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Posts from 2015

[The most recent one is at the bottom.]

When people find a reason to criticise the translation work of others: whether their reasoning is clear and backed up by well-elucidated arguments (which may or may not originate from themselves) or vague and offhanded and based on claims that can only be described as convoluted, they may claim that the person who did it didn’t know what they were talking about (even if they know that the original content is someone else’s). Myself, I can appreciate as much as any other translator that an approach to translation which is merely finding a way to write grammatically correct sentences that (“must”) work in the original, without any serious and sober consideration of the subject matter in question, is anything but advisable. But somehow I have recently ended up pondering how much one could start and sustain a fully-fledged conversation of the topic of not knowing what one is talking about.

If we’re talking about translation and accuracy therein, I’m not even talking about allusion to the (very true) fact that even very small things like how the addition or removal of a single letter or a punctuation mark can greatly change the meaning of a sentence. At the risk of sounding like I don’t know what I’m talking about, with but a passion for nonsense which, well, just doesn’t make sense, there follows two distinct, rather different examples of people not knowing what they’re talking about – my claim is that there are parallels of this concept, however generalised it may sound, between these examples and translation when it’s poorly done.

Example 1: everyone’s heard of Internet scams, including the ones where you get sent an email from someone notifying you about a very large sum of money of 6-8 figures and that they are waiting for you to send certain details to them so that you may collect it. They say all kinds of things in desperate bizarre attempts to make them sound legitimate and important and more credible, mentioning everyone from government and bank officials to the FBI to the IMF to the United Nations (What? Like they handle financial transactions for members of the public!) and the names of fictitious Internet scam investigation units. There have been times when I have kept long emails from these people which I find hilarious because, while they leave me hopelessly confused, I do know that they are from scammers and that they essentially absolutely do not know what they’re talking about (not that it’s about anything true, of course); but it’s not enough to say that. Think about it: they couldn’t care less if I don’t (and they probably knowingly wouldn’t me to, in a manner of speaking). Consider this point: it would indeed take a lot on part my part to memorise this (and I did choose this example because of its absurd length):

“Good day,

I am Mr. Michael William, staff of International Private Banking at NEDBANK SOUTH AFRICA. I am contacting you concerning a deceased customer and an investment he placed under our banks management some years ago. I would respectfully request that you keep the contents of this mail confidential and respect the integrity of the information you come by as a result of this mail.

I contacted you independently of our investigation and no one is informed of this communication. I would like to intimate you with certain facts that I believe would be of interest to you. In 2006, the subject matter came to our bank to engage in business discussions with our private banking division. He informed us that he had a financial portfolio of $21,350,000:00 (Twenty One Million Three Hundred And Fifty Thousand United States Dollars) Only), which he wished to have us turn over (invest) on his behalf.

I was the officer assigned to his case, I was made numerous suggestions in line with my duties as the de-facto chief operations officer of the private banking sector, especially given the volume of funds he wished to put into our bank. We met on numerous occasions prior to any investments being placed. I encouraged him to consider various options with prime ratings.

Based on my advice, we spun the money around various opportunities and made attractive margins for our first months of operation, the accrued profit and interest stood at this point at over two Four Hundred Thousand United States Dollars, this margin was not the full potential of the fund but he desired low risk guaranteed returns on investments.

In mid 2007, he asked that the money be liquidated because he needed to make an urgent investment requiring cash payments here in South Africa. He directed that I liquidate the funds and deposit it with a security firm. I informed him that NEDBANK would have to make special arrangements to have this done and in order not to circumvent due process, the bank would have to make a 1 % deduction from the funds to cater for banking and statutory charges. He complained about the charges but later came around when I explained to him the complexities of the task he was asking of us. Cash movement across boarders has become especially strict since the incidents of 9/11. I contacted my affiliate in here in South Africa and made the funds available to the security firm.
I undertook all the processes and made sure I followed his precise instructions to the letter and had the funds deposited to the security consultancy firm, Corporate Securities Co. Corporate Securities Co is a specialist private firm that accepts deposits from high net worth individuals and blue chip corporations that handle valuable products or undertake transactions that need immediate access to cash. This small and highly private organization is familiar especially to the highly placed and well-connected organizations. In line with Instructions, the money was deposited with Corporate Securities Co. The deceased told me he wanted the money there in anticipation of his arrival from Norway later.
This was the last communication we had, this transpired around 29th September 2007. In June 2009, we got a call from Corporate Securities Co informing us of the activity of that particular portfolio. This was an astounding position as far as I was concerned, given the fact that I managed the private banking sector I was the only one who knew about the deposit at Corporate Securities Co, and I could not understand why the deceased had not come forward to claim his deposit. I made futile efforts to locate the deceased. I immediately passed the task of locating him to the internal investigations department of NEDBANK. Later on, information started to trickle in, apparently our client was dead. A person who suited his description was declared dead of a heart attack in Cannes, South of France.

We were soon enough able to identify the body and cause of death was confirmed. The bank immediately launched an investigation into possible surviving next of kin to alert about the situation and also to come forward to claim his estate. If you are familiar with private banking affairs, those who patronize our services usually prefer anonymity, but also some levels of detachment from conventional processes. In his bio-data form, he listed no next of kin. In the field of private banking opening an account with us means no one will know of its existence, accounts are rarely held under a name; depositors use numbers and codes to make the accounts anonymous. This bank also gives the choice to depositors of having their mail sent to them or held at the bank itself, ensuring that there are no traces of the account and as I said, rarely do they nominate next of kin.

Private banking clients apart from not nominating next of kin also usually in most cases leave wills in our care, in this case; the deceased died without a testament .In line with our internal processes for account holders who have passed away, we instituted our own Investigations in good faith to determine who should have right to claim the estate. This investigation has for the past years been unfruitful. We have scanned every continent and used our private investigation affiliate companies to get to the root of the problem. It is this investigation that resulted in my being furnished with your details as a possible relative of the deceased. My official capacity dictates that I am the only party to supervise the investigation and the only party to receive the results of the investigation. What this means, you being the last batch of names we have considered, is that our dear late fellow died with no known or identifiable family member. This leaves me as the only person with the full picture of what the prevailing situation is in relation to the deposit and the late beneficiary of the deposit.

According to practice, Corporate Securities Co will by the end of this financial year broadcast a request for statements of claim to NEDBANK, failing to receive viable claims they will most probably revert the deposit back to NEDBANK. This will result in the money entering the NEDBANK accounting system and the portfolio will be out of my hands and out of the private banking division. This will not happen if I have my way. What I wish to relate to you will smack of unethical practice but I want you to understand something. It is only an outsider to the banking world who finds the internal politics of the banking world aberrational.
The world of private banking especially is fraught with huge rewards for those who occupy certain offices and oversee certain portfolios. You should have begun by now to put together the general direction of what I propose. I alone have the deposit details and they will release the deposit to no one unless I instruct them to do so. I alone know of the existence of this deposit for as far as NEDBANK is concerned, the transaction with our late customer concluded when I sent the funds to Corporate Securities Co, all outstanding interactions in relation to the file are just customer services and due process. Corporate Securities Co has no single idea of what the history or nature of the deposit. They are simply awaiting instructions to release the deposit to any party that comes forward. This is the situation. This bank has spent great amounts of money trying to track this mans family; they have investigated for months and have found no family. The investigation has come to an end. My proposal; you share similar details to the late fellow; I am prepared to place you in a position to instruct Corporate Securities Co to release the deposit to you as the closest surviving relation. Upon receipt of the deposit, I am prepared to share the money with you in half. That is: I will simply nominate you as the next of kin and have them release the deposit to you.

We share the proceeds 50/50.I would have gone ahead to ask the funds be released to me, but that would have drawn a straight line to me and my involvement in claiming the deposit. I assure you that I could have the deposit released to you within a few days. I will simply inform the bank of the final closing of the file relating to the deceased I will then officially communicate with Corporate Securities Co and instruct them to release the deposit to you. With these two things: all is done. The alternative would be for us to have Corporate Securities Co direct the funds to another bank with you as account holder. This way there will be no need for you to think of receiving the money from Corporate Securities Co. We can fine-tune this based on our interactions. I am aware of the consequences of this proposal. I ask that if you find no interest in this project that you should discard this mail. I ask that you do not be vindictive and destructive. If my offer is of no appeal to you, delete this message and forget I ever contacted you. Do not destroy my career because you do not approve of my proposal.

These types of opportunities only come ones’ way once in a lifetime. I cannot let this chance pass me by, for once I find myself in total control of my destiny. These chances won’t pass me by. I ask that you do not destroy my chance, if you will not work with me let me know and let me move on with my life but do not destroy me. I am a family man and this is an opportunity to provide them with new opportunities. There is a reward for this project and it is a task well worth undertaking. I have evaluated the risks and the only risk I have here is from you refusing to work with me and alerting my bank. Let share the blessing. If you find yourself able to work with me, contact me through this email account: [undisclosed email]

If you give me positive signals, I will initiate this process towards a conclusion. I wish to inform you that should you contact me via official channels; I will deny knowing you and about this project. I repeat, I do not want you contacting me through my official phone lines nor do I want you contacting me through our official email account.

I await your response.

Mr. Michael William.
Ph: [undisclosed phone nr.]
Email: [undisclosed email]”

Just look at that. I think that’s a shining case in point, don’t you? It’s almost as if they want you to be confused beyond measure (maybe they do if that’s what it takes to leave you unable to know how to follow any option but to do as they say… and then you’re robbed).

Example 2 of what’s mentioned in the first paragraph: the Welsh rapper Ruffstylz has a track called “Desire” with plenty of lyrics of a rather nonsensical and essentially demented nature. For example, don’t ask me what I’m supposed to make sense of from the lines, “I can make my feet spin until I’m walking on whirlwinds, and play a game where I’m trying to run away from myself and actually win!” What could he be talking about?

[A pause until your laughter from reading that has died down.]

Moving on: not knowing what you’re talking about is hardly a million miles away from distorted truth. I mean, what do you have to say about something like media spin? Or largely unnatural and unconfident representation of facts, whether or not any strict element of selection applies?

And let’s not forget that it’s easy to claim and even believe that something doesn’t make sense and or the person who writes / says it doesn’t know what they’re talking about if it is to be believed that the material in question has nothing to do with the person reading / hearing it (and the person writing / saying it as well, most likely).

Another relevant point: consider the likeliness / extent of and logic behind one being detached from the truth when you consider this: in the South Park episode “The Hobbit”, the bit where Wendy talks about how people can “start to believe their own bulls**t.”

At this point I have to ask: what would be the best way to measure an appreciation and understanding of when people don’t know what they’re talking about? I wonder if what it is is, more likely than anything else, having what could be loosely defined as a quasi-addiction to seeing “things” (i.e. statements) that are correct, and correct in se. As opposed to an addiction to statements which make no sense – there’s a blue leopard in my kitchen that can drive a car; I sing a barcarolle every time I buy a pickaxe in WHSmiths; it would be great if whales could fly, even though they don’t have wings; if Hitler dyed his blonde, would people have thought that he was very talented at origami? My point exactly. But I will mention this: it seems to me that anyone would be most comfortable in translation work when they fully agree that the words of what they are writing could not be twisted and misused / used as an instrument of misrepresentation of whatever. This is certainly more likely to be the case when translating, say, a menu, compared to translating, say, a press release about a famous person.

How good are you at willing to associate yourself with the vague and unspecified (that which might deserve to be called mysterious)? Do you know that lawyers can be skilled at creating false memories in their opponents, somehow? And do you of anyone who might be disposed to trying to find reasons to be confident in their looking for reason in that which is vague and unspecified, or does that count as trying to make sense out of nonsense and, as such, as insanity? Do you think I would make a good theologian – a person who is an expert in the unknowable, with all the qualifications to prove it?

I just hope that, in this comment, I haven’t shown too much of an infatuation which doesn’t make sense (whether I know what I’m talking about or not). But I will say this: if you’re doing a translation job with your income and your reputation on the line (“for as real as it gets”, if you will), which I have inevitably become accustomed to, then there’s a good chance you will be compelled to consult other sources for assurance that you are doing a good job – in the modern day, doing online research is a very common example of what I mean by this. And there have been times when I myself have been encouraged to use words in translation work that I would normally never use – so what can I say in light of something like that? Well, when you consider that there is definitely a purpose of information to be recognised when it comes to producing a translation of something for someone… I have compared “unsure translation” with teaching that which you know to be unverified.

Does promoting equal rights for Jews count as “combating anti-Semitism”? Or have I just run the risk of sounding ignorant despite my good intentions?
15th February 2015


“Wenn du es nicht einfach erklären kannst, hast du es nicht genug verstanden.” (Albert Einstein; translated as “If you can’t explain it easily, you haven’t understood it well enough.”) But what if you just lack the vocabulary for it?

Much as I believe that most people would soon get frustrated and fed up with debating about whether or not there is only one “proper” way or multiple “proper” ways to “do translation properly” – not least owing to all the “writing style” ways in which the content of the original material can differ (like register and stuff) – I can only feel that any intendedly authoritative declaration of how “translation is not as easy as it looks” or “translation is indeed not just about replacing words with words” should be pending evidence of some sort of discussion of how the one doing the translating views the world and / or their very relationship with the world in which they dwell, such as when it comes to cultural perspectives and general attitudes that have been acknowledged and openly referenced by the masses, in terms that may or may not be common. Ever one to discuss the barriers of translating – or, more specifically, the barriers to arriving at any sort of unquestionably lucid (yet categorically “correct”!) formulation at a given point in a piece of translation work (maybe so that it can be deliberated later) in this case – I but insistently agree that it’s not always a case of a question of whether or not a translator knows / is aware of a given fact or phenomenon strictly outside of himself / herself which would be the only thing to allow him or her to make a confident step toward achieving something expected of them. In other words, there are cases where it’s more appropriate for the translator to revise their existing knowledge, the connections that they make between X and Y, and maybe learn how to forget what they know (or think they know). Maybe it’s like: how well can you query your own mind independently? If I’m not being clear enough, maybe it’s best to compare it with the general concept of the development of rules which definitely exist but which are unspoken, unwritten.

A case in point: at the end of this comment are more of my “work-related anecdotes” such as I have included in many of these comments; I’ll say in advance that the last one is an example of a time I have had to deal with a terminology issue for which the solution is not guaranteed to be simple or straightforward. Of course I want to “get sharper and better when it comes to the terminology side of professional translation” – maybe what I said above would serve as at least the first step in a reliable approach if I wanted to do this (and I certainly should be prepared to, after all). Of course, there’s every reason to believe that a big part of it is an ongoing commitment to not being ignorant, not unlike the way a small child in an airport on holiday with his or her family is ignorant in that they willingly keep themselves entertained with a game or music or whatever while eagerly anticipating what the trip is for, while not caring a wit about what is actually happening in the airport or anything like that; but then how could anyone expect them to be able to explain the first thing about their trip as they didn’t buy the tickets or make any of the other arrangements that were necessary for it; and quite apart from the fact that they fully expect to enjoy themselves (and everyone with them to enjoy themselves) on their holiday, they couldn’t offer a sensible suggestion about anything to do with the juxtapositions of reality taking place all around them however much they really wanted to and they know this.

Like I said in the title, I said that here I was going to provide starting points for looking at the art of translation like a real linguist (like me, if you’ll pardon such immodesty). There are three of them here. So without more ado, let me elaborate further on this definition of “ignorance” in the previous paragraph, as far as translation (what I do!) is concerned. I just think that there is a category of knowledge where everything in it is simply meant to be understood by everyone as a matter of principle, but not all knowledge is like that. In the case of language – what I do, of all things – a straightforward example of the former is all the common words you can think of; but especially the words we have for numbers, for example, and what we say when we want to greet someone or thank them for something. Or all the basic rules of grammar that let one make themselves understood in a language (any language) whenever they feel the need to express themselves by stringing some words together to make something resembling a sentence, or close enough. But however many words in a language you know, every good journalist or spin doctor knows that exploiting knowledge that is NOT strictly meant to be understood by everyone as a matter of principle, is the most reliable way to get people sometimes more attached to their writing than they’re prepared to admit. And this, coincidentally, is a question I am compelled to ask about translation: when you’re unsure about how to translate a given expression in something, is there a term where you put a given expression as a (strictly unverified) translation of that expression in the original until further notice, wondering when you will be coming back to it later?

The second of my “starting points for looking at the art of translation like a real linguist” is this: if there is any term for defining verbs whose specific definition may – no, will – vary enormously depending on the circumstances in which they are enacted, I don’t know it. Let me explain. There are plenty of verbs which always have a common and rigid action connotation, two common examples being “to eat” and “to write”. So I’m not talking about these verbs. No, the verbs I’m talking about are ones which just will always require clarification in light of the question of the context in which they are used. “To investigate” is probably the best example I can think of. I mean, while it is well known and agreed that the police investigate crimes and stuff all the time, the procedures applied can and do vary depending on that which is to be investigated, and I don’t think it’s too hard for anyone to imagine clear and differing examples. In the case of the verb “to investigate”: the police may question witnesses, they may not. They make take samples to pass to forensics scientists, they may not. They may take photos of damage, they may not. But it’s simply not a rigid matter of doing A followed by B followed by C and so on, in the knowledge that it there is no chance that the future in any way hinges on the particular way how you do it (or happen to do it) up to the end. You don’t you just go and investigate something “in the usual way”, agree to go through the motions as it’s happening while not being “awake” about it, and then when it’s over that’s the end of the matter, and any possible ramifications to stem from it, forever. Truly, it is just flat fact that there is no “investigation” without the performance of one or more other verbs, and it is by no means unlikely that, depending on the situation at hand, one may think they know how to do it but they just don’t. It’s verbs like this that I’m talking about. Off the top of my head, “arrange”, “manage” and “maintain” are a few other ones. Doctor Phil would describe this as “operationally defining” such verbs, like he talks about “operationally defining” actions in his book Self Matters.

Number three. Much as I am into word games – no surprise there, right? – I’m not a big fan of crosswords. I’m sure there are plenty of people who immerse themselves in crosswords in newspapers or whatever on a regular basis while not necessarily having the strict aim of completing it… I’m not one of those people. And I do note that, when you’re trying to find the answer to a difficult question, any letters that have already been deduced pending the answering of previous questions (which just might not actually be correct in the realm of the crossword itself) just might be no less likely to make arriving at the correct answer harder than easier. And I think that’s kind of sad (for lack of a better word): after all, people have “kicked themselves” in the past for their failure to understand something earlier, and in the case of a crossword it’s likely to be a case of failing to understand the clue as a result of its overall verbal presentation and / or what is strictly your own acknowledgement thereof. My point here is that, if you consider yourself eager to understand how translation is not just about replacing words with words, maybe a study of crossword clues, what they suggest and exactly how they are linked to whatever answer is correct is one of the most reliable ways to explore more abstruse forms of verbal reasoning.

Here’s a crossword straight out of a newspaper. If you want to have a go, then I of course wish you good luck. If you get frustrated by any of the clues, I sympathise – but what’s important here is what might be defined as an empathy revolving around logic.

While I’m talking about exploring more abstruse forms of verbal reasoning, here’s my latest load of work-related anecdotes to ponder:

My records list this example from a German-to-English translation project I once did:
German original: “Kurze Lieferzeit und rasche Montage garantiert das servelift Baukastensystem”
English translation: “Short lead time and fast installation guaranteed by the servelift modular system”
I remember somehow failing to identify the nominative and accusative bits properly straight away.

I have long since done these press releases from French to English, all for the same client, which are basically marketing pieces for various upcoming events. Some of these events are exhibitions, and recently when I was translating another bunch of these I kept seeing the word “exposition” in the original – I remember how I kept translating it sometimes as “event” and sometimes as “exhibition”, but then I made a conscious decision to translate it as “exhibition”. It is true that I kept seeing “événement” in the original, which I decided should be translated throughout as “event”. But, in the case of exhibitions, I just ended up deciding that, in the scope of the work in question, these should be translated as “events” while “exhibitions” was to refer to the exhibits on display at the exhibition event.

Another anecdote about my work of translating these press releases from French to English: I remember translating, “Le Béjart Ballet de Lausanne fait escale en France après sa tournée mondiale” as “The Béjart Ballet of Lausanne is stopping by in France at the end of its world tour”. It felt funny, if the most sensible thing to do, to wittingly translate “après” as “at the end” even though I know it doesn’t mean that in English. That said, I did include a post-it upon it saying “please verify”, just in case. I tell you, translation can make you weary: bearing in mind how I consider it my responsibility to essentially “speak for my clients where they can’t”, there are times when that simply cannot be; and this is an example of one of them.

I was recently translating a very big legal document from German to English which was a piece of legislation. The original included the words, “die Auswirkungen von Schocks auf das Institut auf der Grundlage aufsichtlicher Stresstest-Methoden anhand der verfügbaren Daten bestimmen”. When I was translating it, my first suggestion (for the sake of putting anything that would help me get a firmer footing during my rendition of it in English where it was necessary) was “determine the impact of shocks on the institution on the basis of supervised stress test methods using the available data”, but I later on decided on replacing “supervised” with “supervisory-purpose”.

This is a very interesting one from a German-to-English project I did recently:
German original: “Der AN versichert, dass er die von ihm geschuldeten Leistungen grundsätzlich selbst erbringt.”
English translation: “The Contractor shall ensure that he makes the payments that he owes, himself.”
It’s interesting because of my choice to put the comma at the end of the penultimate word in the translation. After all, why would he owe payments to himself? Now that truly doesn’t make sense!

In another German-to-English project:
German original: “Trotzdem muss auch für weitere Kulturorte des Landes mit einem beachtlichen Aufkommen an Gruppenplastiken gerechnet werden”
English translation: “All the same, it is also necessary to allow for additional cultural locations in the country with a considerable volume of group structures” (rather than “making calculations” for them)

The German word “zufällig” may mean “accidental” in English or it may mean “by chance” / “random”.

This was taken from a French-to-English project pertaining to Web guidelines: “Généralités” could have meant “general characteristics” (about formatting or whatever) or it could have meant “general conditions”, when you think about it. The proper translation of that required the right level of consideration.

In a project where a German menu was to be translated into English: “fern” in German normally means “distant” in English but I translated “Kurze, geschmorte Rippe vom Rind mit fernen Aromen” as “Short braised rib of beef with faint aromas” rather than “distant aromas”.

In one French to English translation project I thought it best to translate “Nous vous renouvelons tout notre intérêt pour la poursuite des échanges commerciaux entre nos deux sociétés” as “We hereby reaffirm our full interest in commercial exchanges between our companies.”, with no discrete translation of the “pour la poursuite” bit (as “in the pursuit of” or whatever); if that’s what it takes to be sure that I won’t have anyone complaining that it sounds “too literal”!

One of the reasons I keep records of these work-related anecdotes is that I believe that they could help me address the issue of more prescriptive terminology in translation work more confidently (even though – at risk of sounding too vague about it – it probably wouldn’t apply in all cases). There was a German-to-English technical translation project I did which included the word “Zwangsmischer” in the original. When I first saw this word I considered that a “literal” translation of it would have been something along the lines of “compulsory mixer”, and I knew better than to put that. And when I accepted that “Zwang” always has some sort of implication of “force” in its English meaning, I originally thought of translating it as “pressure mixer” – “if that works”. But something compelled me to actively research an English translation of “Zwangsmischer” online even after that, and I eventually found “pug mill mixer”. I guess I was chuffed with myself with that one, but that doesn’t mean that a “pug mill mixer” and a “pressure mixer” are always strictly one and the same thing. And it’s not as if I believe I will be gaining an in-depth knowledge of the construction industry anytime soon.
12th March 2015


Everyone knows that you can study psychology (you can certainly take university courses in it, at any rate). However, the most ignorant of us may suggest that a knowledge of psychology is only good for anyone who wants to become a psychologist (which is not the same as a psychiatrist, by the way). Of course that’s a myth. It’s a very important asset in police work, for example (not to mention criminal fare – certainly fraud). And you must know that talk show hosts, like Jeremy Kyle, couldn’t function without it. And I don’t think it’s crazy to suggest that it’s important in translation work. After all, having assumed the position of professional translator, I’ve joined the ranks of people for whom this statement applies whether we like it or not: “if I can’t be trusted to provide a solution that works / is reliable in the realm of translation, surely no-one can, right?”

So from that perspective it’s probably no surprise that people offer translation courses at university: specifically, instruction on how to translate. I can’t emphasise enough the importance of practice in such courses – it’s not as if language never changes, at any rate. (Did you know that French began life as a bastardised version of Latin?) What I mean to say here is that it definitely should not be pure theory. Which has made me arrive at this dilemma: is there a psychology of initiative and / or a way to teach psychology that fosters a capacity for initiative? Consider what well-known Youtube atheist comedian Pat Condell says in his video “Free speech on campus”: “Even somebody like me knows that the primary purpose of an education is to teach a person to develop an inquiring mind – to be willing to engage with new ideas and information, and to think for themselves.”

One thing is for sure: every single person ever will be proud of what effectively constitutes their (strictly non-opportunistic) knowledge (or rather, reasoning) of psychology (kind of like the opposite end of the spectrum from compulsive excuse mentality). Actually, they might, if they start to realise that their behaviours manifested by nothing other than their own psychology have started to take their toll on their conscience. (Maybe I should study Freud in depth.) And when they start to become afraid of it? …now that’s a definition of insanity. So what sort of guidelines are to be recommended for learning and appropriating the proper psychological authority that is necessary for appropriate translation? Seriously, if you really do care about pleasing your clients as a professional translator, you have to be honest about how prescriptive these people can be as far as the right terms are concerned, or what kind of psychological manifestation may result from someone else reading the words you choose (or, indeed, don’t “choose” i.e. subconsciously) to use in your translation product; which, admittedly, is no less likely to be grounded in one’s “inner world” and / or rationality than it is in the real world and the realm of rationality. Of course, I’m not saying I think of everything – I’m not perfect – but boy, have I ever been tempted to suggest that I could get all the adventure I need from within (depending on the circumstances)!

The next time you attempt a translation, ask yourself this: is it (i.e. what you put forward as your translation) really correct if it’s only “correct” (this may be like as opposed to “clearly incorrect” or as opposed to “subtly misleading”). After all, who’s going to agree with confidence that that which is “de facto correct” can be trusted unconditionally?

I want to share with you a joke: “My teacher kept saying that my writing needed to be ‘more spaced out.’ So I took some acid, and wrote about a time-travelling tartan-skinned, turquoise & ginger haired naked Japanese schoolgirl with three tits, who then swam in a giant inverted tetrahedron pyramid-shaped teacup full of butter, spinach and cherries with a talking half-unicorn, half dung-beetle that had teleported from the planet LembitOpik 69.”

You can only wonder – and indeed ONLY wonder – where such bizarre (to say the least) imagination came from (at least, I actually don’t believe that the author was high at the time that he or she created this joke; like Jon Lajoie’s work “High as Fuck”) – then again, I kind of lost track of the imagery of it all before the description of it all was even completed. Maybe trying to illustrate it would help. But I dare to state (publicly, apparently) that I am prepared to resolutely acquaint myself with literally any and all kinds of imagination for the purpose of improving my knowledge, awareness and just general status as a translator. You really do have to wonder what people can only imagine when they put their mind to it, compared with the general scope of what people can just end up thinking of, compared to what is undeniably beyond the imagination of some, compared to imagination which “while meant for me, is just not meant for everyone” and… well, blah blah blah. And this is coming from someone who is most proud of their articulacy, for reasons which I would expect people to appreciate are obvious when I’m a professional translator and, as such, if nothing else, have a role whereby I am essentially supposed to let people understand – even if sometimes it can feel more like “MAKE people understand”, without actual coercive threats. I assure you that I have heard of the saying, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” But it does seem to me that people can underestimate their capability for sounding like they know what they’re talking about even if they don’t really want to know what they’re talking about and may even be afraid to.

To render a message from one language, in another, with accuracy and the right senses captured, of course, all things considered… there are many things that I could say about the work that I do but I now fully accept that one of them is that, when you’re translating something, it can really scramble your mind to think that a translation of something that you are creating is both “right” and “wrong”… I mean, it may well be written in genuinely articulate wording in the target language but for one or two expressions that are just used out of context in that they would sound highly peculiar (at best) to native speakers… maybe it’s too easy for me to say this, maybe it isn’t, but I specifically chose not to say here that it “should” rather than “would” (or, indeed, “shouldn’t”, depending on how you look at it!) sound too peculiar to native speakers. If I wanted to assist people in their understanding of what I mean by this, I suppose I would look for a sound way to get them to put themselves in my position. But I would suggest that it be paralleled with the concept of being (or just feeling) pressured into talking about something that you don’t really know anything about, or as much as you

at 06:51, the guy – who, by the way, I agree doesn’t have his head screwed on – says that there is no wrong way sign in the Highway Code while seemingly entirely overlooking the fact that the “No entry sign” effectively serves as a wrong way sign by default (or is that just me?); but then, when you think about it, what sort of illustration would serve as a “wrong way” message? A big black cross? A big arrow pointing downwards, like in the “Give way to oncoming vehicles” sign? One thing is for sure: if I ever saw the words “This is the wrong way” on a road sign, I would be pretty much be torn between hopeless confusion and outright laughter (or genuine ridicule, depending on your point of view), for at the end of the day, when you think about it, the one and only prominent question in anyone’s eyes would be: “What is meant by ‘wrong’ way?”

Of course, the reason I write these comments is to promote myself as a translator, and this surely involves doing what is necessary to position myself, being well-known for being a naturally talented linguist as I am, as an authority on language and translation. And as such, I say this: I recently thought of inventing an expression which you add immediately after describing something that happened in the past; what this expression essentially signifies is basically, “I couldn’t elucidate it as such back then, but I can now” i.e. it might have been, say, an event which made you uncomfortable back then but you were unable to explain why, but you can explain why now, as you indeed have just done; you specifically don’t just want the listener / reader to know only of the certain event in the past in question; you consider it important to mention specifically that you couldn’t have described e.g. what you felt in connection with it, such as you have just described it now, back then. I say that to say this: I envision that, when such an expression is invented and spread, some of those who learn of it would agree, in independent thought, like: “Hey, this is an expression that is capable of providing people hope – certainly from a psychological standpoint. For example, it would help people to become more attuned with the reasons why they do what they do in that it would be the first step to helping people identify why they are, say, burdened by guilt when they in truth have nothing to be guilty about.” (The study of psychology, indeed.)

And I really do think that all these work-related anecdotes that I keep posting at the end of these comments revolve around the domain of psychology to a certain extent – look at this one: a quote taken from a job I did where I did a French-to-English translation of an article which describes Romeo and Juliet, and which is supposed to support claims of how my psychological profile is fit for translation purposes: “La trame est connue de tous : une histoire d’amour impossible entre les enfants de deux familles qui se détestent” – “Everyone knows the plot: a story of forbidden love between the children of two families who hate each other.”
6th May 2015


Time for a new business blog comment, I think. You know, part of me is concerned that there are / would be people who think that all I do in these comments is pay lip service to proven ideas about translation and languages, and the industry of translation, and say just anything and everything I can about them in response, hoping that it will make me sound intelligent. Surely that would only undermine my own voice and professional credibility eventually; perish the thought!

You see, for all the times I have gone out of my way to articulate at length in my business blog comments like this one the reasons why translation is indeed not quite as easy as some claim (“replacing words with words” if nothing else), I have decided that it’s time that I made some points about the art of translation / my approach to it that really does show a certain level of genuine “honesty” on my part. More specifically, as the title indicates, I’m going to claim here that attempting translation often requires some kind of courage, as comfortable as I can feel in my study sometimes, and not just because no-one bothers me there. So to anyone who would think that I’m just rambling here, let me point this out: when you are fully expected to acquaint yourself with information which is essentially someone else’s and to just rewrite it in any kind of manner that’s both accurate and lucid, it’s not too unlikely that there will be times when you end up struggling with the finer points of individual expressions, or maybe you need to research something online before a final decision is made; if it comes to the worst the only thing you can do is grit your teeth as you resolve to be inventive in what you write. Even today, sometimes I feel like all I can do is write things which, while they are correct and accurate, end up sounding peculiar and awkward. Put simply, you could say that translation – certainly professional translation, at any rate – has taught me not take my own knowledge and understanding of things for granted.

Of course I realise that there are plenty of times when it doesn’t pay just to make an educated guess (even if you openly admit it as such) at what is meant by something before crossing your fingers i.e. dismissing the matter entirely as you expect someone else to have their say on it, as if to say, “the ball’s in your court now!” And it certainly doesn’t help if the work you are translating is of a subject matter which is “specialist” i.e. you know very well that there will be people who actually have a far more in-depth knowledge of it (likely coupled with actual experience of it) than you do. Indeed, just the other day I learned of this comment that has been posted on the ProZ.com forums: “After working long and hard to make a translation perfect, and sending it off to the client, I’m always frightened to read it the next day (tempting though it is in case I find a mistake I hadn’t noticed.” In fact, I first saw this comment on someone’s Facebook wall – after the quote itself these words were added: “Do you have this fear?” Amen to that. Let’s just say I feel for whoever first said that.

It’s like this in some way: I once saw an episode of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire where one of the questions was “What is the central part of a church called?” The answers included aisle and vestry, and two others which I can’t remember. And I remember my dear old mum saying that that was an unfair question, and I agreed with her. Just what exactly was meant by “central part”? (The correct answer was aisle, apparently.)

When I’m doing more challenging translation work I like to take the time to envision / illustrate in my own mind what I’m reading (both in the original and in my translation), but sometimes there’s just no straightforward or logical way to do this however well I understand what I’m reading. To invoke another TV game show reference: I find that Catchphrase encourages a certain kind of open and flexible thinking which is not too far from this at all. Watch an episode of it

and see if you see what I mean. I like that show.

I’ve seen the film Forrest Gump in the past but I think it’s sad that I remember so little about it (and it’s certainly acclaimed by film critics). So why do I say that? Because I think it’s very easy to feel for someone whenever they make a point which, while it’s not exactly correct and it shows that they’re not as knowledgeable (or, depending on the situation, accountable) as they think they are, you still find yourself warming to them because you know in your heart that what they have said is still enough to really get people thinking. There’s no other way to put it: their otherwise undiscussed mentality earns a place in your heart even though they’re not actually serious about telling or defending the core truth of the matter in question. But I think we all know that you’re just fully expected to care about the core truth of the matter when you’re translating. And it’s not just the question of what is to be understood in the source material; a genuine commitment to plain, boring verbal accuracy is essential in the process of recreating it in a new language. And you could say that, if anyone will discuss this further, it will be me.

I’ll say one thing about translation here: there is no substitute for imagination in it, however well-versed you are at translation, however much experience you have in it. And no-one could be blamed for thinking that it’s something that helps where nothing else can or will. Myself, my own experience of translating has “taught” me familiarity with what I call “the concept of precedent-based assertions”. It’s like this: you can probably remember at least one time in your life when you felt compelled to say something to someone else having been motivated to say it by something based on emotion, an example being a time you saw what you considered an otherwise elusive opportunity to sound cool, or you wanted to save face. It’s just that your statement was just taken wholesale e.g. duplicated from the statement of someone else in some completely different matter – it may have actually been something someone said in a TV programme or something similar, and you felt some urge to say it because the original time you heard it, it just stuck with you; most likely because the e.g. TV programme appealed to you personally and that’s the only reason. So you run the risk of developing a habit of letting your imagination essentially – literally – speak for you; which, I have to say, is not a good thing if you’re trying to make an impression, or just sound “real”. You betray a lack of being in control; you end up underestimating your propensity for saying things which, all things considered, just don’t make sense. Personally, I can imagine a certain proximity between precedent-based assertions (or PBAs) and unreasonable fears which will (inevitably) impact the very society we live in, such as catagelophobia. No wonder the topic of culture is so prevalent in the subject of doing correct translation.

Anyway, back to work…
14th June 2015


I believe that, if I’m serious about climbing high as a professional translator, I would do well to consider and discuss precisely how I would aim to reach ever higher heights in the field (although I am concerned that I might be giving too much succour to my business competitors here). I suppose it’s easy to define it as “a step up from getting good in another language” (to say nothing of the fact that a proper level of literacy in your own language is expected).

So, what to aim for if I specifically want to “raise my game” as a professional translator (whether I’m coerced into it by those manically fond of me or if I felt pressured into it by unsatisfied customers)? Should I be more committed to a euphuistic writing style or just anything articulate enough which is simple enough for a small child to follow? Either way, I am, I believe, far more eager to address and classify all aspects of language than most. Personally, I can remember how, in my language studies, there were times when the obvious correct solution was not “obvious” in absolute terms in that it required familiarity with some sort of prevailing social situation or something similar (like a consensus) – like, that kind of skill in knowing what is “obvious” is necessary for things like making up or even understanding e.g. political satire jokes, but there is no need to be familiar with anything like a social situation or consensus to know what the “obvious” correct choice is when you’re translating something simple (like a menu)… then I start to realise – not “realise” as the verb on its own, but the whole phrase “start to realise” – what is meant by cultural aspects having an impact on what is correct in expressions in any given language and what isn’t.

Whatever my choices, though, getting it right is the bottom line. When you consider the possibilities of how you can inadvertently misrepresent what you write, or not quite understand the original material or the subject matter – one might say that there are plenty of times when translation is not so much “an exercise in thinking” as it is “an exercise in trying to think.” I can still find entertainment in reading poor translations of things, just like everyone else – with some of them it is easy enough to see the message meant while some are just bewildering. And some, while fully correct in grammatical aspects and whatnot, might not have been so silly and therefore memorable but for an unfortunate choice of otherwise valid words. For example, in a Norwegian bar: “Ladies are requested not to have children in the bar.” Of course, no-one expects a woman to give birth in the middle of a bar, but why just ladies? Not men as well, then? But of course not! In a Chinese hotel: “It is forbidden to play the recorder in the guest rooms.” From Lost in Translation (Charlie Croker: “Do they really mean ‘recorder’? If so, why?”… they probably meant tape recorder – like a radio system, do you know what I mean?

Does everyone think that their own mother tongue is easy simply because of how well they happen to speak it? I’ve heard that “the hardest ones” include Chinese, Hungarian, Arabic and Basque for various reasons. But look at English! Like its range of tenses, or how notorious it is for its inconsistent spelling / pronunciation rules – these can be understood through tough thorough thought, though.

I suppose it’s too easy for me to say things like “languages don’t all work the same way” and “it depends on the language being translated from and the language being translated to.” And of course I understand how ridiculously and unhelpfully vague such comments are. At any rate, I can agree that, however lucid I would be in any points I make about the subject, there are certain things which I couldn’t hope to be clear about with ready, clear examples; but my optimism would be assured by my own familiarity with certain linguistic devices, such as figures of speech.

What is mentioned in the second paragraph is one example. Furthermore, I believe that there is an as yet unnamed category of words and sayings that one can read only to become enlightened straight away. “Can’t see the wood for the trees” is an example of this – I believe that it’s not at all that unlikely that someone, if the meaning of this phrase were explained to them, could practically feel themselves becoming brighter for a second: it may well draw their attention back to something in their own personal experience and make them realise something that they just never understood about the matter until now – “the penny drops”, as they say (oops, there I go again).

Or maybe you remember one or more times you’ve seen an expression that could be enough to convince that it is purposefully abstruse – like certain areas of slang, really – but it just isn’t. For example, what does it mean if a motor vehicle has been “sorned”? Anybody? Well, in the UK, you can be excused from paying road tax for your car if you declare your vehicle as off the road in a Statutory Off-Road Notification (SORN) statement.

But aren’t foreign languages commonly regarded as something that’s popular, like an “in thing”? I remember the time I wrote about Tim Doner, who’s popular on Youtube, in my article “There’s no rejection of platitudes like a translator’s rejection of platitudes.” There’s a good case for arguing that Sara Forsberg, another Youtube star, has similar linguistic talent (or at least potential), although it should be mentioned that her Wikipedia article states that she’s more well-known for mimicking the accents of all these foreign languages and… using made-up words in them. Myself, while I – a professional translator – don’t speak so many languages with such confidence by a long shot at 32, I would be more interested in considering one’s ability to identify, say, intentionally ironic or sarcastic statements in a foreign language. Haven’t we all seen plenty of those in our own language?

It’s a shame that Sara’s video “Girl speaks 20 languages”) doesn’t include subtitles of what she’s saying – or what she thinks she’s saying – like Tim’s does (that is, if she’s actually trying to say anything in particular like Tim). And that’s another thing: when it comes to earning the trust of translation customers, the question of what you know (what you KNOW, not what you think you know) always takes precedence over the question of what you think… whatever you have realised from nothing but your own thinking and whatever your capacity for liberation with your thinking under whatever circumstances. And this is me referring to my readiness to discuss situational context as much as purely linguistic elements; which is only to be expected from anyone who calls themselves a good professional translator, right?
2nd August 2015


There’s no denying that the title of this professional translation blog is a bold one. But I want to write a bold professional translation blog here. That said, whatever you may think of it, I should probably say in advance that I’ve gone out of my way to do everything I can to make it look like I’ve written it for a reason. I really hope that people who read my business blogs / comments don’t think that all I really do in them is blow my own horn / puff myself up. And of course I know full well that I’m not the only one in my industry who’s ever written articles about subjects which can seem rather mundane and, many would argue, uncommon – if not without the “interesting” element – which are basically to do with language and / or translation and / or the translation industry in some way. ProZ and TranslatorsCafe are full of them; titles of ones which really caught my attention include “What if your language had only 100 words?”

These business blogs I write are very long and verbose, I know – and that’s exactly how I wanted them to be from the start. I don’t want to just stuff them full of casual, airy-fairy comments like “I did this project today and I was really excited about it for this, that and the other” or “When faced with problem X, I decided on solution Y”. I don’t want readers claiming that they could fully understand it merely because they think that they could imagine a similar scenario easily enough, but the problem is that the whole content of this similar scenario is nothing but make-believe, and nothing but their own make-believe at that. This article by Tim Doner http://ideas.ted.com/why-i-learned-20-languages-an… is a good example of writing related to language and translation which doesn’t lean on this sort of thing for its content and selling it to those who read it. I am impressed!

Just because translation is my life’s work – my very life – doesn’t mean that it’s all about me and what I think, even if it is reasonable to say that what I say is correct (and more like “indisputably correct” as opposed to “correct in some way”). Still, what do I do (in simple terms)? I… make sense of what I read. And I… use my imagination. And I… articulate accurately and reliably. Translation is one of the oldest professions there is. And it’s certainly true that people don’t like being left fearful or uncomfortable by what they can’t come to terms with; next thing they know (or, indeed, don’t know!; not that I’m claiming to be a leading authority on psychology here) they get angry. Anyone who’s ever resolved to be more “socially minded” will likely agree that our biggest fears can stem from what we don’t want to know or understand – and it’s not always fair to label them as phobias. Trust me, I know how essential it is to be careful about the words I choose when I write a translation of something. A case in point (which doesn’t even actually have anything to do with my translation career): I remember once when I was playing Pokemon on Gameboy – a French Gamepak – and I went to Dragonite’s entry on the Pokedex, knowing that the English text for it reads “An extremely rarely seen marine Pokémon. Its intelligence is said to match that of humans.” I remember specifically thinking that I personally would have translated the second sentence into French as “On dit qu’il a une intelligence humaine”, literally, “It’s said to have a human intelligence”, which is kind of a square-wheeled impression in English but French was the target language, not English, and I was proud of myself for thinking, “I don’t think I could think of anything to make it sound any more ‘French person’s French’” i.e. an authentic French idiolect. Then I read the French equivalent of said second sentence used in the game, “On dit qu’il est aussi intelligent que l’homme”, literally, “It is said to be as intelligent as man.” Both French expressions are perfectly valid here but, in retrospect, I could never have seen myself going along with the latter because there is no actual strict element of comparison being inferred in the sentence. But at the time, the thing that most struck me was that the adjective “intelligent” was used in place of the noun “intelligence”. Also, here is another of these work-related anecdotes such as I have included in previous professional translation blogs: in a recent French-to-English project I knew that a proper translation of “Au clic sur chacun des picto, afficher les infos pages suivantes” was “When you click on each of the pictograms, display the following information pages” i.e. “Expect to have to display the following information pages if you are to proceed with the work you are doing”.

The goal of translation is one which is, indisputably so, an unshifting one which is but so easy to define: to (correctly) reproduce a message in one language, in another language, in a way that is understandable and dependable, or words to that effect (no pun intended). Of course, in the real world it’s only a matter of time before one becomes aware of all the complexities that can and do surround the art – although it’s every bit as much a science – all gauged against one’s own knowledge of a foreign language if nothing else. Now, while I could hardly blame anyone for being proud of their own ability to translate, lots of people like learning languages for no reason other than fun (fair enough); and in this regard I would like to consider the effectiveness of teaching someone a foreign language with more of an emphasis on pure translation technique than anything else (when you’re not too busy teaching the grammar aspects and a sufficiently wide vocabulary, of course).

In his book “The 10 Keys to Success”, the founder of the Big Issue, John Bird tells us that real success requires us to look outside ourselves and to recognise that success is always shifting. Even I can’t predict how likely someone is to be more excited by new translation tools than to feel daunted by them, or vice versa. While some translation agencies I have worked for have me using MemoQ or XTM for certain projects, there are plenty of others which, in the POs that come with projects they assign, specifically say “don’t use machine translators”, and from what I’ve read on the ProZ forums I am aware that some translation clients are skilled in telling whether something was done by Google Translate even if it is in “proper language”.

Translation has been around for a long time, and anyone who’s done it a fraction as long as I have (professionally or not) will agree that creativity will blossom in it. Usually there are all sorts of ways – fully correct and accurate ways – to translate a given sentence into another language. But I would say that I do my job best when the particular words I use in my translation of something are not just enough to constitute a plain rendition of a message in a new language which is fully correct but only in theoretical terms; there have been times when I have used expressions which I am very sure the reader would genuinely agree “guide” them to help them understand the message written in the words that have just ended up being the way they are. After all, no-one likes to be kept guessing, you know? And sometimes you get things (usually concepts, or a situation, or a consensus) explained in language which does the job perfectly in theory – it’s just that the listener / recipient won’t actually “get it” until a (realistic) example of the matter at hand has developed in their mind, and they might need help with it, but the words in the language used might help, do you know what I mean? Such is the recipient’s mind being put to work – now THAT is when a “bog standard”, “everyday” written message or text can be as engaging as anything written by Shakespeare.
24th August 2015

I have a question: although I have some very clear recollections of my days of studying foreign languages and translation, I can’t remember what I went through to learn my mother tongue English. As a translator, I’m just wondering if this is normal? What do you think?
25th August 2015

Why have I never known that I could post this list of my reviews on ProZ.com anywhere I want, like this? http://www.proz.com/wwa/1006274
25th August 2015


Since I got back from my holiday there’s been a voice in my head saying that I should write a new business comment to help ensure a strong restart to my work – but it’s also true that I’ve now completed my seventh year of translating professionally. What better way to herald that? The place I went to was Malta, which I’ve never been to before; but even so, I have to say that I don’t know what can earnestly be called a great deal about Maltese culture or customs even now (apart from the great siege of Malta in 1565). Or the language. How many people outside of Malta speak Maltese? Oh, what am I saying? English is a national language there anyway!

I think it’s a sensible suggestion that these comments I write reflect me looking at new ideas and matters that matter in relation to what I do, whether they’re well-known or unusual or specialist or mundane (or, indeed, interesting). Now, admittedly, my trip to Malta was a very sedate one – of course, I did fly out to meet my now-retired parents out there – but in retrospect it should have been enough to remind me that the world is bigger than the UK (as if I needed reminding of that considering how much I’ve travelled on holiday, not to mention my Year Abroad at the University of Paris when I was at university) and that there are other cultures and other traditions, which, all things considered, deserve no less (displayed) appreciation and respect than those of my own country.

So there I was out there in a country I’ve never visited before, but I was anything but nervous or intimidated (not least because I was able to spend far more time playing Super Mario on my Nintendo 3DS than actually interacting with the locals or the new environment). And I never spent a second learning Maltese beforehand – seriously, I’ve never actually seen any Maltese language learning products in my life. I couldn’t even actually read it. To think that I’m a renowned linguist and the only Maltese I can remember is “It-tipjip joqtol” (“smoking kills”; seen on cigarette vending machines) and “Il-waqfa li jmiss”(“next stop”; during bus trips). And I don’t even know how you pronounce those. But I’m going to go on / speculate about these quotes anyway (or, in other words, come to terms with them, or try to)…

With the former I got to thinking that “It-tipjip” meant “smoking” and “joqtol” meant “kills”, but that the real “smoking” bit lies in “tipjip” and that the preceding “It-” specifies it somehow; like it signified a transitive verb action, maybe, or it indicated “smoking” as an action that actually was over an extended period of time and not just an action that occurred (started and ended) all in the space of an instant. I don’t know – I don’t speak Maltese; it’s just my open mind, my “‘real’ imagination” at work, if you know what I mean. As for the latter: it’s pure speculation but I think that, while “waqfa” means “next”, the “Il-“ just before it is supposed to be an article for the noun to follow. In other words, not just “next”, but “the next” (not all languages work the same; I’ve been well aware of that for a long time). Meanwhile, the word that means “stop” – the noun, not the verb – is, according to my educated guessing, “jmiss” while the “li” just before it signifies that this noun doesn’t simply denote something on its own but that it is but one of a sequence. And the most fitting translation of “jmiss” may not be “stop” as such but, say, “station” or even “point” (after all, the German expression for “bus stop”, “Bushaltestelle”, translates literally as “bus stop point”).

This is but another reminder that, sometimes, to really understand something in another language it’s necessary to adopt an angle or approach which is wildly alien to you simply because it doesn’t and cannot apply for your own language.

I’ve been to quite a few foreign countries in my life and have always thought I’ve seen French culture reflected in, say, France’s haute cuisine, or the little-known martial art savate; or German culture reflected in, say, Germany’s industry record (certainly its cars) or the public spirit that was shown during the fall of the Berlin Wall; or Spanish culture reflected in, say, bullfighting and the custom of siestas. That’s just a few examples, and casual ones at that. I’ve been to all these countries and more. And while the cultures of all of them may indeed have their merits that warrant universal appreciation (and certainly do get it, to varying extents), perhaps what I haven’t appreciated so readily is how it’s expression of different ways of thinking. Of course it’s not uncommon for one country to place a higher emphasis than another country when it comes to its people adhering to any given positive quality. But what I really want to get at is this: depending on what a country’s tradition really is in essence, you might find yourself surprised at how, when it comes to any particular concept or matter, to them it’s just too significant to be limited to something that’s simply a matter of opinion. Good or bad? Who’s to say? You know, have you already thought, “oh, it depends”? It was only recently that I got to thinking that a “real” culture bears phenomena which suggest a need for a kind of learning which transcends the kind of learning that people agree to pursue merely for the sake of ensuring that they will never have to worry about something again, or to make something strictly “easier” forever. But at the end of the day, no-one knows everything. Maybe, just maybe, there are certain things that only a less intelligent person could realise or say as a memorable quote (I think of Forrest Gump).

I used to think that you could tell the most about someone from what they call what they’re most proud of in life. And it doesn’t have to be particularly “big” or glamorous to be beautiful or admirable (or whatever). Then I got to thinking that, if one is serious about consideration of who they are in society – not just as an individual – then it’s probably this: what they think that people who are not as clever as they think they are, and people who are not as stupid as they are, would agree about them (openly or tacitly? You decide.). Like it or not, a person’s imagination will inevitably have some sort of bearing on who they really are, and this does apply whether they CAN “help” it or CAN’T “help” it. Ideas about people, social policies, relationships and… well, their ideas continue to fuel the debate about what does and doesn’t work, what is right and what’s not right, in any given instance of translation work and rendering messages from one language into another. If you want to translate something challenging, then you will definitely have to come to terms with “things” sooner or later if you’re serious about being correct or just not too dismissive, and I personally don’t know how to come to better terms with these “things” than what you’ve just been reading.

So you see, as monotonous as translation can be sometimes, having access to the Internet means I have no excuse to be that bored or depressed. So if I won’t voice things about language and translation that are just waiting to be voiced, then who will? It is why I write these comments.
3rd October 2015


This is my latest self-employed professional translator blog, which exists for the sake of promoting myself. First of all, let me say that, speaking as a professional freelance translator who’s been in business for seven years who wants (i.e. feels a need) to develop my knowledge, both in certain areas of subject matter that I do translation work in and, put crudely, of “how certain things work”, I feel that I have said what’s in the title seven years too late.

Yes, I got to thinking that, for most people, there are times when they feel compelled to talk about things that they know nothing about, whether or not they think as much (for whatever reason, I find myself thinking of THAT Big Brother conversation in which Jade Goody dropped the “East Angular” bombshell. But then there’s the subject of psychiatry). I am a translator by trade and this means that, when I do my job, I am supposed to make actual sense of the material that I am reading (in my case, material that is written in French or German) by whatever means necessary, committed to a fully proper and rational appreciation of what is supposed to be reflected by it, and quite possibly – consider this if it’s something which is intended to have a function of persuasion or entertainment – encouraged by it. All without letting any kind of personal bias prevail, of course. And you know what this is followed by, don’t you? That’s right: finding a way to write it right (“…right”). It’s not that I’m not more than capable of getting by in French and German on a practical level, but native speakers are likely to be a whole lot more immersed in their language and be creative with it on a whim (whether it’s for convenience purposes or not) while simply not caring about what anyone else would think – but it’s certainly enough to leave the latter guessing. Maybe these other people will agree that they feel nothing short of forced to guess… and, like I said, I translate for a living. This is a very comic example, but a good example all the same: how many people who are not native speakers of English would say something like “it’s raining cats and dogs” when talking in English? Or use Cockney Rhyming Slang? Not likely! Now, I don’t want to sound judgemental, but how many times have you, when trying to explain what something is to someone, just found yourself starting with trying to clarify what it isn’t? Translation is about accurate reflection of information, after all.

I recently watched a replay of one of Chris Cardell’s online seminars. Of course, I’m hardly especially sharp about modern day business marketing, especially online fare – like, I hardly have an acute sense of the (supposedly) deep and advanced things he likes to rattle on about, and I have to confess I didn’t always give it my undivided attention. But I had read so much stuff he has sent clients in emails only the night before, so I was confident that I would have at least a vague idea of what he was “getting at”, as much as I was sure that my business is really not like his. For example, when he talked about something that can be described only as “the diving board analogy”, I really felt like shouting out, “pillars analogy!” Let me explain: I’ve been an ongoing client of this man for quite a bit now, and I’ve known him say that one is the worst number that can exist in business. What he means by this is, “don’t put all your eggs in one basket”, by which he means, in the context, that if you expect to get all your customers from only one source of marketing, and then that source of marketing just disappeared or crumbled… well, put simply, things will get very problematic and disadvantageous. That’s just an example. And when discussing this he talks about this analogy of something being held up; it’s a lot more stable and less likely to fall down if it’s held up by multiple sources of marketing i.e. multiple pillars rather than only one. And, if you do have only one thing gunning for you somewhere, he makes out this single pillar underneath the thing being held up, as being on the periphery of the underside of it (not at the central bit of it)! That’s where the diving board idea comes from. Bet you never would have guessed that (or, indeed, known what I was talking about) if I hadn’t explained it there!

And I did keep notes based on what he said. And… I knew that they weren’t strictly notes that could just have only made sense to me personally (if they made sense at all) when I reviewed them at a later time. You see, there have been times when I have agreed to make notes about something in a lesson I’m being taught while not being particularly eager about it, so the notes I made were casual; and in hindsight it really is like, if someone wanted to look at these notes as part of examining me for my own personal history (without the option of being able to discuss anything with me of all people), chances are that they would be left guessing at every turn.

Albert Einstein said that “education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school”. And he also defined it as “training the mind to think” …right. He must have meant learning how to become acquainted with the truth even amidst all that is boundlessly abstract. To some, this may be mainly understanding the cynicism of politicians or what certain big business companies would prefer to keep concealed. To others, it may be recognising the element of duplicity that makes a scam a scam. To still others, it might be being able to know the root cause of a given instance of psychotic behaviour straight away, or exactly what ruins relationships. For me, it’s simply doing whatever’s necessary to redefine information for what it is, in a way that is correct in real terms and reliable, and preferably easy to follow. It may be obvious to some that I feel an undying need to be able trust myself when I do something like this. Maybe there really is a word for the idea where someone “understands something even though it doesn’t make sense” – at least, you understand what is instinctively “there” (“innit”)? This applies in the art of translation, I’m sure of it. It’s just that I personally believe that you know that you love someone when they’re being insane and you can tell whether or not it’s self-induced.

I’m not perfect, I suppose. But there are certain scenarios where that should never be considered a legitimate (or, rather, flippant and dismissive) excuse for your decisions or actions (hello, Mr. Glitter), and in my book that certainly applies when you want to climb up the ladder in the industry you work in. I accept that just retaining your current position – not just in business, but in anything – can be a challenge sometimes. But, in the spirit of promoting myself as mentioned at the beginning, I can see very well that if I’m ever going to get close to where I’d like to be, then doing what seems right alone will just not cut it. As far as becoming acquainted with the truth (as mentioned earlier) is concerned: well, if I don’t manage that then it’s only a matter of time before I settle on something in its place; but even that could prove more enlightening than I bargained for.


…Well, where DO I go from here? And maybe you’re thinking: how likely am I to know what I’m talking about when discussing it?

How about this? Shall we go exploring the realm of translation together? If you want to join me, and get a taste of what I do first-hand, then what follows is a number of these work-related anecdotes such as I have written in previous comments. I suppose you could say that, at the end of the day, speaking as a professional translator of all things, I indeed don’t like it when “words fail me” (no pun intended), as they say – certainly when all I can do is depend on my capacity to form any sort of definition of the content of the original material and what it’s supposed to suggest / indicate – for myself, let alone anyone else. Yes, this is how I roll; and this is how our little exploration rolls…

Original French: “Durant quatre jours, ce salon concilie ainsi arts et gastronomie, excellence du terroir et création, mais surtout dégustation et vente directe!”
English tramslation: “In short, over a period of four days, this show combines arts and gastronomy, local and creative excellence, but also, in particular, tasting and direct sales!
I.e. “ainsi” was translated as “in short” rather than as “in this way” or something similar.

Original French: “C’est un artiste d’atelier : concentré, lent et dense”
English translation: “This is a studio artist: concentrated, slow and with substance”
I.e. translating “dense” as “dense” in English would have been lazy and probably would have sounded odd – who would want to be thought of as dense anyway!?

Original French: “Le musicien parisien démarre sa carrière dans le jazz manouche à 18 ans. Django Reinhardt est son héros et la guitare son instrument de predilection.”
English translation: “This Parisian musician began his career in gypsy jazz at 18. Django Reinhardt is his hero, and his guitar is his instrument of choice.”
In this scenario: just for a bit, I forgot I wasn’t writing about Django Reinhardt, and would have been wrong to write that “this man is his own hero”. No we’re talking about Thomas Dutronc here – look him up.

French original: “dans le but de mettre en lumière la vie et la personnalité d’un des artistes les plus influents du tournant des XIXe et XXe siècles”
English translation: “with the aim of highlighting the life and the personality of one of the most influential artists at the turn of the 19th century”.
My English translation there just reads far better than something like “at the turning between the 19th century and the 20th century”.

French original: “Prado, une évidence commerciale, architecturale et urbaine.”
English translation: “Prado, a business, architectural, and urban work of art.”
Yes, I see that Prado is supposed to be understood as evidence in a business, architectural, and urban sort of way. But I knew very well that using the word “evidence” in my English translation would have made it too much of a literal translation, hence my use of the expression “work of art”.

German original: “Derzeit fokussieren wir unsere Expansion und ergreifen dadurch Chancen”
English translation: “We are currently focussing our expansion and, with it, seizing opportunities”.
It’s a bit embarrassing, but I almost translated “Chancen ergreifen” as “taking chances” rather than “seizing opportunities”!

6th November 2015 https://www.facebook.com/GeorgeTrailTranslator/posts/909514379138634


“Vision is the art of seeing things invisible.” (Jonathan Swift)

I think I’m the kind of person (or certainly A kind of person) who’s always ready to fight a cinder with an aftermath in terms of how much effort I’m prepared to expend if it will help me to remember something not just in the immediate future but forever, not least because I find it very easy to agree that it would help in my job. And after all, I’m supposed to be self-employed: if I won’t take charge of something like that (no matter what), then who will? Well, there’s only really one answer to that and it’s no-one (were you expecting something else?). Then again, I must be kidding myself if I keep fantasising that I could somehow “find a way to make all (or most) problems and challenges in translation hard, easy” and trust that these methods would work every time, to know that I could then “casually wave them away without really having to care that much”. I just want to be as coolly in control as I can in my job – for the right reasons.

There’s a joke where a narrator writes a letter to the British government in which he says that he’s at a loss to believe or understand the hoops he’s being expected to jump through in order to get a new passport in Britain. It’s a bit like that for me sometimes: while I regard myself as a very talented and serious professional translator – and aim to be modest about it – I would say that, every so often, I might feel at a loss to believe or understand certain “things” (readily defined or otherwise) about certain professional translation jobs which I simply have no choice but to confront… for better or worse.

Now, mine is a job which seems so easy to describe, doesn’t it? “I translate. That’s it.” It’s surely easy enough for many, many people to recall an example of translation from their own life, and anyone can look up “translation” in a dictionary. In the real world, though, sometimes doing my job properly involves what can only be described in simple terms as “resolving to look at what lies beneath the surface” – and while I like being able to work from the comfort of my own home, I can accept with grace that I could fall into certain “traps” if I ever got too comfortable in my work (and yes, I suppose I would be lying if I said I’d never given into temptation there). So I would agree to address what I “knowingly” don’t understand; unsolicited, of course (if that makes sense). And how? Maybe the most apt definition of what is necessary for something like this, is this: a kind of thinking which goes beyond merely learning, into “learning how to learn”. Part of it would be learning how to believe or, indeed, disbelieve things – such is a bona fide open mind, if you ask me. “Suspend your disbelief” – now who hasn’t heard that one before? But what were Paramore talking about in the end of their song “The Only Exception” with the lyrics, “I’m on my way to believing”? Actually, I really hope I don’t sound like I’m ridiculing that – it was none other than Hayley Williams who said, ““It’s sad when friends become enemies. But what’s even worse is when they become strangers.” …Right. Thumbs up to you, girl.

Now, I am highly literate but I understand that no translation task should be approached without an OPEN MIND with regard to the message intended in the original. It’s not just a matter of being correct on a linguistic level – I consider accuracy (both grammatical and informational) to be nothing less than essential in my work, but I also attach a solid level of emphasis to reader-friendliness – hence my autonomously named policy of “alternative verbal innovation”; if you can speculate what that means.

Just in case you really do need me to corroborate my claim that I am open-minded, let me mention two things now. Number one: I would say that it’s very hard or even impossible for most people to imagine what is meant by “dirty files”; a term which exists – on the ProZ.com forums, at least – only as the opposite of “clean files”, which in this context pertains to the subject of translation software and its use.

Number two: in a recent German to English project I saw this quote in the original: “Speziell entwickelte Schweinregelung über eine fliegende Umlenkrolle”, in which I decided that I should translate “Schweinregelung” as “pig regulation system” and not just “pig regulation”.

And me deciding to mention those things has, in turn, made me think of what someone might think if they had an instant messaging chat with someone online and they agreed to have all their comments to each other translated into a language neither person spoke by a machine translator before they sent them off, whereupon the recipient would translate them back into the first language also using a machine translator, all as part of enjoying the unchartered adventures of language. (I know I’ve mentioned this in an earlier comment long ago, in which I had included a Latvian translation of the joke, “Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the other side.” – and I don’t speak Latvian – before inviting readers to translate it back into English with a machine translation tool.) Do you think this game would work? Well, you’ll just have to try it and see!

Personally, for me it does beg the question of just how likely someone would be to underestimate how difficult any given easy-to-define professional occupation can be (or just “difficult to explain in real terms considering the challenges and expectations that it does actually impose when all is said, done and considered”). Like that of negotiator, for example; this coming from someone who has played the Ambition games (as available on ZapDramatic and Newgrounds).

All that said, I am now very sure that no-one has any good reason to try to impugn my honesty here. Anyway… in all seriousness (and candour), it’s not as if I never get concerned that I could end up confused about what I have learned at some point in the past, in the future. I remember once that my own mother once confirmed that lawyers are skilled at implanting false memories – it’s frightening, isn’t it? (But, for the grace of God, there are bits in the aforementioned Ambition games where you play the role of a lawyer.) But it doesn’t matter what you think or believe, and it doesn’t matter what your circumstances are: it just doesn’t pay to pretend that you can turn a posteriori knowledge into a priori knowledge or vice versa, whatever such a talent would mean to you. I consider myself a thoughtful and introverted person and I really do think that it’s sad that I cannot remember where I was when I arrived at the conclusion that the purpose of life is to overcome your fears – especially those that no-one else mentions. But it definitely happened when I was 32. (So this is what forcibly training yourself to be more competitive does to you…)

At any rate, I certainly know that I’ve ended up exploring my very thoughts in connection with language and what it means, time and time again, all for the sake of reinforcing my claim that I am a real, serious translator. And that’s why I say this: I’ve imagined this: imagine if you asked a small child to draw something e.g. a trainer. Now, we all know that a trainer is like a kind of shoe – strictly a more casual kind of shoe which is often worn for sports as we all know; but unless this small child is a really keen and perceptive artist chances are that all they will draw is a general outline of a shape of a trainer (maybe with some squiggly lines which are the laces or whatever) which is more or less correct, but then it’s also just (inevitably) a general outline of a shape of a shoe which is more or less correct, and it’s hardly more likely than not that there will be much if anything which indicates that this is indeed a trainer and not a shoe, and shoes are often made of leather and are polished and formal and refined etc. but trainers aren’t like that, do you know what I mean? Like, the child’s drawing may be correct in theory, but if it’s not precise enough to be helpful for something then it’s not precise enough to be helpful for it. It’s an analogy that I personally came up with when it comes to reckoning with the study and practice and translation. Haven’t I done well?

Of course, no-one can be expected to easily draw a picture which clearly explains what certain “concept words” mean, like “authority”, “infrastructure” or “conspiracy”. Why DID I once have to try and illustrate a double cross during a game of Pictionary? Not that it mattered because all I did was draw two Xs and that did the trick – LOL!

Yes, I appreciate how much the study of language has enlightened me as a person. For example, there was that night when I was having dinner with my family, and I started a conversation when I asked Dad if he had ever watched this DVD film about Gandhi which I bought him for Christmas. His response was that he hadn’t, but he had to laugh considering how long he had had it (it wasn’t even last Christmas that he received it – I don’t remember what year it was). But it’s what happened next that I want to bring up here: it was suggested, correctly, that I had once made up a term for personal possessions which you have had for a long time but you have never gotten round to savouring them (if it’s a DVD, you’ve never gotten round to watching it; if it’s a CD, you’ve never gotten round to listening to it; if it’s a book, you’ve never gotten round to reading it; whatever). I actually predicted that it would happen, and as such I wasn’t in the least bit surprised. Anyway, this term I made up is “dack”. It seems as good as anything, does it? And maybe they don’t remember specifically asking me this but they asked me why I called it that – which is hardly a clear kind of question, if you know what I mean. Maybe, in retrospect, they were wondering (if they didn’t realise it) why it’s not a made-up expression which is based on other words (like expressions like “sheeple”, “eating al desko”, “internest”; by all means Google those expressions right now if you have to). But no, in this case, “dack” is an expression which was made up entirely from scratch, if you know what I mean.

But one thing that really does make things a lot more complicated – even if it does provide countless opportunities for adventure, but that’s another subject – is how language is not static, any more than culture in general is static. Language changes, hence all these recommendations that I should visit France and Germany more often to keep my French and German “in touch” even though I’m more than capable in them. We can all argue how knowledge is meant to be acquired, but sometimes it’s just meant to change as well. Here’s just one example: I can still remember one of my professors at university saying that the French word “cambrioleur” (meaning “burglar”) used to be a greatly despised word on par with swearing, if you can believe that. Speaking of swearing, this is just a personal opinion but it’s probably only a matter of time before people would end up surprised to think that “shit” was once a swear-word: we can all argue that faecal matter, in itself, as clearly foul as it is, is hardly the most taboo thing in life (certainly when you look at some of the jokes told by Frankie Boyle or Jimmy Carr on stage), but my point here is that lots of people have used the expression “shit just got real” (and probably others like it) while reflecting no form of undeserved contempt or arrogance toward anything, and that’s just one example of its kind.

In another, French to English translation project I did recently, I used the translation tool MemoQ to do it. There is a screenshot attached. And, looking at the text of the original, I had to deal with not just the text to be translated in itself but with all these other software-created “text inserts” which alter how text appears in the final product (like HTML). Some words strictly were altered, some were not, but I kept having to find a way to leave only the same words altered in the English version (as those which were altered in the original) however differently the translation sentence may have been structured compared to the original. Now, I couldn’t have managed that without flexible thinking!

Put simply: as a professional translator, I keep on looking not just for “knowledge” but “enlightenment”, doing what it takes to remain confident that it will help even if I don’t yet know how. You know, how else I would I have been able to write something like this?
22nd December 2015

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