product of discussion or thinking about something, following the consideration of many facts, considerations and viewpoints, all concluded and compacted into one. Prepared written material is more common than staged conversation, isn’t it? I find that it is usually the case that, when you look at / start to read a piece of written material, you can usually see where the end of it is in a matter of seconds, and you make the decision of whether or not you want to read the whole thing in a very short time frame if that’s feasible; if you do decide to do that you usually want to do it all one go, and you are very likely to get irritated at anything which disrupts you from it. Spoken fare, however, is far more abstract, often with no hard and fast rules about the conditions under which it all stops, and I think we would all agree that the ongoing exchange of opinions / discussion happens most in conversation, where the option of getting back to something later is often non-existent (or at least considered as such). Also, if you ask me, people are more likely to see images relevant to the matter under discussion in written fare compared to spoken fare (compare Facebook chat to talking at the dinner table, for example). Hence people are more sensitive to “consistency” in written material than they are to “consistency” in anything spoken, like general conversation. They may never have described or even considered the reason(s) behind it for themselves, but that’s precisely what I’m endeavouring to do here: to me, it is generally universally accepted that a written document is better at helping people to see eye-to-eye about something than spoken fare is. And why not, when people don’t expect the kind of interruptions in written fare that might occur with spoken fare like conversation?
The best example of non-consistency in communication I can think of, is this conversation between Jade and Spencer on Big Brother (by the way, for the record, I’ve never watched that show myself; I’ve merely enjoyed reading this book of things people actually said in reality TV shows). I call it this because it’s as if they both specifically refuse to stick to any point in particular (Jade especially, but then she in particular was notorious for being less than bright before she died). It goes like this:
Spencer: You know you see those people in Venice standing on the back of gondolas, pushing it around?
Jade: They don’t do that on the Thames though, do they?
Spencer: No, I don’t work on the Thames. I work in Cambridge.
Jade: Is there not the Thames there?
Spencer: No!
Jade: Is there a river called the Cambridge river?
Spencer: Yeah, it’s called the Cam.
Jade: Really? You swear? I only thought there was the Thames. I thought that was the main one in London.
Spencer: It is. I don’t live in London.
Jade: I’m confused. I thought Cambridge was in London. I knew Birmingham weren’t in London.
Spencer: Would you like to go and tell the group what you just said?
Jade: No…
Spencer: Cambridge is a city.
Jade: But we’ve got a city in London.
Spencer: Yes. This city is called London. And there’s different parts of it. Cambridge is a city.
Jade: Of where? Kent? Well England’s a country, London’s a city, Bermondsey’s just a throw-off. Now where are you? What’s your country, and what’s your things?
Spencer: What country am I from? England. The city is called Cambridge, the county Cambridgeshire.
Jade: So not Kent then?
Spencer: No. The region is called East Anglia.
Jade: Where’s East Angular, though? I thought that was abroad.
Spencer: Jade, have you been taking the stupid pills again?
Jade: Every time people tell me they work in East Angular, I actually think they’re talking about near Tunisia and places like that. Am I thick?
Spencer: Well, I hate to say it, but you are.
Jade: ‘Cause Scottish and Irish and all that comes under England, doesn’t it?
Spencer: No. They come under Great Britain. Scotland and Wales have their own flags. Ireland and Northern Ireland are different.
Jade: So they’re not together? Where’s Berlin?
Spencer: Germany…
When Jade says, “What’s your things?”: it’s hard to get any more vague or inconsistent in communication matters than that. However, as far as I’m concerned, she could only have been basically meaning to ask one of two things: “What you trying to say?” or “What are you all about?” But what you can say when it was so haphazardly and ambiguously put that not even she really cared about what she was saying (judging by what she started talking about soon after)?
12th September 2013

One thing I have thought of doing, one challenge I have thought of setting myself as far as my translation career and marketing of it is concerned, is to find material which I know had been translated from French or German into English (poorly) with a machine translator, and consider what the original text in French / German was (assuming I could understand the meaning of the English text). I am claiming that sometimes when I read something in English which I know is a (bad) translation of something I know was originally written in another language that I can speak, I can to a certain extent identify the words that were used in the original language version. For example,
French to English
English translation: “Instructions to the users of the ascenseur, persons ignorant of the maneuvers of the ascenseur are prayed instantly to address themselves to the concierge.”
French original: “Instructions aux utilisateurs de l’ascenseur, personnes ignorantes des manoeuvres de l’ascenseur sont priés de s’adresser au concierge.”
English translation: “Competitors will defile themselves on the promenade at 11am, and each car will have two drivers who will relieve themselves at each other’s convenience.”
French original: “Compétiteurs vont se défiler sur la promenade à 11h00, et chaque voiture aura deux chaffeurs qui s’allégeront à l’avantage de l’autre.”
German to English
English translation: “It is our intention to pleasure you every day.”
German original: “Es ist unseres Vorhaben, Ihnen jedes Tages zu geniessen.”
English translation: “Peculiar arrangements for gross parties.”
German original: “Besondere Vereinbarungen für grosse Parteien.”
But then I wondered just how different such texts are from texts which were originally written in English before being translated into another language by a machine translator before then being translated back into English. I just don’t agree that chances are that the back-translated English text would be exactly the same as the English text that was there before it got put through the machine translator in the first place.
The first thing I thought of here was that comedy bad translation video “A Wicked Deception” – something which goes yet one step further: the original text – which is English – is translated into French using a machine translator (before you ask me which one, don’t, because I don’t know), then from French into German, then from German back into French, and then finally from French back into English; the language of the final output material is English. What the characters say is the output of all this, while the subtitles provide an appropriation in sensible English which people can actually be expected to follow (what the text was before it got put through the machine translator like this).

The next time you’re having a chat with someone on Facebook: try this. Have both of you open a machine translation tool online, then try communicating in a language neither of you speak. When one person says something, they translate it into the new language using the machine translator before sending the result to the other person, who then translates it back into English using the machine translator their end. Who knows what hilarity and possible discovery may ensue? Here’s a joke, written in Latvian, which I don’t speak; it was only thanks to the help of a machine translator that I was able to post this:
K?p?c vistas š??rso ce?u? Lai nok??tu otr? pus?.
But this is supposed to be about me as a professional translator, really. If you think you are better than a machine translator, how to evidence it for sure? By trying to make sense out of nonsense? Or is doing that a sign of madness? All I can say to that is: LOL! Seriously, though, is there such thing as “thinking like a machine translator”?
What I’ve done here is imagined what the French text of the “A Wicked Deception” video might have been before it was translated by the machine translator, and ditto for the German text; although I have to agree that it’s not quite the same between them. Then again, I believe that one can’t hope to translate professionally without making a willingness to explain things in a lucid and unambiguous manner a part of their heart and soul (and sometimes I feel that it is pursuing the elaboration of things unto myself which is the thing that stands between me and success. I think this constitutes an accurate explanation of what I do when a translation client decides to challenge me about something I have written in my work for them). That said, however, if you’re going to read on, it helps if you can speak French and / or German here!
Of course, I had to consider French and German the way the natives use it, not just the way I use it, however good my French and German may be – but when I’m dealing with something which is already the product of a machine translation, there’s only so much I can fathom…
For reference:
((Anything in double circular brackets is a phrase which I would never normally use when communicating in French / German but one which I have come to agree is proper French / German – however irregular – and it was while I was doing this that I first thought of it.))
[[Anything in double square brackets is some kind of individual word or expression which is used in a way I would never normally use it.]]
Where there is an asterisk *, see the notes below.
As much as I tried to write proper French and German, some of this may be broken (and some of it may not be completely proper French / German per se), but then that sort of thing is not that uncommon with machine translators, is it? For better or worse, here goes:
MAN 1: Est-il vrai, mat, que tu vas t’engager* à proposer le mariage avec Jessica ce soir?
MAN 2: Oui, elle enflamme mon coeur avec de la flamme* extrême. Il n’y a rien sur cette Terre qui ((ferait me rendre plus joyeux)) que la faire ma femme.
MAN 1: Réfléchis-tu de Renard ((causant un [[essai*?]]))
MAN 2: Ce salaud ((simple)). Renard estime sa vie. Il ne nous formera pas de la vague*.
MAN 1: Bonne chance. [[Ils* sont]] ma meilleure pile. Ils le gagnent.
MAN 3: [[Ce]]… nous nous retrouvons. Jessica ((est-elle advenue à faire marier)) moi en le place de toi. Ha Ha!
WOMAN: C’est exactement, mat. Je ne peux croire que ((tu t’egarerais sur moi)) avec cette salope ((simple)). Renard m’a expliqué tout.
MAN 2: Mais Renard ((couche*)) comme un chien! ((Avec cela, il n’est pas possible pour toi à voir?)) ((Mon amour est [[à]] toi, la seule pour moi!))
MAN 1: [[La lasse*]] est [[couramment en implementation!]]
MAN 3: ((Peut-être voudrais-tu avec une bagarre cela [[arranger]]))*?
MAN 2: J’engage avec toi en une frappe de coeur!
MAN 2: Prends cela, [[tu escroc!]]
MAN 3: Un [[poinçon]] [[à]] mon visage!
MAN 3: J’ai été ((mis [[en faillite!]]))*
MAN 2: Dis bonjour à la terre pour moi, eh, Renard?
MAN 1: ((Tu me l’as encore fait)), ami. [[Ils ont]] gagné!
WOMAN: Mat, je suis [[malheureuse*.]] ((Je ne crois Renard de nouveau jamais.)) Ce cochon!
MAN 2: Jessica, c’est toi qui est l’amour de ma vie. Je veux [[passer*]] le reste de ma vie avec toi!
WOMAN: ((Ainsi moi!)) ((Tellement moi!))
MAN 1: Comme je le dis toujours, ((son tout bon, est tout bon.))
MAN 1: Ist es wahr, Matt, dass du [[daran hängst]], die Heirat vorzuschlagen mit Jessica dieses Abends?
MAN 2: Ja, sie feuert mein Herz mit dem extremem Brennen*. Nichts auf dieser Erde würde mir* mehr Glück bringen ((als sie zu meine Frau zu machen.))*
MAN 1: ((Denkst du davon, dass)) Renard [[Mühe]] verursachen wird?
MAN 2: Dieser einziger Bastard. Renard schätzt sein Leben, er wird uns kein Wellen* formen.
MAN 1: Gutes Glück. Sie sind* meine bestes Flor. Sie verdienen es.
MAN 3: ((So)), wir treffen uns wieder. ((Jessica einigte sich)), mich im Platz von dir zu verheiraten. Ha ha!
WOMAN: Das ist genau, Matt. Ich kann nicht glauben dass du mit dieser einzigen Schlampe um mich betrügen* würdest! Renard hat mir alles erklärt.
MAN 2: Aber Renard* liegt wie einen Hund! ((Fehlt es dir das zu sehen bei das?)) ((Meine Liebe ist dich, die Einzige für mich!))
MAN 1: ((Der Verrat ist in Implementation wesend!))
MAN 3: Vielleicht möchtest du das mit einem Kampf [[ordnen?]]
MAN 2: Ich engagiere dir in einem Herzschlag!
MAN 2: Nimm das, du Gauner!
MAN 3: Einer Durchschlag* zu meinem Gesicht!
MAN 3: ((Ich wurde im Misslang gesetzt!))
MAN 2: Sagst du mal dem Boden hallo für mich, eh Renard?
MAN 1: ((Sie haben es da* noch wieder gemacht)), Genosser. Sie haben gewonnen!
WOMAN: Matt, ((es ist mir bedauerlich*.)) ((Ich werde Renard nie glauben wieder.)) Dieser Schwein!
MAN 2: Der Jessica*, ((sind Sie die dass die Liebe von meinem Leben ist.)) Ich will den Rest meines Lebens mit dir [[aufwenden*]]!
WOMAN: ((Da ich!)) ((Also ich!))
MAN 1: Wie ich es immer sage, ((sein Alles wird etwa schön, ist gut.))*
“Que tu vas t’engager”: French has two future tenses: the immediate future (aller + verb in infinitive) and the per se future (as in “I will go” = “j’irai”). I just decided that doing something in the immediate future is near enough to the same as doing it in the present. Meanwhile, “engagement” tends to mean “commitment” in French, and people commit to things with the purpose of achieving something; I regarded “connect” as like a “metaphorical synonym” of “achieve” in this sense.
“Flamme”: When the second man says “It fires my heart with the flame extreme”… well, there’s flame, and there’s fires, and can you get a fire with only a single flame? I decided that “de la flamme” could mean “flame” singular or plural in English.
“Essai”: it’s official – this can mean “trial” or “effort” in English, and I put the ambiguity down to the fact that it depends on the context in which either word is used (what else?).
“De la vague”: just like with “flamme” above, I decided that the French word “vague” can mean a single wave or the general concept of waves in English.
“Ils” (they): I know that the only explanation for the first man calling the second man “they” rather than “you” can be that when it was translated from German to French – why not German straight back to English, anyway? – the machine translator must have listed the German translation of you as “Sie”, and while it is true that “Sie” (always with a capital) is the formal “you” in German, “sie” with a little S can also mean “they” (or, depending on the context, “she”). Hence, German “Sie sind” meaning “you are” can be mistranslated as “they are” while still making grammatical sense in theory.
“Couche”: I decided against “se couche”, because “se coucher” means going to sleep. “Coucher” can mean “lie” (tell a fib) in French, but with this I chose to regard “lie” in English as like… just “resting” as something – “occupying and retaining a fixed position as something” (i.e. being something). Yes, it’s very oblique.
“Lasse”: When I first heard “boar” instead of “treachery”, I didn’t know what to think. And I always thought that the French word for “boar” was “sanglier”. Or maybe the word was “bore”? Anyway, I was able to find out (purely by chance) that there is such a French word as “verrat” with the same meaning – while “Verrat” definitely means “treachery” in German. That’s the only possible reason.
“Peut-être voudrais-tu une bagarre pour cela arranger?”: Maybe this poorly structured sentence could pass for non-standard French that French people actually use? Of course, I should mention that the only reason the verb is at the end is because it was translated from German.
“J’ai été mis en faillite”!”: this actually does strike me as something that a real French person would actually be likely to say – if they meant “I have gone bankrupt.”
“Malheureuse”: I think this word goes hand in hand with both apology and sadness well enough.
“Passer”: this usually means “doing” something (like an exam), but I chose to impart the vague sense that, if something is “passé”, doesn’t it mean that it is now deserted and forgotten?
“mit dem extremem Brennen”: i.e. with the extreme flame(s) or “with extreme burning” (yes, you do include a definite article in the German version with the latter)?
“Nichts auf dieser Erde würde mir”: I noted that “Nichts auf dieser Erde würde mir mehr Glück bringen”, can mean “Nothing on this earth would make me more happy”, but I also noted that “Nichts auf dieser Erde würde mir” on its own can be regarded as “Nothing on this earth would become me” (I say “can be regarded as” because you would normally use “mich” rather than “mir”). The question is: what did that machine translator pick up and interpret?
“Als sie zu meine Frau zu machen”: I have no idea why the second man says “to make him my wife around” rather than “to make her my wife around”. Also, I accept there shouldn’t be a “zu” between “sie” and “meine” – but I treated the whole phrase “meine Frau zu machen” as an infinitive phrase i.e. including that “zu”, anyway.
“kein Wellen”: the second man says “form us vague” i.e. “wave” – no plural – I thought it would be best if I left out the e on the end of “keine” here (what I originally decided on); I decided that “Wellen” can mean the general concept of waves, even if it is somewhat contrived.
“Sie sind”: see what I wrote in the notes for the French version regarding the first man calling the second one “they” rather than “you”. And I just couldn’t imagine the right word to insert where the first guy called the second guy “pile” rather than “pal” (or maybe it was just “pal” only with an accent?).
“um mich betrügen”: I actually know that the German term for “to cheat someone” is just “jemanden betrügen” – there’s no “um”. However, “betrügen um” is proper German, meaning “cheat out of something”, as in “jemanden um 100 Euros betrügen” = “to cheat someone out of 100 Euros.” But the machine translator saw it all another way / had other ideas. I cannot and will not discuss how it might have been programmed.
“Aber Renard liegt wie einen Hund”: see what I said for this bit in the French notes (the “couche” bit).
“Einer Durchschlag zu meinem Gesicht!”: “Durchschlag” was the most appropriate German word meaning “copy” I could find here – “Schlag” just about always has an implication of hitting. Can’t we a regard a punch as a “through-hit”? And I really had to think about the most appropriate preposition to use.
“da”: When the first guy says, “You still my ‘da’, friendly one!” or whatever it was, I have no idea what he means when he says ‘da’, or even if what he actually says there is something that is actually a word in English. I mean, while “da” is an actual German word, it may well not have been an actual English word at all that he said – it’s possible that the machine translator didn’t translate “da” or whatever it was into English; maybe because it regarded it as just an onomatopoeic sound or something like that.
“bedauerlich”: see what I said for “malheureuse” in the French notes bit – it’s the same thing.
“Der Jessica,”: It was hard for me to think of the best thing to say for when the second man says, “Of the Jessica” at the beginning of a sentence. Where did that come from? But I decided on this because, according to the grammatical rules of German, Jessica is feminine and “der” is dative (or genitive) when referring to her.
“aufwenden”: Sure, you would not say “aufwenden” if you wanted to tell someone that you wanted to spend the rest of your life with them. Yet, I find that, depending on how it is used, German “aufwenden” can mean “spend” or “expend” (i.e. come to dismiss, or neglect).
“sein Alles wird etwa schön, ist gut”: It’s hard to explain how “His whole is quite fine good” could mean “All’s well that ends well” when the word “his” is just totally out of place AND there is nothing signifying “end” / “finish” in some way. And I know “sein Alles wird etwa schön, ist gut” is German that it is hard to get a grip on – the English meaning that I hold to it is basically like, “His [one’s] All [within something] (that) becomes [ends up] quite fine, is good.”
13th September 2013

Has Anyone Really Been Far Even as Decided to Use Even Go Want to do Look More Like?
I would find it hard to agree that any statement as hysterically nonsensical and hopelessly illiterate as that could actually stood for something of real importance, and I imagine that you would as well. Can you even memorise it?
Nevertheless, being the de facto professional decipherer-communicator (linguist) that I am, I have decided to make a pioneering kind of effort to decipher this famous incoherent question. I see that part of the comment in which it was originally found includes the statement “LOL at the screenshot”; I believe that, based on that, it was originally written by someone whose mother tongue was English – I can understand those who would find it more worrying than amusing. I have read the whole thing carefully and read it carefully again, doing my best to segment it and understand all the bits of it as a prelude to understanding it as a whole. I thought that tackling this task in a linear fashion would be appropriate. I rewrite it ipsissima verba right here bit by bit, with the addition of my own comments which I thought of adding which I agreed would help to explain things, as appropriate.
“Has anyone really been far even as” – i.e. could this mean, “has anyone actually gone even as far as…” ?
“decided to use” – decided to use what, exactly, and for what purpose? Like, if you say that you “decide to use” something, you can’t just say that on its own, can you? Just… what exactly would you be meaning? Actually, when I read “as decided to use”, maybe the word “as” should be “has”?
“even go want to” – to me this vaguely hints at some kind of relatively higher ambition, as in “so-and-so wants to (go and) do even this, that or the other.”
“do look more” – following on from “want to”. “Want to do” and “want to look” both make sense, but “want to do look” – two verbs at the end, both of which are in their infinitive form – just doesn’t mean anything (certainly in theory). Maybe the “look more” bit should be in quotation marks; if I had to guess (inasmuch as guessing is possible in connection with something like this) I would claim that what is meant by “even go want to do look more” is: “even wanted to do something [non-specific – and it may well not just be a single thing but rather a collection of many things as a whole] and implement it (as suggested by the word “go”) which should ultimately result in some sort of improved situation or some sort of greater achievement, hence the concept of “look, more!” being said by those who may accomplish it …Do you know what I mean? Because that is about the best way I can describe it! I’m actually finding it hard to put it coherently at this point!
“Like” – the end of the so-called sentence, and the end of the “want to do look more like?” bit. Three verbs, yet they are all in their infinitive form, and it would seem that they cannot be linked with anything except the “want to” bit. Personally, I think the word “like” in this “sentence” is used in the way it is used as the, like, sporadic add-on word “like”, which, like, some people, like, tend to, like, use so, like, frequently that it, like, becomes, like, very annoying as well as, like, hard to, like, follow; and, like, it, like, makes them look, like, thick.
And now, the fun bit. I’m going to make the great (if never-intended) humour of it all accessible to people whose mother tongue is French or German who do not speak any English, by endeavouring to write French and German accurate (“accurate”!) translations of this sentence. After each one I have written revisions of them.
“Est-ce que quelqu’un a vraiment été loin pour même decidé d’utiliser même aller vouloir faire regarder plus comme?”
Compared to machine translation: “Quelqu’un at-il vraiment été lointain même pendant décidé d’utiliser même aller voulons faire ressembler davantage?” (My best English equivalent: “Has someone really been far even during decided to use even go want to do resemble conveniently?”
Revision of my original version: “Est-ce que quelqu’un a vraiment été loin même decidé d’utiliser même à aller vouloir faire, apparaître plus [the word “comme” at the end has been omitted]?”
“Ist jemand wirklich weit gefahren sogar als sich für das Benutzen entschieden sogar gehen mehr machen sehen möchten wie?”
Compared to machine translation: “Hat jemand wirklich weit Selbst als Beschlossen, sogar gehen wollen zu tun, sehen eher aus wie waren?” (My best English equivalent: “Has anyone really far decided as even to go to want to do to earlier look as were?”)
Revision of my original version: “Ist jemand wirklich weit gefahren um sogar als sich für das Benutzen entschieden zu haben sogar zu gehen und dabei zu willen mehr zu machen sehen [the word “wie” at the end has been omitted]?”
Ladies and gentlemen, to me this is enthusiastic linguistic inventiveness at its best and most abstruse, and that’s why I write like I am proud of it. From the man who invented French Cockney Rhyming Slang (“ça va, ma vieille porcelaine?”) and the French version of “innit” (“neppas”), “your stupid” (“ton stupide”) and “I should of” (“Je de dû” + verb) among other things.
16th September 2013

I start this comment by posting a link to the website of a translation agency http://www.a-translator.com/ For I remember seeing a bit where they make the statement: “Language has no boundary”. Really? Being the self-proclaimed hot (or at least certainly talented and eager) linguist that I am, I’m going to give my thoughts as to the truth of that statement. Does language really have no boundaries? Or is it possible to have 100% of all aspects of it effectively accounted for in a system tried and tested; a system which can be applied for any kind of language task and yield success? Of course, I should realise that some people sometimes disagree on the exact traits / significance of certain elements of language (one good example might be what divides taboo words from merely “impolite” ones), but it’s not as if systems have never evolved over time; couldn’t any “language system” as described above do the same, and more or less automatically?
When people resolve to deal with problems, they often say how they claim to be willing to target them “at source”. But when you talk of targeting the source of linguistic problems, you just might, say, make someone recall a time when they were looking at a piece of writing which contained a mistake in it which they realise originated from something which was not only something they didn’t understand; that something could only have originated from something that the author didn’t understand either (maybe the author agreed to admit it openly at some time after having finished their writing of it?). There are some things where, if you want to target problems within them at source, then there is a relatively high possibility of it being difficult or impossible to know where to begin; and I (even as a professional linguist) agree that language and written material is one of them.
I must go out of my way to make it perfectly clear that the kind of linguistic problems / inaccuracies / mishaps I’m talking about here are far more subtle and abstract than well-known poor English idiocy like “I should of”. Getting things like “affect” and “effect” mixed up or saying “less” when it should be “fewer” is one thing, but any educated person will find it depressing when I tell this story of how I swear that I once found that someone, somewhere had actually asked this question on an online forum: “Do you say ‘I should have’ or ‘I should of’?” You don’t have to be a genius to point out that it is never “I should of”; “I should of” simply doesn’t exist as any kind of proper English. You’ve only got to look at the words “should”, “have” and “of” in a dictionary”. Having said that, I just doubt that people who habitually write “I should of” while having no idea what it suggests about their education, also make the mistake of writing things like “I of done this” or “I of never been told about this before” when they are talking about something that has happened in the past, you know? I fear that the content of this paragraph will pretty much inevitably be seen as fatuous at this point, but I would have you understand that what I’m trying to do here is show that I can think like an illiterate person / an idiot / whatever term you want to use. If there are people out there who write “I should of”, and there are, then why don’t they also write “I should’f”? LOL. Surely if they had that idea they would at least agree that “I should’f” just doesn’t look like proper English, even if that were enough to make them admit that they don’t know the correct way of writing it? How about those who write things like “your so cool” or “their really clever”? Given how often the verb “to be” is used in everyday English and then some, surely even these people are capable of remembering that “are” has an “e” on the end – wouldn’t this be enough to help them to realise the grammatical incorrectness of something like “your so cool” or “their really clever”? (Mind you, I recently once read “our” when it should have been “are.”) Is that a worthwhile and engrossing point to make, or should I accept / stop pretending that these people tend to be too personally lazy or ignorant to care? I mean, if I somehow made the mistake of writing something like “I should of” and someone pointed it out to me, I know I wouldn’t need someone else’s explanation to understand the gross mistake factor of it all…
Now, I haven’t ruled out the possibility that some people reading this might think that I have effectively already touched on this subject (reminder: “does language have boundaries or not?”) in earlier comments, especially in all these “anecdotes” I have written which refer to little particular challenges I’ve had to face in my work as a professional translator; a good example might be where I decided to write a translation of a phrase which was unusual yet probably the most effective and reliable one, or where I realised something that probably never would have been specifically taught to me by a teacher back when I was still studying languages at school (i.e. if anything, it was specifically an “intellectual epiphany” which came from within, do you know what I mean?). What follows is some more of these “anecdotes”:
In a German-to-English translation project
Original: “Mit voller Akku-Ladung kann der Haar- und Bartschneider max. 45 Minuten netzunabhängig betrieben werden.”
Translation: “When the battery is fully loaded, the hair / beard trimmer can be used for a maximum of 45 minutes with no connection to the mains necessary.”
Comments: With the “with no connection to the mains necessary” bit, I just wrote that without thinking about it – I must have dismissed the idea of writing “independent of the network” unconsciously! Good for me, huh?
In another German-to-English translation project
Original: “Stimmen unserer glücklichen Gewinner.”
Translation: “Statements of our luck winners.”
Comments: Normally I would translate German “Stimme” as “voice” or “vote”, but not here (although “voice” is hardly completely misaligned with “statement”).
In a French-to-English translation project (survey responses)
Original: “Bon téléphone dans l’ensemble. Manque d’application et jeux. Manque indicateur de pourcentage de la batterie.”
Translation: See comments.
Comments: When I was translating these three sentences, which constituted a casual survey response… I remember specifically asking myself how I should translate the first one: “good phone overall” or “good phone in all respects”? I remember specifically deciding on the latter rather than the former – then I read “manque d’application et jeux” (“lack of applications and games”! Needless to say, I changed it to the former.
In a German-to-English translation project (possibly the first of the two referenced above)
Original: “Dank der gestiegenen Anforderungen bei elektronischen Apparaturen in den letzten Jahren”
Translation: See comments.
Comments: I was proud of myself when I translated this as “With the increased requirements of electric-technical appliances in recent years”. This is because I had to the sense to put “OF electric-technical appliances in recent years” rather than “for”: it was not talking about “demand for” i.e. people wishing to buy these electric-technical appliances, as easy as it might have been to just take it as meaning that and write accordingly in the translation. By the way, I remember a similar situation when I saw an ad on ProZ.com looking for a translator; although it was written in English, it was written by someone from India. Its title was “Urgent Requirement of German Translator” – personally I would have said “for”, but isn’t “of” also OK in this context (even if I want to differentiate it by suggesting that it suggests some sort of urgent requirement that some German translator has, something completely different from the concept of someone looking for a German translator urgently)?
But when I was writing this comment, I specifically intended to include discussion of CAT tools in it at some point. (By the way, let me state beforehand that it is a fact that CAT tools and machine translation tools / software are NOT one and the same. I know from personal experience that you need a licence to access something like MemoQ, and they work differently, but I won’t discuss it at great length; not here, anyway.) Surely the very existence of CAT tools is indicative that there are some people out there who have tried to fathom the boundaries of language as part of a project of creating a CAT tool?
Earlier this week I accepted a project which, at the time I accepted it, I expected that it was just going to be me translating the content of a standard Powerpoint file from French into English. But it was only about two hours after the project was confirmed as mine that the project manager told me that she expected me to use Trados for it, even though I never claimed I used it, because I don’t. She said, “please deliver a .ttm file (or whatever file)” – …errr, what now? I found it even more puzzling that she didn’t specify which glossary I should use; all this compounded by my having thought from the start that, when I looked at and accepted the work, the project itself was far too easy for me to require the help of a CAT tool to help do it. I have no idea what she was expecting me to and maybe she didn’t either. But I stubbornly agreed that I could and would do this project, to a totally satisfactory level, without Trados, and I would put that woman in her place! And after all, just how comprehensive is the subject matter range covered by the glossaries of Trados or indeed any other CAT tool? All the examples below relate to the project in question; everything you see written is 100% a product of my own thinking and consideration and is therefore part of this great point I am making:
Original: “Preamble: Quelques éléments sur la consommation de parcs de loisirs”
Translation: “Preamble: some INFORMATION ON THE CONSUMPTION HABITS within theme parks”
The subject matter of the project: statistics referring to leisure parks as business entities. “Connaissance” (of individual parks) was translated as (public) “awareness” rather than “knowledge”. Would a CAT tool really have pulled that one off? I doubt it. Also, I kept seeing “parcs d’animaux” in the original, which I originally translated as “animal parks” because I was thinking like petting zoos and all that, but it was only when I was about halfway through the project that I just stopped and thought, “ ‘animal parks’… or ‘safari places’?” And when I thought of that one, I didn’t delay including it in a post-it note attached in the translation project file meant to be read by the project manager. Further cases in point: did “un parc où les visiteurs participent” really mean “a park in which visitors ‘participated’” (such as petting animals at petting zoos) rather than just visiting? Does that even make sense? Did “notoriété globale” mean “overall awareness” i.e. pending consideration of all statistics as a whole or did it mean “awareness among people throughout the world?” – what?
And I also really doubt that CAT tools or machine translation tools understand the use of certain literary devices, such as irony. In one French-to-English project I did only on Wednesday afternoon, I read this in the original: “là où le chef gaulois Vercingétorix donna une leçon de résistance à César lui-même”. Would it really have been appropriate to translate it as: “the place where the Gaulish chief Vercingétorix provided César himself with a lesson in resistance”? Like a kind of semi-comic euphemism, do you know what I mean? I think of it as not so much translating it literally as taking the content literally (I can only hope that you understand what I mean by that), as if it were not too dissimilar from incorrect interpretation of history, if that makes sense. Didn’t I do the right thing to rewrite is as follows?: “the place where the Gaulish chief Vercingétorix taught César a lesson in resistance”. (I just think that I never would have thought of and jumped to an idea like this as an autistic child.)
Or idioms, such as “it’s raining cats and dogs.” For example, look at this sample of French: “Il a filé à l’anglaise dans le plus simple appareil à notre nez et à notre barbe parce qu’il était beurré et nous cherchions la petite bête en balançant une vanne.” and now ask yourself if you could expect any machine translator or CAT tool to interpret it as anything other than this: “He span at the English in the plainest camera at our nose and our beard because he was buttered and we were looking for the little beast in swinging him a sluice.”
In addition to announcing my continuing mission to produce the best professional translations, I wish you too all the literacy you could need. Of a nice day.
3rd October 2013

For all my experience as a professional translator, I feel I should emphasise that I am very familiar with the theme of automatic / literal translation… but I suspect that that may provoke the following question: from how many angles?
As I write this… call me dramatic, but I feel many gazes upon me. I feel an eagerness of many to hear my response to that very question which is not too far away from the very state of being possessed. After all, when you’re talking about me in the most real sense of the word – by which I mean what I do for a living, and nothing less – surely you would realise that I do literally all I can to write translations of stuff that are every bit as reliable as they are “correct.” As such, if I indolently leaned on machine translation tools to do what I had to do, that would make me look disingenuous and complacent at the very least, right?
I inhale deeply and look up, and answer as follows: I have seen my fair share of things written in English which were written by someone whose mother tongue was not English, and which looked, shall I say, funny. I’ve read collections of queer English-language statements all specifically listed under the topic “bad translation” / “lost in translation”; sometimes on websites, sometimes in books. And I know that there is no official such thing as “realising / knowing what it’s like to write things like that”… maybe the truth is that many of us have felt – if well-intended – awkward and accident-prone at certain points in our lives. I sympathise with you if I’ve reminded you of any frustration you’ve felt as a result of such scenarios. Or maybe you’re just laughing? Come to think of it: what else can you do?
In any case, all things considered, I have to be honest: if someone were to ask me to lend my efforts to their development of a new machine translation tool, I just wouldn’t know what to think. It’s not that I tend to be reluctant to discuss things that fall under the topic of language. I just know that machine translators just have no sense of style or literary devices or anything like that – I’m just like most other people, huh?
Quote: “Love is the hardest habit to break, and the most difficult to satisfy.” (Drew Barrymore)
Suppose you had someone next you right now who doesn’t speak English, and you wanted to translate something – in this case, that quote – for them into their mother tongue so that they would understand it… would you be willing to put your faith in a machine translator or wouldn’t you? Let’s say this person was Greek; and I don’t speak Greek. Chucking that quote through Google Translate produces this:
“Η αγάπη είναι το πιο δύσκολο συνήθεια να σπάσει, και το πιο δύσκολο να ικανοποιηθούν”
Compare it with what you get when you chuck it through Babelfish: “Η αγάπη είναι το πιο δύσκολο συνήθεια να διασπάσουν, και το πιο δύσκολο να πληρούν.”
I have noticed that, in the Babelfish version, there is the word “διασπάσουν” in place of “σπάσει”, and the word “πληρούν” in place of “ικανοποιηθούν.” The results are actually more similar than I thought they would be, if you get my drift. But if I had to translate “Love is the hardest habit to break, and the most difficult to satisfy” into a language that I did not speak and in good faith, I would probably do it a segment at a time rather than as a whole i.e. “Love is the hardest habit” and “to break” and “and” and “the most difficult [probably add the word “habit” at this point]” and “to satisfy.” Think about it.
So yes, above we have looked at an example of machine / automated / literal / whatever translation of whole sentences, or otherwise workable groups of words; but now let us consider individual foreign words and their actual appropriations in another language. Example 1: although the word German word “Leitsatz” means “principle”, that word translates literally (loosely) as “guiding clause”. Seriously, if you read something like “guiding clause” (or “sentence”) in English anywhere, could you ever have arrived at the concept indicated by “principle” – having not already read this assertion that a common meaning trait can be found between “principle” and “guiding clause”; and if you can’t see that, then you’re not really looking? Or how about the other way round? If you read “principle” anywhere, could you ever have arrived at the concept indicated by “guiding clause” (or sentence)?
The second is example is this: in German, the word “Durchschnitt” means “average” in English, even though “durch” in German usually means “through” and “Schnitt” usually “cut”. I am merely wondering how it is that the standard German word for “average” came to be “Durchschnitt” – “cut-through”, as it were. Whoever it was that agreed on “Durchschnitt” as meaning “average”, was there some vague idea of “cut through something in the midway point of it”… ergo that “midway point” idea somehow ending up as the “central point” – the “average” of “the average thing” (for lack of a better expression of it)?
I will stop rambling now, to leave you to ponder what you will.
Bye bye, yours, George Trail.

4th October 2013

Lots of schools teach foreign languages these days and many people claim that it is important to speak a foreign language, which is a fair point. I know my own mother certainly thinks that; and this is someone who, besides being competent enough in French, studied some Latin and Russian at school, and who currently brushes up on her Italian and Portuguese from time to time. Perhaps you’ve been lucky enough to learn a foreign language from a native speaker? (Did you know Jim Carrey’s character learned Korean from a native Korean speaker in Yes Man?) I’m sure there are plenty of people who regard language learning as like an adventure (even if they don’t put it in those words exactly), and who can pick up grammar and new vocabulary confidently yet still face frustrating challenges and obstacles when it comes to actually getting it right in practice – not so much for what they mean in their statements as for what is suggested by the very words found in said statements. Some mistakes are funny, some are not so funny; some are understandable, some are not understandable; some have only solution, some have more than one possible solution.
As long as you have access to reliable resources, both words and expressions you have heard before and those you have not are never far away – but the same cannot always be said for their exact meaning. I think it is important to remember to have one’s own meanings attributed to the words of a language grounded in dictionary definitions rather than stereotypical concepts which you may not even have experienced directly and probably never will, or any concept which owes its very existence to your own subjective personal experiences.
For example, I find that when people are described as “nice”, it’s not always the same. Just like a “nice day” tends to regarded as bright and sunny like something out of a fairy tale, I would suggest that if you go to a job interview and vehemently try to come across as a “nice guy / girl” to the interviewer, that’s a bit of a risky move because while they may well take a liking to you, it won’t do you any good if that is what makes them somewhat doubt that you are suitable for the job you are being interviewed for as a result of them finding that you lack the “grit” necessary for it (which would be quite likely if they found themselves thinking “this job is harder than this guy / girl thinks it is…”). Number 2: you may remember “evil” characters from certain kids’ cartoons, like Shredder from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Mojo Jojo from the Powerpuff Girls, and how easy you found it to laugh at them when you were much younger; but there is certainly little to no room for laughing at truly “evil” people in real life society: people who use their victims’ fear as a weapon and who have a talent for being manipulative as they encourage them to reject their best interests for their own ends having tricked them into being ashamed of the same. Number 3: when the average young heterosexual male like me hears or reads the word “sexy” they often instantly think of the allure of the likes of Megan Fox, or Cheryl Cole, or Jessica Alba, while hardly being particularly interested in showing appreciation for women’s ideas on what it means for a woman to be sexy (by the way, I blame Paris Hilton for that).
I’ve still got my Oxford-Hachette and Oxford-Duden dictionaries which I used at school. Like any good bilingual dictionary they have one section of English to a foreign language and another section of foreign language to English. You know, when you learn a new word in a foreign language, do you agree that, however you do it, it is a way which reliably lets you remember it both ways i.e. both “When I see this word in English, I know that it means this word in this foreign language” AND “When I see this word in the foreign language, I know that it means this word in English?” Many of the individual word entries in these particular dictionaries have way more than just one or two lines providing a comprehensive definition of the meaning(s) of the word that they refer to, and these dictionaries, far bigger than any book which might be good for bedtime reading, are 3 inches thick.
7th October 2013

Just for a moment, try to imagine what the world would be like if there were no professional translators. Surely things like large-scale modern international trade (especially of high-tech fare) and pioneering research involving people from more than one nation would pretty much grind to a halt. The spread of information and knowledge from one people to another would be all the poorer, and I’m not just talking about whole future generations growing up with a poorer knowledge of general world history and all the lessons that are recognised with it.
Can you really imagine a world with a total absence of people who are paid to convey messages from language to another (for whatever reason)? Would this mean a world in which foreign languages were no longer taught? Personally, I don’t think anything as radical as that would happen – surely the idea that everyone would always refuse to learn a foreign language simply because they “have no need for it” would be crazy… wouldn’t it? If foreign languages exist and seem here to stay, are they to be ignored? I don’t think so. I don’t think you would have to look too hard to find someone who’s learned a foreign language merely to impress their friends or something. Meanwhile, as an example of something far more recognised by the masses, Jim Carrey learned Korean just for the sake of part of a joke in “Yes Man” (where the FBI is interrogating him and Zoey Deschanel over the all suspicion-provoking activities his character did in the film). But, to get back to the point: I still (kind of) think that a total absence of translators in the world would be a prelude to a reduction of the significance of foreign languages in the world in general; I think that it would mean that everyone who did learn them would be more likely than not only to learn enough to “get by” (such as ordering things in foreign restaurants and booking tickets for things, or maybe exchanging personal opinions about petty interests with foreigners). But then I think of this time when, during a French class back at school, our teacher had us do something fun (it was probably nearing the end of term): we split into groups and played scrabble in French. I am optimistic as to the personal interest in foreign language that activities like that could encourage (if not immediately, then at some point in the future).
But this isn’t merely about the “art” of foreign languages (i.e. the totally of what can be realised and achieved with the pondering of foreign languages) and learning them; it’s about the “art” of translating. How much is translation recognised and appreciated as an “art”? Right now – I’ll be honest – I imagine that some might claim that this comment has so far been nothing other than me “rambling on”: writing nothing more than a load of wishy-washy clap-trap crap while failing to make any definite point with any kind of conviction. TURNING POINT. However successful I may be as a translator at the present time and in years to come, one thing I really don’t ignore as far as my work is concerned (not that it’s the only such thing, by a long shot) is the circumstance that while machine translators and “translation software” have categorically improved every much as people have claimed, this is never without the argument that “machine translators will never replace human translators.” How comforting. (Well, I would say that; but then I know that there are plenty of people who have spent more than a brief moment or two on the topic of “lost in translation” / “getting it right”, whether or not they do what I do for a living…)
So what does this mean for professional translators like myself? Maybe in the first two paragraphs I talked about how things “might be”, but now I intend to talk about things as they actually are. To me, the very fact that people have invented machine translation software and continued to improve it, indicates an interest of many to acknowledge “the finer points of language” at pretty much the same level I do (and should do) when I’m doing my work, and I guess I can only congratulate them for successfully letting it show in new versions of translation software (together with including a wider vocabulary in said software, of course). Whether or not this is an augury that professional translators need to “raise their game”, I think I can safely claim that, when they do what they do, it’s all they can do to comply with an increasing number of not so much rigorous as rigid and abstruse demands which originated from something other than any professional translator’s simple and straightforward imposition of standards, or ingenuity. This might revolve around terminology, for example, or it might be other expressions that certain people insist on using repeatedly in order that, as far as they are concerned, it will eventually guarantee that different people see eye-to-eye about something about a given subject (even if it were openly and unanimously agreed that the subject in question is not a subject for everyone… go figure). I hope this makes sense: when you’re playing the role of professional translator, only so much credit should be expected for “getting it right”; “doing it right” is what counts.
Having said that, have I just provoked the question: “So what do you do to ‘do it right?’” I suppose that, if anything, there are times when I attach a post-it note to some word or words within the translated material that I have written; if they don’t say “Please verify”, then they say, “Maybe you would like to re-word this?” or I’m asking someone to collate the particular expressions I’ve used (however educated and sagely chosen I may be inclined to view them as personally) against any relevant information which the client may have but I don’t – admittedly, in such cases I pretty much always can’t be specific about such “relevant information”; but then sometimes the client might want to keep the same confidential from anyone who doesn’t need to view it anyway.
At any rate, I continue to experience these little “anecdotes” I’ve known in my work – there are many examples of these listed in previous comments here. In one project I did recently, I read this in the original: “In der Altstadt gibt es zahlreiche kleinere Läden und Geschäfte wie Bäcker und Fleischer”. I was surprised when I read the word “Fleischer”, meaning “butcher” in English – although I never had any doubt as to its meaning originally, when I was still learning German at school the German word for “butcher” I was taught was something else. That word was “Metzger”. It’s not like “Fleischer”, which contains the German word “Fleisch”, which means “meat” in English; and in that sense I guess I just had to give myself a little credit for remembering the word “Metzger” after all these years. By the way, the agency I did this particular translation job for was one in Austria for which I have already done many, many projects over a period of several months. Maybe the truth is that “Fleischer” is the Austrian German word for “butcher” rather than English… I don’t know. Also, I also think it’s a myth that to “edit” a document means to improve it i.e. render it of “higher quality”.
Time for a public question (even if it is one that is probably very trite to many): if translation is an art, then… what is proper translation all about? This is what I would suggest as a brief, off-the-cuff answer: attention to detail; consideration of the subject matter; the insight to appreciate what certain expressions sometimes really suggest regarding their meaning; you should ask yourself: when someone reads what you are writing, would they be more likely to agree that its message is clear (or at least relatively clear) or more likely to be frustrated as they tried to read it – could they see its value (whether or not it’s supposed to be of any value to them i.e. whether or not they are among the intended readership of this translation material)? If you need help understanding that last point, try considering the scenario of someone reading what you are writing by chance rather than willingly – you could say that, depending on who they are and depending on the material, they don’t expect to read anything “specific” nor anything “non-specific” when reading it, for the simple reason that THEY CAN’T.
As I was writing this comment I thought of the song “Between the Lines” by Sara Bareilles. After all, the concept of “reading between the lines” is often collated with the topic of how to translate properly, isn’t it? I have listened to that song before, and I decided to look up the lyrics of it, to look for parallels in what she says in it with what my work as a translator really entails (including the true extent of my understanding of the same). I quote the following lyrics:
“No right minds could be wrong this many times”
“My memory is cruel”
“I’m queen of attention to details” (which I thought of before researching the lyrics for the purpose of this comment)
“Eyes wide shut unopened”
“I’ve learned to listen through silence”
“I tell myself all the words he surely meant to say”
Bareilles is a likeable enough singer, but when I got her album which includes this song (it’s called “Little Voice”) as a Christmas present some year in the past, why did it never include the lyrics of the songs in its packaging? It was only when I read the lyrics of this song included with this video of Youtube, today, that I truly appreciated how far the subject matter of the song is from translation: she’s put herself in the position of an imaginary girl singing about her relationship with some guy in which trust has decayed; she’s letting it be known that she’s not as contented or at ease as she thinks she should be. Shows what I know! But I look forward to redeeming myself with my next translation work (which has already been granted as mine; I’ll be starting it tomorrow morning)…
15th October 2013

It’s a translator’s life…
Anyone who has read any of my previous comments on my business Facebook account will doubtless understand that not only do I agree that translation is definitely not just about replacing words with words; I personally go to greater lengths than most to explain it… and I don’t always specifically have to lean on examples from my work as professional translator. That said, however, those who actually agree to do translation professionally soon become aware of the need to appreciate and embrace several things that they don’t understand as well as many that they do. Some of it is purely grounded in the domain of the true linguistic aptitude required to do professional translation projects, while some of it is more about business skills, awareness and innovation capacity. That said, however, I’ve written this comment to discuss the linguistic competence and talents of the individual vs. the challenges of translation (once again). By “the challenges of translation” I am of course talking about both the obvious ones and the subtle ones, which are not always properly appreciated (don’t just take my word for it). And while it should be irrefutable that I have done this already in previous comments, I just had to share with you my latest little work “anecdotes” such as I have described in my previous comment.
The first one is related to a very big proofreading job I did recently. In the material of this one I saw, “We are pleased with your decision in favour of Rolls-Royce Germany.” I don’t know about you but the first time I read that, my tacit interpretation of it in the back of my mind was, “This is Rolls-Royce Germany addressing a customer who has recently bought something from them.” Actually, when I read it right now – literally, as I was writing these words you are currently reading – I was thinking, “Why wasn’t my tacit interpretation of it in the back of my mind like, ‘Rolls-Royce Germany are thanking someone for choosing them to sponsor as part of some sponsorship event’ until now? No, wait! With the money that Rolls-Royce has, would they really be much on the lookout for people wanting to sponsor them? I don’t think so.” And it wasn’t that much later before I was thinking, “You know, George, how come your tacit interpretation of this phrase was never ‘Rolls-Royce Germany are expressing their gratitude to someone over some legal dispute?’ until now? Doesn’t that sound much more convincing than the sponsorship one?”
With all that out of the way, here is the point where I tell you what the subject matter of this material which required proofreading really was. It was documentation containing email correspondence templates relevant to the recruitment of staff at Rolls-Royce Germany. In this regard, the correspondence containing the sentence “We are pleased with your decision in favour of Rolls-Royce Germany.” was aimed at whoever had expressed an interest in working for Rolls-Royce Germany, addressed to them by Rolls-Royce Germany themselves. I say this because I knew damn well that it was essentially my unwritten responsibility to “know” it, or I might not have understood what I was doing – how could I put it more lucidly? If it is true that you never know what you’ll remember sometimes (which is probably just as well, as it suggests that it makes life worth living; but that’s another subject), then I think that it’s also true that there’s an at least fair chance that you will remember that scenario or one just like it when you next do a translation task (professional or otherwise) depending on what the material is and your knowledge of its topic.
Those of us who have seen the Matrix will remember that, in the world of it, a person can essentially learn anything through the “Construct” computer program at literally the touch of a button. It’s where Neo gets his “training” from. There’s no denying that, as good a film as it is, it’s over-the-top fantasy: how else to explain the bit where Neo and Trinity see a helicopter and Neo says, “Can you fly that thing?” and Trinity says, “Not yet.” before calling Tank and having him imbue her with a full knowledge of how to fly that helicopter within a brief moment on the spot, while she and Neo just stand there? But if that sort of thing could actually be done… well, I’m sure that there must be limits as to what can be learned without any investment of independent thinking (about stuff other than that which is directly experienced) – even when Neo learns combat training in the Matrix, there’s a reason why Morpheus personally accompanies him in it at one point i.e. the sparring program bit. In the case of translating, I consider what is mentioned in the two previous paragraphs an example.
Since I’m talking about machines: I sincerely doubt I’m the only one who’s ever secretly wished that they could do anything a machine could – imagine how much easier that would make my life, and how much it would increase my productivity. But no, I should remember that I’m human (or I might go insane or something, you know?). Mind you, “machine translators” are anything but infallible; I know I’ve gone on and on about that one before. And the truth is that, however many calculations they can do in a second or whatever, even machines get “confused” – just look at Windows error messages.
Here’s the second of the anecdotes I was talking about at the end of the first paragraph. This one pertains to a translation project, German to English, the subject matter being instructions on how to use certain sealants / adhesive products. According to the glossary I was provided, “Einlegezeit” meant “working time”, which I certainly never would have thought of on the first pass: I would have guessed “insertion time” i.e. “Einlegen” meaning “insert” in English and “Zeit” meaning time. I want to make it clear that I fully understood that “insertion” was a reference to the concept of “inserting” an adhesive product into a crack in a floorboard or whatever. But when you think about it, it’s not talking about how long it takes / how long you should take applying it – why say something like that? You probably don’t need me to explain the rest but I’ll do it anyway: “Einlegezeit” – “working time” – means the amount of time that a given adhesive product takes to set in a crack after it’s been applied there; how long you should wait before it is OK to walk all over it or whatever. But how do you explain that meaning of “working time” to someone who has never heard of this aspect of DIY before? We can look at the entries of a bilingual glossary and debate whether or not a given term in one language for a given in term in another language is what it is purely by prescriptive declaration, but I guess that, in an oblique kind of way, “working time” is a perfectly fitting translation of “Einlegezeit” – or should that be the other way round?
I still have my language education certificates, now stored as files on a USB stick, ready to show to anyone I apply for work for whenever the need arises. But, whatever the extent of achievement and proving myself they represent may be, it really does seem a fair bit away from the roller-coaster rides I’ve learned to become accustomed to as an actual professional translator…
18th October 2013

I wonder if this comment is going to give succour to my business competitors more than anything else, but I’m going to post it anyway…
Could I be the perfect translator?

…Let me make it clear that by that I specifically mean, “Could I ever become the perfect translator?” (if there is any such thing as a perfect translator) as opposed to “Could I actually be the perfect translator – be the embodiment of everything that makes the perfect translator? Like, if anyone is the perfect translator, it’s me?”
Now, like many people, I just know damn well that many people, when on holiday in a foreign country, have felt chuffed when doing something like ordering a meal in the local language; but surely no-one could be too ignorant to know that fully-fledged translation – especially professional translation! – is a whole different ball game. For a start, there’s more reason to be on guard against… well, being caught off guard – after all, the “general scope of what happens” is rather limited when you’re doing something like enjoying something in a restaurant compared to what it is when you are, say, a police officer trying to follow orders to quell a public riot, isn’t it? In the domain of translation, if it’s not quite properly hearing what the native speaker has said then it’s… you beat me to it, didn’t you? Comprehending the proper meaning.

I have a question for you: who do you think is more likely to use words in your native language that you are not familiar with when they are speaking to you in it: a highly educated person who is a mother tongue speaker of your native language or someone who is highly educated whose mother tongue is something other than your native language but who has a reasonable-to-respectable command of your native language? Why don’t you think about that one?

What opportunities are there for improving oneself as a translator? Broadening one’s vocabulary in the foreign language that you translate from (and that would include the various meanings attributed to certain expressions) is all very well and good, but that’s not without its limitations. This is the most obvious example of this argument in my eyes: personally, I do wonder how people could ever hope to learn of idioms in a foreign language that are like “it’s raining cats and dogs” in English, before the Internet came along. The French sentence “Il a filé à l’anglaise dans le plus simple appareil à notre nez et à notre barbe parce qu’il était beurré et nous cherchions la petite bête en lui balançant une vanne.” is not supposed to mean “He span at the English in the plainest camera at our nose and our beard because he was buttered and we were looking for the little beast in swinging him a sluice.” (even if that is an exaggerated example). How about you try this: the next time you’re listening to a foreign language, do your best to comprehend when idioms like this start and finish, if you can.
No, what I’m claiming is that – and I believe I might have already hinted at this in my last comment, when I started talking about the Matrix – however sad it might seem to some, there is no hope of becoming/being a translator worth the name by improving one’s knowledge/aptitude of theory fare alone.

You could say I look for opportunities to improve myself as a translator – maybe even an interpreter one day – in just about anything. A case in point: in this video someone has tried to imagine what English words the spoken German you hear most sounds like, nonsense factor and all. Like virtually all people with an at least adequate knowledge of German, I can make out what some of the spoken German words in this clip are even without the (proper i.e. actual) English subtitles of the film in which it is found; some of it I am able to pick up but only with the help of them; and some of it I can’t pick up even with them. If you speak German, it can be hard to, shall we say, appreciate this video as much as those who don’t speak German do. I mean, the first time I saw it, even if I did read the subtitles I just didn’t… hear the non-existent English that they were supposed to represent, precisely because of the fact that I could make out (to a certain extent) the German words spoken between the characters. But I watched it again and again until I could start hearing the non-existent English that the characters were speaking… at which point it became harder for me to pick up the German that was being spoken – I suppose I should have seen that coming really, shouldn’t I? But I have been playing with the idea that something like this could be a “real” (for lack of a better word) translator/interpreter training exercise which goes beyond all the theoretical fare: to have the candidate watch videos of people speaking German but which have English subtitles standing for something that doesn’t exist; the candidate, given their exposure to these subtitles, will as such have their focus TRULY tested as to what they can pick out within the foreign language that is being spoken and render it in another language accordingly.

25th October 2013

What on Earth is this? It’s not funny. It’s just some woman making a load of stupid noises that might amuse pre-school children and which couldn’t possibly be considered close to the languages that they are supposed to resemble. She’s not even actually trying to say anything specific when she makes the noises. She embarrasses herself, and it sucks!
Why o why can’t I see the fourth series of Mind Your Language on Youtube?
25th October 2013

Have you seen my new website yet?
26th October 2013

One thing I recently thought of doing here: I thought of looking for an English text which I would have paid a professional French or German translator to translate into French or German while also writing my own French/German translation of it; I would then post both foreign language versions on a comment on here for all to see and compare – whatever they might have had to say about the version written by the native speaker, they would also have been able to get an idea of my own translation talents and see what I mean when I say that I am a “good translator” (even though I don’t translate from English into a foreign language – much).

But then I remembered the comment I posted which featured the Greenpeace ad with the angry kid (on 2nd July 2013) I wrote my own French translation of it while knowing full well that there already existed a French version of this video – compare the two – and that, interestingly enough, it’s the same child who says the French version.

He’s only about 12 but he speaks both languages very fluently – I certainly didn’t speak French at that level when I was 12. Of course, there is one striking fact: according to Wikipedia, Greenpeace was founded in Vancouver, Canada. So correct me if I’m wrong, but this kid must be Canadian, huh? I mean, that would explain a lot, for both English and French are recognised as official languages in Canada.
To me personally, I can’t help thinking: which version of this video was written first i.e. the English one or the French one, and when it was translated from one to the other, which was the “from” language and which one was the “to” one?
Meanwhile, it is true that I have translated some of my own business marketing into French and German, but I seldom find a good reason to hire a native French or German speaker to translate into French or German anything I have to say (something in English that I personally wrote) and see how THEY would render it in their native tongue. There’s a nagging thought here: just because I can make myself understood in (proper) French and German doesn’t mean I never use expressions in those languages which are, say, peculiar or outdated, while being none the wiser…
4th November 2013

In one of my earliest comments on here (dated 3rd October 2011) I talked about how I liked Amy Walker, the actress born in Seattle on 1st September 1982, and the stuff she does (on Youtube in particular). Here, being the translator that I am, I’m going to talk about her song “Words words words”, and seek to say more about it than the usual platitudes along the lines of “I like it” or “It’s a good song.”

…Well, if there’s anything I can say, it is that, despite what the title might suggest, this song seems to be more relevant to the general concept of entrepreneurial life and the principles of what makes one successful in it, than to considerations related to languages and linguistics, and how to translate properly (which would include more subtle things like the intricacies of cultural appreciation and whatnot). Well, that’s what I think, anyway. At least, the idea of a “game we’re playing [that] only has one rule” is, to me, a poetic way of saying, “When you really appreciate the situation we are in right now, you understand that… well, anything can happen.” And the line, “You can’t win or lose, it’s up to you” does seem to hint at the idea that blindly coveting to “be better” than the competition wherever possible is probably not always the best way to go about it. After all, as John Bird, the founder of the Big Issue, said, you can’t be anything but you can be something. And you are allowed to fail.
Of course, some of the lyrics of this song are more direct and to-the-point rather than poetic; like, “Expectations only limit the unknown”. That’s one of the best things I’ve heard in a long time. However, there is one thing I’m critical of:
“I never know ’til something gives me signs of where to go
You only ask what I don’t know
And everybody points the way”
While I’m sure that Chris Cardell and many others would have me believe that direction is important in business, the lyrics in those three lines seem to suggest that not having it is OK. But I fully realise that this song is all about ambition and finding the inspiration to pursue it – and this includes not being swayed by what other people think about you doing it. By the end of it I realised that all this “Words words words” talk relates to rumours and stuff and their potential to “slow you down”, and impact the way you feel about whatever you might claim to be passionate about. In short, however important “direction” may be, there’s always something more important: you.
If you listen carefully you can hear Amy saying “Thank you” at the end (2:49). But I should be thanking her really. Let’s just say I’m ready to go back to work now.
6th November 2013

I learned of this video on some blog or similar marketing article written by Speaking World in Stornoway – even though Speaking World don’t actually offer any foreign language classes themselves (any more than I do). The stand-out phrase of this video is “should have taken a foreign language class”. I suppose that, on some level, the video is supposed to be funny, but is that phrase really valid? If the guy had never taken any foreign language classes, he wouldn’t have been able to speak the foreign languages at all, right?
Mind you, I speak very good German, and with the German one it could be argued that he could only have hoped to know the shocking truth about what he seemed to be implying to the German guy and girl if he had taken a proper foreign language class in German (and it would probably be imperative that the teacher be a native speaker of German, given that relatively few non-native German speakers are aware of things like that; as it is with every language).
Meanwhile, I don’t speak Spanish or Chinese – well, not enough to “get by” at even a very basic level, even though I’m sure I could learn both, and both at once if I had to. But I was able to use a machine translation tool to find out what the guy meant to say and what he really seemed to say for the Spanish one and the Chinese one.
For the Spanish one, he attempts a “Spanishised” pronunciation of “Colgate”; I was able to determine that what he appeared to say here was “ahorcarse” – interesting that someone out there was able to compare the elocution of “ahorcarse” to that of the apparent (if obviously contrived) “Spanishised” pronunciation of “Colgate”. We don’t really see him attempting to communicate in Spanish, and maybe he would have known what Spanish for “Go and hang yourself” is had he taken a Spanish class; so I guess “should have taken a foreign language class” is perfectly valid there
But I can’t really relate “should have taken a foreign language class” to the Chinese one. It’s clear that he can speak Chinese, and the only mistake he makes there is an innocent mispronunciation where the suggested message is not so much offensive outright as it is weird, if in an irrefutably impolite kind of way. …Yeah? I mean: “Be careful to be naked?” What do you say to something like that? If someone said that to you, wouldn’t you basically find yourself unable to believe the statement, while being torn between feeling amused and feeling embarrassed or shocked? Unless of course, the Chinese couple took it more as like, “Make sure that you are/will be naked.” It is not specifically mentioned whether or not the Chinese guy and girl are close (compare this to the German one, where the German guy, given the interpretation he places on “Kann ich deine Freundin haben?”, does not try to deny that the girl is his girlfriend) but I think that the viewer is expected to accept that they are (i.e. when the Chinese guy throws a punch), or is that just me? But even if it is “just me”, I believe that it is possible to parallel that with general differing views/appreciations of the world that are recognised with different cultures, do you know what I mean?
7th November 2013

I’m confident that I won’t look as if I live in a bubble when I say what I’m about to say… as far as I can see it, few people if anyone would dispute that being a translator requires a unique blend of words-related understanding and imagination which can be as interesting as it obscure. If anyone asks, it’s just what I do – and I won’t delay putting forward my latest few work-related “anecdotes” (as I have defined them in earlier comments on here) for the purpose of discussing it:
All these so-called “work-related anecdotes” of mine in this comment refer to one particular translation project I did during the working week 11-15 November: an IV (medical device) instruction manual from German to English. One quote from the original in the same is “Beim Verbinden der Vorratsbehälter” and I don’t think I got terminology in the English version egregiously wrong when I translated it as “When connecting the storage container”. But I think it’s worth pointing out that, in the production of my first draft of the translation, I didn’t always include the word “storage” when I wrote down “container”, and I’ll tell you why. In my eyes, when you read “storage container” as opposed to just “container”, it’s somewhat easy to get misled and think that reference is being made to an ongoing medical process that the device is used for, rather than just the “setting up” of the device; while it is easy for one to suggest that anyone could be trusted to do the latter if not the former. For the word “storage” could give the impression that the container is always actually containing something whenever one specifically reads “storage container” (which is “storing” some kind of fluid used in an important medical process); but it’s not unheard of for someone to install an empty container as part of the installation of something, where its function is not so much the containing / storage of something (so that that thing may be used and benefited from) as it is the receiving of something (like toxic waste management). Or is that just me? Then again, when you prepare an IV for use, a key task of it is applying a bag containing something in the right way – and I do mean prepare it as in setting it up for an actual medical operation, as opposed to just locating it in the hospital where it is right there ready to use when necessary.
I remember seeing “entlüften” in the original and originally translating it as “ventilate”. Looking back, I find it hard to believe that I was using the word “ventilate” as meaning “allowing air to escape from something”; up to then, if I ever found myself using the word “ventilate” at all I think it would otherwise always or nearly always suggest “to allow for the provision of air to something” i.e. to provide it with oxygen or as a cooling means, so that it wouldn’t melt or explode.
There was also a bit in the original which described what process should be followed when administering a given treatment process / cure to a patient being treated with an IV (NB for some reason, the word for “treatment process” / “cure” in the original was “Herstellung”, a word which normally means “production” / “manufacturing” – let’s just say that I can claim all credit for seeing the truth in that one in the scope of this translation project). This to-be-followed process included the registration of certain details: the amount of fluid to be administered to the patient and the required time intervals, if anything. I never learned at school that Germans use the word “Eingabe” (which normally means input / feed / insertion) to mean “details” in this way, but then again, how could I have expected to?
But there is one thing that really threw me: I saw the word “Aufschaltung” in the original, but according to various online sources that word can translate as “installation”, “disconnection”, “implementation” or “intrusion”. How do you explain that? I probably could (after time, during which I conducted some close research and thought about it a lot), but certainly not off the top of my head, if you know what I mean. The harsh truth is that only committed acuity could possibly help me there.
Of course, the “unique blend of words-related understanding and imagination which can be as interesting as it obscure” doesn’t just apply to these “work-related anecdotes”. Outside of the project indicated above, I’ve often noted that native German speakers sometimes use “Auftraggeber” (which translates literally as “order giver / provider”) for “client”, rather than “Kunde” (at least, certainly in contracts, when they are listing the parties recognised in contracts). I have also found myself postulating that, for me, there is a difference between “various projects” and “diverse projects”, whereby “various projects” always pertains to more than one project (which usually have their differences) while “diverse projects” can mean one or more projects which are “diverse” in that they have multiple aims, or are pertinent to various matters which may well have nothing in common… you get the idea, right? I wonder if the English verb “beware” only exists because of the phrase “be aware”, even though people don’t always use “be aware” in connection with something that is to be recognised as risky or threatening, like they do with “beware”? The dance / gymnastics move called the splits is called “le grand écart” (“the big split”) in French, but I’ve only known that for about a week ever since I looked it up in my trusty dictionary, which can be relied on to provide not just translations of individual words, but also translations of commonly used short phrases in which these words appear (Hachette-Oxford) – just before I did look it up, I found myself saying to myself: what if someone were to ask me, “George, what does ‘splits’ mean in French?” and I had a little think about it before deciding that “les jambes 180ées” was the best de facto French expression I could come up with – it’s my opinion that that French expression’s meaning is clear, convincing and self-explanatory enough even if it’s not official. Having said that: in the comedy Thin Blue Line (which has Rowan Atkinson in it), where Inspector Grimm (David Haig) uses the expression “fannying about”, there’s no disputing what is supposed to be understood by it even if it is not an “official” term; but what do you call expressions like that?
I might ask someone how often they “use synonyms”, but I should (and do) appreciate that people can be prone to using alternative words which otherwise mean the same thing depending on what a given word in question is referring to and / or what the speaker has on their mind / what they are feeling at the time they use any expression for which they know that there are synonyms which they are familiar with. That said, some synonyms of certain words are not readily thought of as synonyms as such, even if it possible to identify similarities in meaning without trying. For example, look up the word “abstruse” on Google and, right at the top, it gives you a list of synonyms for it and one of them is very easy to consider a synonym of “abstruse”: “obscure”. I was familiar with the word “abstruse” beforehand and when I did look it up on Google in this way I thought of it as meaning “the opposite of straightforward”, and I would only use it when referring to concepts, never objects. And yet, whether it’s the result of human effort or the output of anything automatic, you also see Google listing the following words as synonyms of “abstruse” which might surprise you: “unfathomable”, “impenetrable”, and “hard” among other things. Or click on “arcane”, for example, and the Google definition of it is: “understood by few; mysterious or secret”, but I don’t think something has to rigidly have any element of secrecy about it to be “abstruse”, by a long shot (and we see “hidden” as a synonym for “arcane”, and “hidden” doesn’t pass for a synonym of “abstruse” in my book!). And the synonyms that Google lists for “abstruse” include the universally common words “hard” and “difficult” – I wasn’t expecting that. But what more strikes me here is that “unfathomable” usually means something that would simply leave anyone in awe (or otherwise faze them) purely as a result of how much of a given adjective it is – unthinkably such. And, to my sensibilities, “impenetrable” basically means “so well fortified / tough that it cannot be broken through”, and that is a fair distance away from the true meaning of “abstruse” or “obscure”, isn’t it?
Finally, you know how people who have English as their mother tongue always say the somewhat cliché expression “never mind”? It’s just that I have imagined a foreigner who speaks good English seeing one person with English as their mother tongue saying it to another one whereupon the foreigner thinks that the first one is accusing the second one of contemptuous ignorance i.e. the notion: “That’s always your attitude, isn’t it? ‘Never mind’! You just don’t care about anyone but yourself!”
20th November 2013

Well, now that I am officially in my sixth year of professional translating on a self-employed basis, I’ve noticed a voice in my head telling me that the average man or woman on the street might find it surprisingly easy to ask (or at least wonder) just how satisfied I am in this job. When people say that there is no such thing as a typical foster carer, they do it for a reason, but that must apply to just about any profession; indeed, in one of my most recent past comments on here I specifically commented that I was not aware of any translator stereotypes. Why do you think I did that?
So, what is the truth of the matter? I can’t lament my earnings that much (even I am unhappy with how much of it ends up spent on business marketing – and not everything I do when it comes to business marketing proves to be all that worth it, despite what the people who sell me it say. Are you reading this, Andy and Arran?). And while it is so easy to regard what I do as boring (as opposed to glamorous or anything like that), some people out there must envy me at least a little bit for how accomplished I am when it comes to foreign languages, let alone translating “for real” in any articulate (or inarticulate) sense of the expression. But I’m not into boasting “for the sake of it”. I believe modesty is important. Even Tyler Durden said that you are not your job. So how much can I talk about myself as a professional translator when it really matters? For all the success I’ve made of my work… what about me? It’s a matter of plain and unquestionable truth that there’s simply no dissociating me (of all things) from George Trail Translation Services, huh?
I think that it’s a good thing that I am as willing to post translation blogs as ever, so I’ll continue with this one. How about this: “The art of translation”… I am divided when it comes to the question of whether or not translation is a real art. When people write a book or paint a picture or do something like that, knowing that it is “art”, one gets to see them essentially expressing themselves; and it’s likely that if they knew that they were really good at what they do, then there’s every reason to believe that an at least fair portion of their audience would soon be influenced by the conscious artistic intentions within what they are doing, whether or not the artist had identified / understood such intentions. I mean, as far as I’m concerned, a big part of it is creativity – and I do mean REAL creativity; and in the what I believe is likely event that you don’t know what I’m talking about (no offence): as an example, while there are plenty of genuinely creative Downfall parodies on Youtube, I don’t consider “Hitler is informed he is sitting down” to be a product of real creativity on the grounds that it seems like it was only a matter of time before someone would have that idea. But the “art of translation”? Whenever someone undertakes a translation task, the “intention” of said task is basically always the conveying of the intended message of the original material in a new language (and nothing but) and this is always something in particular (even if the author didn’t know what they were talking about); it wouldn’t pay for the translator to sell anything in their work if what they were saying were incorrect or invalid. On the other hand, I have never been able to ignore the challenge of aligning my own understanding / interpretation / feeling of what I read in an original product that is to be translated with what I understand would be someone else’s understanding / interpretation / feeling of what they will read which is (will be / would be) my (in-progress) translation of it. Come to think of it, maybe I shouldn’t be at all surprised to know that some people label translation as an art; not when the task of getting it right can be so anything but straightforward at points. This is just one argument in point: the fact that words sometimes get given new meanings from time to time, or their meaning just changes from one thing to another; for example, in Shakespeare’s time, calling someone “naughty” would have indicated that there is something deeply repugnant about them, compared to today when you might see someone call their young son or daughter “naughty” with a quite mild tone of voice. On their website, the translation company ASAP Language Services (in Pasadena, California) outline it in such a way that I couldn’t have done it better myself: “Almost anyone can speak, but not everyone can communicate.”

At any rate, in all efforts to sound sincere, when it comes to language, expression and communication, and the never-ending debate of what does work and not, I can willingly acknowledge and make a point of remembering that which is “wrong” (be it incorrect or just plain substandard) every bit as much as I can willingly acknowledge that which is “right” or indeed that which is not just right, it can only be described as a touch of brilliance. Of course I sometimes come across problems for which I just might find a suggestion that is not only right but veritably likely to impress (no matter how ignorant the person reading it was) – the product of more insightful or intuitive thinking – but translating is a job where to “get it right”, more often than not, means to independently understand one or more things that you are supposed to understand even if there’s a fair chance that you just won’t be briefed about it / them beforehand; woe betide anyone who believes that they will be successful doing the “sleep-working” thing in professional translation work (see comment dated 12th July 2013). Ultimately, I am indeed not without pride as far as my job is concerned. But let me elaborate: it is not the kind of pride that comes with doing / achieving anything indisputably “great” and making no secret of expecting credit for it, but it’s not the opposite either i.e. the kind of pride that comes from doing something you claim to be “humble” while knowing deep down that it is more important than (you find that) many other people will admit. I guess it is the kind of pride that stems from devoted unfaltering consideration of things, ideas, concepts, hypotheses, values and attitudes that not everyone knows how to elaborate confidently (but that doesn’t make them “stupid”). For better or worse, it seems to serve me well when I resolve to satisfy or appease customers as much as I would have them believe that I’m ready to do so.
So… what am I talking about here? Well, I did make it quite clear in the first sentence of the first paragraph that I was talking about translating, and how I make a living doing it; just like (nearly) all my comments on here, really. As such, what follows is another of these work-related anecdotes of mine:
In one project I did recently – a translation project from German to English – the first thing I saw was the word “Reisebericht” in the title of the document in question. And when I saw that I originally thought, “Well, whatever the exact English expression the customer might – might – use, what it will be in English is pretty much certainly something like ‘Travel report’ or ‘Journey report’.” The catch: as I proceeded through the job, it became very clear that the subject matter was nothing to do with travelling or tourism or anything of the sort; for this document related to a certain kind of machine which used a conveyor belt. So I changed what I originally translated “Reisebericht” as, to “Itinerary report”. If it’s not clear enough what is meant by that – well, what is supposed to meant by it – although I never knew the full details for what it signified in this particular case, “itinerary report” here is supposed to indicate a case of a company or group sending one of their lot to compile a report of something off their premises – as opposed to an “on-site report” which can be done in this company’s / group’s own offices, if you will.
Let me also impart some memories from this proofreading work project I did recently. I read this in the original: “The history has no subjunctive mood and all we have is to regret about those prospects, which would open up if the ideas included in the Memorandum implemented: to stop conflict on the Dniester and to bring its parties to active and fruitful cooperation”. When I sent my revised version back I had changed this passage to: “We cannot allow history to be shaped by opportunism or fate; we can but regret those prospects which would have been open to us had the ideas included in the Memorandum been implemented: namely, to stop conflict on the Dniester and to bring its parties to active and fruitful cooperation”. I was particularly proud of how I rewrote the first bit as “The history has no subjunctive mood more coherent”; I think I got it right – what do you think? In the same project, I came across “As a result of this round it was agreed to complete the preparation for the Conference at/during the next trilateral meeting on the 20 December in Geneva”. Should I have used “at” or “during” as the preposition? Isn’t “during” a word that (is supposed to) always refer to something that happens in the past, while “at” is a word that (is supposed to) always refer to something that will happen in the future? Personally, it reminded me of that time I was taught the difference between “puisque”, “car” and one or two similar expressions meaning “because” in French during my time at the University of Poitiers in France, during which I was like 20 years old.
In a second proofreading project, where my job was merely to tweak the English in certain places, I read “Moreover, no column names (first line) and no time stamp (final line) should be included, because otherwise the External Table of it will be entered in the ‘Bad’ Files”, but the thing is that someone who had worked on this beforehand openly said this in connection with it: “Ok, I can understand what is this all about, but it sounds weird.” I sympathise, because I’ve felt like writing that myself from time to time… but when it comes to translation, what do you call sentences / phrases like that?
In one recent German-to-English translation project I saw “Projektgewinnung” in the original and wondered: is “project acquisition” the same as “project winning”?
Also: while I was in town on Monday – I took time off work in the afternoon to have a haircut – I noticed someone advertising something in a piece of marketing which mentioned, “excellant rates”. “Excellant” is an incorrect spelling of the word (adjective) “excellent”, which I mention even though you probably don’t need it explaining to you. But when I saw it, one of the first things that went through my mind was how “dependent” and “dependant” are both real words in English: “dependent” being the adjective and “dependant” being a noun which basically means “someone / something which / who is dependent on something else.” More specifically, what I was thinking here was, how long before people start writing “excellant”, deliberately spelling it as such, as a noun which is essentially supposed to mean “a thing that is excellent”?
That’s the mind of a translator / professional linguist for you. What can I say?
28th November 2013

Every time I go on my Facebook business account these days I think about how much I’ve rambled on and on about my language skills, my translation skills, even my position as a professional translator, without directly and properly addressing the impact I have on the translation industry of today, including how this industry is viewed by society in general (of course, not everyone wants a translation service every once in a while, you know?); or maybe how I shape it would be a better way to put it. Like everyone else in my position who has their head screwed on I try to respond to offers of work in a wise manner, and a part of it is stating not just my quote but also the conditions, such as when I can have it done by, where appropriate. By default, I seek to do all translation projects I receive ASAP, not just in the interest of my own money i.e. availability for other projects, but also out of respect for any existing deadlines / time constraints that customers have. So it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to hear that I am totally used to completing projects by deadlines which have been assigned to them by the client rather than by myself – sometimes the deadlines are completely irrevocable ones (i.e. they simply cannot be prolonged under any circumstances); and I can promise you that there have been times when I have juggled more than one project with a deadline at once. Having said that, while I take quality checking very seriously in translation work that I am doing, there are always times when I need to ask someone who has given me a specific project something: ask them to clarify or verify something in the original, or suggest that they might want to rewrite a given bit in the translation which I otherwise wrote as lucidly and as in educated a manner as I could. With this, I just know that I should be prepared to consider avoiding submitting a piece of work as late (i.e. as close to the deadline) as possible while merely invoking the argument that I’ve taken my time with this work, which is (supposed to be) evidence of diligence, and how people say, “More haste, less speed” for a reason and blah blah blah blah blah. I couldn’t help comparing this to how the translation company 001 Translation specifically state on their website that “A translation to be delivered in 3 to 5 days costs less than a 1-day rush translation” (in the “Our Rates” tab, under “Requested Turnaround Time”), as if to suggest that they are more disposed to completing translation projects within 3-5 days rather than doing them and having them sent back the following day, like I do. Of course, the size of translation projects is a very important factor here, but you could say that I am interested as to how this agency works, and what they do differently from me (or so I believe). I was also quick to note something that this other translation agency, Samtext, have admitted quite openly on their website: “No matter how skilled our translators may be and how thoroughly they are trained to check their work, every text undergoes double proof-reading – in other words, it is proof-read by someone other than the original translator. We do this, despite the extra work it takes, to ensure that the texts you receive are error-free.” I hugely appreciate their understanding, and will likely remember this the next time a customer for whom I’ve done a job insists on getting back to me and seems too critical.
Now, translation agencies indeed have their merits, but I now get back to talking about me, like what I started the previous paragraph with: the thing about being self-employed is that you have total authority as far as your work is concerned. Even if you don’t have as much money to play with as you’d like, it’s a position of control that is seldom if ever underappreciated. You can fire customers as well as those who work for you – even the big CC (www.cardellmedia.co.uk) makes no secret of it. But even I have my share of times when I yearn for the truth i.e. to know exactly what it is that’s holding me back / preventing me from reaching my goals. And, to be honest, I’m not immune to developing habits – something that makes me think: if God exists, what habits might He have or develop?
For all that, though: if someone wants to be taken seriously as a professional translator, then “a love of languages” is but the tip of the iceberg, isn’t it? I know damn well that I’m not the only one who has talked about their interest in the mere act of translation – and so does everyone else – or their talent; but what about me commenting on my interest in the translation INDUSTRY? How many professional translators out there could confidently answer such enquiries as “What do you think of the translation industry?”, “What do you know about the translation industry?” or especially, “What is your interest in the translation industry?”
You know, is there any genuine talking about one’s interest in the translation industry without talking about the translation industry’s overall position in / influence on society in general?
Either way, I don’t think it would be a good idea to base responses to questions like that based on things like stereotypes of translators (although, as I have said before in previous comments, if there are any existing stereotypes of translators, I’ve never heard of them. If you know of any, let me know; I’d love to hear them – I can imagine finding amusement in them whether they’re good or bad or neither). But Jeremy Kyle suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder – go and look at his Wikipedia article – and that sort of thing seems somewhat close to home for me, and it’s not like I haven’t mentioned atychiphobia in a previous comment on here. But I also want to reiterate here a quote that I recently saw: “It was a mistake that set the world in motion – never be afraid of making a mistake.” I saw it on the Facebook business page of someone (who is also a translator!) that I’m an old friend of – you know who you are.
At any rate, there can be little to no reason to dispute that translators are “more comfortable with words” than “ordinary people”, by which I guess I mean how words and expressions can be interpreted differently (whether this is unwittingly or contrived); but this would also mean that they are more comfortable than most people at explaining such differences and phenomena in a coherent manner. This includes questions of what certain words or expressions are capable of indicating in certain contexts, depending on who uses them, or where exactly they are read, whatever. After all, what do you think is meant by the immortal claim that an understanding of cultural factors and context is essential when it comes to translation work? What I’m trying to say is that high-level linguistic talent alone won’t always cut it if you’re not “awake”. I’m sure that language teachers/academic spend a lot of time on this very subject, and I’m going to end this comment with three “little thoughts” which I view as relevant, as follows:
You know when you watch snooker on TV? Well, before the days of colour TV, people did use to watch snooker on black and white TVs, you know. Well, suppose, as an example, that you were watching snooker on a black and white TV and the commentator said something like, “For those of you watching black and white TVs, the pink ball is the one next to the brown one.” You might instantaneously respond to that like “LOL” whether you knew that or not, or whether you were none the wiser after having heard it. But does it really sound so daft if you consider the assumption that the viewer had been watching the game up to that point?
I recently heard of this brain-teaser (well, I don’t call it a “brain-teaser”; more like a “riddle” or a “trick question”) that goes: “If there are 3 apples and you take 2, how many do you have?” Boris Johnson was asked this question and the answer he gave was one – poor sod. For the proper answer is two: if you take two apples, then it is just plain undeniable fact that you then have two apples. Say what you like about Boris’ listening and comprehension faculties, but he might have given the right answer if the question had been put differently, like, “How many do you have in your possession?” But I don’t want to sound eager to ridicule him because I find it fun – I’m not that kind of guy – I imagine that what compelled him to answer “one” rather than “two” was the unmentioned thought of “How many do you have left?” Of course, the answer would not be two if you were already carrying some apples before you took the two apples mentioned in the question. If you were carrying some apples before you picked those two up and were then asked “how many apples do you have?”, that would seem like a proper question in that you would have to do a calculation to arrive at the right answer: add the ones you’re already carrying to these two that you have just picked up. But if you’re not carrying any apples to begin with, then, like I said before, it is just plain undeniable fact that you then have two apples; and to me it is this plain undeniable fact that makes people dismiss the question for what it is – like: “Why would someone ask how many apples you’re carrying when everyone knows that when you pick up two apples, you then have two apples, assuming you’re not carrying any more apples to begin with?”
I’m also reminded of another trick question at this point: the one that goes, “You’re driving a bus carrying a certain number of people from A to B, and drop some people off and/or pick some people up at B and carry on to C, and you drop some people off and/or pick some people up at C and carry on to D… what is the name of the bus driver?” When someone being asked that question says that they do not know the answer – and they may well wonder what that’s got to with all the picking people up/dropping them off business (not least because the question that they are expecting to be asked will be something like, “How many people are there on the bus at the end of it all?”) – they are reminded that the question begins, “You are driving a bus…”; like, “Don’t you know your own name?” To everyone out there who has answered this question, “I don’t know [the name of the bus driver]” and felt hurt at looking stupid as a result of it, I can empathise if you don’t possess a bus driver’s licence in real life.
There are many car driving computer games (like Outrun 2006, which I bought recently) where, before you start a race or whatever it is, you have to choose between automatic or manual transmission. Consider this: if you select “automatic”, does your vehicle actually use an automatic transmission system or does the character that you’re playing as always change the gears manually even if you, the player, don’t?
10th December 2013

I just want to say Merry Christmas to all my clients.
23rd December 2013

I sometimes think that the comments I post on my Facebook business account are just way over the top: based on personal experience, it is my belief that they are far longer and more verbose than the average business blog posted by anyone else, and that plenty of people would be inclined to view them as little more than material which exists to “puff me up” more than anything else.
Nevertheless, I just can’t help feeling that I would be selling myself short if I didn’t discuss the art / practice of translation as much as I could to this day, whatever I may have said about it in the past. You see, I believe that translation is not something you could hope to master if you agreed to be taught it by someone who believed that they could do a proper job of teaching it purely with the provision of (direct) examples; conversely, I also doubt that I could teach translation confidently through the provision of static direct examples alone. Who knows? – maybe one day I will learn how to juggle or play a new musical instrument or something whereby I would quite willingly pay some teenager with a talent for whatever it is and who is frequently at a loose end, to teach me it in my spare time (just like Jim Carrey’s character in Yes Man learned how to play the guitar from some teenager in his bedroom – see it for yourself). I don’t know how to juggle or, say, play the trumpet, but if I did, I’m convinced that I could lean purely on what I know about the mere act of it as I taught it to someone.
Meanwhile, this world is likely not without people who think that learning a new language is just like that – at least, at the level of learning a handful of set phrases, some pages of vocabulary and a few universally applicable principles of basic grammar whereby, all things considered, nuances of meaning are not that much of an issue. Not everyone can approach certain related topics that are more obscure, such as writing style, with any kind of conviction or anything that passes for it. I think of Pat Condell: in his video “Politics and religion” he makes it clear that he is as critical of religion as he is because, “[religion] operates in this world of reason but outside the bounds of reason – which is a polite way of saying outside the bounds of sanity.” Well, if you ask me, it could be argued that, sometimes, the language used by people operates in this world of reason but outside the bounds of reason: like, it exists for nothing other than to state something which is outside the bounds of reason. Any instance of used language may be 100% grammatically correct and everything, but if what it says isn’t clear or doesn’t make sense to the reader / listener… well, what are they supposed to do or think? And, to wit: there can’t be many people who have never ever found themselves in such a situation. I mean, when you think about it, it is just so easy to connect this with the general concept of poor translation, do you know what I mean?

I state three sentences now (which are all “my own thing”):
1. My new car is red.
2. My towel looks very sad.
3. There was a big animal outside the building.
The first sentence makes sense: what it implies is indisputable. And anyone would find it easy to illustrate it – would they? I’m talking about, like, drawing a picture of a car coloured red, and made to look all shiny – maybe with a label on it saying “brand new”; and perhaps with a matchstick man in or beside it with a label attached to them saying “me”. But what if such an illustration were specifically supposed to have an intended message, that message being “My new car is red” (rather than e.g. “I was in the vicinity of a new car which was red” or “I found the new car, which happened to be red” or whatever)? What would you do then? What would you single out in the illustration, and how? The second sentence is a sentence that just about anyone would quickly dismiss as making no sense at all – it’s all self-explanatory. Just because a sentence is all grammatically correct and whatnot does not necessarily mean that it actually indicates something that is to be understood purely in logical and rational terms. Sure, you could suggest out of the blue that the second sentence above referred to some fictional world where towels came to life or something – anyone could do that – but think about it. Finally, the third sentence is an example of the kind of sentence which, if you ask me, people like to effectively pretend makes sense to them, without necessarily realising it. After all, are we talking about outside “this” building (as in the building that the speaker is currently in), or about a building that is in some location that can be referred to as “over there”? What is the animal, anyway? It is something that is always big, like an elephant or a giraffe, or maybe it’s something more common, like a dog, which is surprisingly or unusually big for its size? I could go on if I tried. Whatever unanswered question you can think of in connection with it, you tell me what you think the answer is – I will have no reason to argue with you, so why should I refuse to believe you? Ultimately, if you don’t know the truth and are indifferent to the matter, then your guess is as good as mine. To pretend that a sentence makes sense is to effectively think of and apply a context to it and thereby pretend that you understand it. Just don’t confuse this with the art of identifying the particular context of sentences in a foreign language which is a key part of the art of translation! It doesn’t matter whether or not you identify yourself doing such an act – if you do it, you do it, end of story.
I would suggest that one can relate all this to the general concept of differing cultural factors when it comes to translation. Is there any “default” way of explaining how cultural factors influence translation product, and thereby translation work – one which would allow absolutely anyone to understand the points being made when it was elucidated? Maybe I should work on one myself. The thing that really made me feel like writing this last bit was me finding that, when you look at adjectives which say something about people, there are some “stereotypes” of people that are this, that or the other adjective. For example, some people, when they hear the word “arrogant”, find it ever so easy to think of disingenuous career politicians or spiv bankers while sparing little or no consideration for other kinds of people who deserve the label. If you want to talk about “rude” people, how easy would you find it to bring up the “chav” or “redneck” stereotype? …and who else? We’ve all heard of the “blonde hair and blue eyes girl” stereotype (who’s usually from Sweden) who is just “sexy” by default, when we’re not attributing that term to certain celebrities. It does seem to me that the word “vain” is far more readily associated with the kind of self-absorbed young woman who spends too much money on clothes and cosmetics (think Hilary in the Fresh Prince of Bel Air), than anything else. But I am not aware of any stereotypes of people who are, say, patronising or blasé. On the other hand, I wouldn’t be surprised if Edward Norton’s character in Fight Club has become a “depressed person” stereotype, and I’m sure I could think of other ones. Either way, while such stereotypes are good for drawing all of society’s attention to and awareness of certain kinds of people, we would do well to be on guard against them limiting our understanding of the world / society in which we live, do you know what I mean? And yes, I say that because I am a (professional) translator.
24th December 2013

I just looked at the latest entries in my list of translation business-related anecdotes. Wouldn’t it be great if I somehow attained a condition whereby I would never have to worry about making a mistake in my work again? And if I did – which I consider unlikely – I would never have to worry about ending up confused again, right? But my life is my life, and I should accept it for what it is. That said, in this comment I list my latest bunch of “translation business-related anecdotes” which are comprised of language-related issues of various natures that I have noted in recent professional translation projects…
In a recent French-to-English translation project, I saw this in the original: “Recherche de nouveaux aciers et amélioration des procédés de transformation, notamment pour l’allégement des véhicules”. And I can swear that I instantly found myself asking this: does “allégement” really mean relief (as in reducing the burden that the vehicles have to bear), or making vehicles lighter (figuratively speaking)?
In some proofreading work I did earlier this month, I read this in the original version: “Of course, we are worried about the situation in Syria and around it”. I agreed with conviction that the last three words effectively meant “in the surrounding area” i.e. the area around Syria, rather than “around the situation” – I thought “in the surrounding area” even if I was just so quick to agree that the original was written by someone whose mother tongue was not English, even though, I have to admit, the original was written in very masterful English for a foreigner. In the same project, I read this: “On the contrary, we wish to involve all the countries of the region into our joint work to overcome the problems based on mutual respect, consideration of interests and legal concerns of everybody, respect for principles of international law”, where I was proud of myself for thinking of and applying the expression “on a basis of mutual respect”.
In one German-to-English translation project I did recently, I learned that the German word “bequem” can mean “convenient” rather than “comfortable”. Fair enough.
I am currently doing some proofreading work which needs to be submitted by Monday next week. In the unedited original version of the file in question I read this: “Slovakia supports small-scale farmers in some regions of Kenya and contributes to improving food security”. And I was just so quick to wonder: security or safety? Are we actually talking about the availability of food (in which case choose „security“) or food hygiene (in which case choose „safety“?
And I know that I’m not the only one who has ever felt like telling the world about these things – even educated people get madly misled sometimes; as an example, just look at the Sheng Long fiasco http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sheng_Long
Like I said in the beginning, my life is my life, and I should accept it for what it is. So is it possible to reject the frustrations you know in everyday life “the tough way” and still “love yourself”?
24th December 2013

Maybe I should have realised it a long time ago, but in business, “correct” and “right” are not always the same thing. This is as true in professional translation as it is in professional anything else (well, I think it is, anyway).
I have known a few occasions where, after I submitted a piece of translation work I had every reason to be confident about and no reason to be doubtful about, the project manager of the project in question got back to me for the purpose of pointing out something I wrote which they… just couldn’t agree with. The thing in question was not necessarily unequivocally and embarrassingly wrong (and, to be fair to these project managers, sometimes what they wrote in their correspondence back to me in such cases made it sound like they appreciated that this was the case) but it was “wrong” in some way, and while they failed to offer any improvement suggestions they had no idea how to respond to it at all except to be awkward about it with me until I “did something about it” (with all due respect). And I suppose that, on some level, there is no excuse for denying that that’s perfectly understandable: whether I’m right or wrong, it’s easier (often far easier) to ask someone about a conviction that they (should) remember than to guess what they’re talking about; and I think most of us would agree that, when it comes to the general concept of making sense out of translations (if I may call it that), there are no boundaries to the potential valid hypothesising. Think about it.
And that’s why I was so delighted to learn of this website, which features sentences which, however weird and awkward they may be, are still grammatical in every sense of the wordhttp://mentalfloss.com/article/49238/7-sentences-s… . I’m sure there are loads of other sites just like it. I may be eager to talk about this sort of thing with family and friends in the pub but I won’t hesitate to reproduce it here. I have to admit, I sometimes had to have the reasons explained to me; for example, I knew that a buffalo is an animal like a big bull and that Buffalo is a place in America (it’s in New York), but I didn’t know that there is a verb “buffalo”.
I finish this comment thus, discussing something which I believe to be pertinent to the topic at hand: consider the sentence, “The man was killed for his act of high treason” and understand that I can imagine that some people might respond to it like, “That should be written: ‘The man was put to death for his act of high treason.’!” As far as I’m concerned, it’s just that, with “The man was killed for his act of high treason”, there is no more reason to believe that there is any secrecy or denial in connection with the man’s death than there would be with “The man was put to death for his act of high treason”. And that’s the reason why I could understand “The man was put to death for his act of high treason” being “miswritten” as “The man was killed for his act of high treason”; and this is something entirely made up by me. I could speculate and say that, with “The man was killed for his act of high treason”, this man was killed by someone other than the country’s authorities for whatever he did – whether or not that is another story as might be suggested, I think of this as an example of the “art of explanation” – I haven’t forgotten my comment about translation and explanation on here (dated 19th July 2013).
Thank you for reading.
31st December 2013

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Call George Trail


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