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Posts from 2016

[The most recent one is at the bottom.]


It won’t be long before I turn 33 years old – doesn’t time fly? But never mind how I intend to celebrate my birthday; I am currently in my eighth year of being a self-employed translator, and while I am as keen to do what I know it entails and has always entailed as ever, I would say that the need to reinforce my profile as one will probably never fully dissipate. So it will likely come as no surprise to hear that I’ve been eager to write another blog comment, as (unusually) big in size as the rest; something which I have aimed to do while becoming more and more aware of my own limitations. I like to believe that I deserve credit for recognising my own limitations without the need for external help, but these days this has started to happen with increasing frequency, and I guess that part of me is torn by wondering whether I should admit that it’s getting just a bit alarming now, or not doing so (or maybe that in itself is an admission of the former). Maybe it’s all part of growing up.

I don’t know if anyone reading this has ever experienced a point in their life where they learned or came to realise something and then, very soon afterwards, they also came to understand that others fully believed that they had learned it a while back. I think anyone would agree that the most rewarding kind of thinking is the kind where your own preconceptions do not always prevail as if on principle. It’s true when people say that travel broadens the mind. I mean, look up “ethnocentrism” if you don’t know what it means. I will freely state at this point that I personally do not call ethnocentrism simply another word for racism. You see, “racism” is a noxious, shunning, potentially slanderous term that can tarnish someone’s reputation whether it’s true or not. It has to be, when the most famous racists in history are surely the Nazis, for their appalling treatment of Jews (and other social groups). Ethnocentrism is not so bad; sure, it may be indicative of ignorance, but that doesn’t mean that ethnocentric people are not fully prepared, in general, to give those of other cultures and backgrounds a fair chance.

That said, I wonder if there’s a word for terms whose very existence is enough to start waking people up; to change a small aspect of how they think for ever if they are merely offered a definition of it. No example is necessary. “Ethnocentrism” qualifies as such a word in its own right. And might I add, as another example, that while it’s easy enough to find a definition of the verb “delude”, it’s not just not the same when you know about a method used to fool people in some way for some end and then find that said method has a term for it; a term which you know you will find easy to remember because it’s so easy to appreciate the ingenuity of the method in question. And I believe that terms like those used for labelling techniques for tricking people, belong to this category of words – I’m not saying that there does already exist such a term and I’m not saying there doesn’t, but I’m certainly keen to bring it up. Consider the chance of coming across a word whose definition has you thinking that it’s actually pretty close to home, and maybe not everyone’s heard of this word but you’re sure glad you did because you think that this could be the start of seeing something “more clearly” (i.e. literally with more sense). And I would suggest that those who start to see things more clearly tend to develop a talent for things that go beyond just learning new facts or consigning things to memory, which anyone can do. I believe that learning how to tell when someone is lying to you is a good example of this. Could the robots in “I, Robot” (the feature film starring Will Smithhttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I,_Robot_(film) ) do something like that? Or can they tell jokes (another example)?

Not that it’s my job per se to inspire or enlighten people I’m doing a translation job for when I’m not supposed to let my personal opinions get in the way of my judgement. I’m not an entertainer, nor am I a crusader. I’m hired for my knowledge of a language besides my own and, more specifically, my ability to convey messages written in one language into another, with all the accuracy that one could hope for, however well or poorly my customers could explain exactly what that means. When I translate something for a client: as I eschew all bias, it is not my position to clarify anything ulterior I have acknowledged in the material, as if I were doing the client a favour in this manner. I can say that I owe it to the client to do this, but that’s another subject.

I would like to point out that it’s not true that I only write such long comments because they are so many words long and I find that that is the best (unverified) way to increase my visibility on Google and online in general. But when you look at what I actually discuss in them so willingly and at such length, it should be more than enough to support the claim that, whenever I pledge to do a translation job for someone, I will not merely do it “somehow”, the word “somehow” possibly being enough to frustrate my peers and lead to them losing confidence in me somewhat if they really knew what it potentially reflected. The question of how hard I am willing to try purely in stamina terms just won’t matter to them. They may need my talents to help me, but I am a professional and I know that it’s up to me for me to act like one.

For better or worse, I’m willing to mention that I regard my professional translation blogs as unique in nature – they don’t just do things like explain the meanings behind uniformly recognised terms in the broad domain of the academic study of language and linguistics to the layman. The content of my blogs is not limited to response to anything and everything I’m willing to embrace from the start purely to find material to write about in them (some might have the temerity and effrontery to suggest “somehow”). As far as I’m concerned, I aspire to have them hinge on reality such as I experience it… but not just my own reality. And guess what: the same applies in what I write as the product every time I undertake a translation project. I’m not talking merely about the simple concept of taking on translation work here while being prepared to do what I feel I personally could to just deliver, whatever that may be. This isn’t even about me being brutally honest about my own limitations when it comes to doing this. For it is the case that it’s always me who is my final hope for learning the linguistic skill / communication aptitude that makes the deciphering and interpreting the meaning of any communication possible even if it doesn’t obey the rules of reason, common sense or soundly aligned verbal representation because the provided demonstrated content cannot be open to suggestions of approaches which serve unifying reasoning – the universal kind; in other words, the rules of sanity. I’d hate to learn that it was my decisions whose otherwise unmentioned consequences had resulted in me forgetting something. Take the German verb “feststellen”: according to Google Translate it can mean “find”, “detect”, “establish”, “determine” and other words which can only be construed as synonyms if the right kind of creative imagination is invested in. But it can also mean “observe” or also “lock”. That’s just one small example of just how easy it is to get confused with regards to the genuine significance of some words. “Anstellen” is even more chaotic and random depending on the sentence in which it is found. But as a self-employed translator I simply have to know or find a way how to get it right in my situation, because no-one else will. And I really don’t always have the help of, say, a native speaker to lean on.

And a big part of that is dealing with questions and criticisms in a reasonable manner even if you personally felt that you were confident of what you suggested the first time. I suppose that, in an ideal world, I would be assured that whatever I put would be good and reliable enough that I knew that people would never ask possibly awkward questions about it. And so I am encouraged to scrutinise my work before I send it off – I certainly know that some customers like to do that (especially if they’re translation agencies).

You know, I get the impression that a lot of people get a kick out of expressing things which they know others just can’t, with the person who can express it being fully appreciative and modest of the reasons (real or hypothetical) why the person who can’t, can’t. Speaking as a professional translator, I certainly don’t need people to clarify for me just how literate I am, but I would imagine that there are probably people who are stupid and ignorant enough that, if you suggested that they should look up a word in a dictionary, they wouldn’t even know what a dictionary was, let alone find one (no offence). Meanwhile, I’ve got to be the only person I know who will look at the subject of how to articulate the underlying context of irrational or hysterical communication, which I’m very glad I’m not prone to. You see, sometimes you just need to make it clear that while something that someone else may be saying may not make sense in real (absolute) terms, it does still “make sense” in that it still reflects an otherwise justifiable point which you have identified but they seem to have trouble identifying it themselves, let alone communicating it. We can all engage in exploration of the broad spectrum of academic paraphernalia in the pursuit of arguments to justify our reasoning of this claim or that claim by someone else as concerns their account of something – but I find that very few will bring up, let alone discuss, the topic of resolving to touch on their unelaborated (apparent, unverified and possibly unknown) reasoning behind what they are saying. And attachment to the personal experiences of another sometimes proves to be the very thing that lets one understand the actual significance of the words that they use in their communication.

The world is giving you answers each day. Learn to listen – even if what is said by others is born not of facts, but of apparitions, preconceptions verified or unverified, misled delusions, and the output of cultural connection which, by logical definition, is representative of what doesn’t actually exist in the real world – the one that gives us life. To be sane is to have an awareness of reality you’re willing to elaborate without fear or shame AND to actively ensure that it does not end up compromised as a result of anything where your own emotions, desires, vested interests etc. – but especially fears – are “supposed to” speak louder than you. After all, when it’s said that one’s actions have consequences, depending on the action it can extend as far as consequences for those who had no knowledge of your actions to begin with and this may well pertain to those who don’t normally have anything to do with you; and it may also result in the development of underlying proclivities in yourself and / or others which foster the development of attitudes and behaviours which, given the right conditions, will soon prove to be the basis of something, say an incident or a theory, that shapes the very society we live in.

If I suffered from visions of things which could only have been born from theories (verified or otherwise) which are a token of any situation where favours and appeasement matter more than stability and progress, but proceeded to act like it didn’t concern me and shouldn’t – well, maybe that really is a taste of insanity which I never totally succumbed to; and it’s just waiting to be deciphered and outlined in verbal communication. Please understand that the only reason I write this is because I would say that it’s indisputable that deciphering and outlining things in verbal communication is precisely what I’m supposed to do for a living, but as a translator rather than as a psychiatrist, although psychiatry is a topic which interests me. We can expect the average person’s communication style (or idiolect) to be unique, but psychiatry is essentially the angle of looking at the history of the individual which best illuminates the mistakes of their past; and the effects of these manifest themselves in their self-expression and the confidence and conviction that they do it with, which, of course, can vary depending on the matter under discussion.

It’s all enough to make me consider re-evaluating my procedures when I translate. And re-evaluate them I have. I certainly agree that I always have to make do with what I’ve got; nearly every time, acquiring more supporting information is simply not an option. In a recent project (German to English), there were times when I was expected to translate only bits of sentences – these were quotes of bits of sentences in larger sentences, such as this:

Original: “In § 32 zweiter Halbsatz werden die Wörter „§ 23a Absatz 1 Satz 2 und 5“ durch die Wörter „§ 23a Absatz 1 Satz 2 und 12“ ersetzt.”

Translation: “In § 32 second half-sentence, the words “§ 23a Parag. 1 Clause 2 and 5” have been replaced with the words “§ 23a Parag. 1 Clause 2 and 12”.”

Now, I didn’t have access to the material that the snippets of words were taken from – in the cases where it really was a collection of words forming an incomplete sentence and not just a separate word or list of words standing as a representation of some static thing or concept, I had to rely on educated guesswork, and justify in my head the decisions that I did make, for I just knew that asking the client what they thought would have been fruitless.

Anyway, I can still remember this time when I was at one of Chris Cardell’s business marketing discussion conventions in London; one exercise he went through with us was that we would all look at this piece of marketing but it was all “greyed over” – like it had a sheet of tracing paper had been placed over it; this apart from bits of it being “highlighted” (no grey) – he claimed that these are the bits that people will be attracted to straight away, and be most likely to remember. Well, I apply the same analogy in translation work I have done: ask myself the question of which individual words or expressions the reader is likely to focus on most purely for the purpose of comprehension of what they’re reading, whether this is to be justified or not. Of course, I realise that, technically, chances are that they simply won’t consider the matter of the actual importance of such comprehension, and not because they couldn’t.

At the end of the day, I ask myself the question of how likely a client is to have a go at me personally if they are unable to acknowledge sense of what I have written possibly due to their own limitations rather than my own – but then, I understand that they will not always personally read the material that I have written. Just as they will speak for themselves, so shall I. And, at the risk of sounding patronising, I will essentially do what I can to speak for them as well.

But let’s take another example; one where I paint a picture of “thinking outside the box”, the metaphorical box being a willingness to tackle a given translation project even if it takes more than I originally thought, but in a manner which is limited to responding to concepts that I personally am hoping to acknowledge in separate words in the original material which I read purely on a level of established theory and logic, if with as much devotion to being articulate about it as necessary. You may have heard about the recent terrorist attack in Burkina Faso, and how the media have said that they have received “unconfirmed reports” of exactly what’s been going on. Now obviously, the following are (usually) not questions you can ask the reporter of the story forthwith, as if you were interviewing them about what they claim to know, but don’t you just wonder exactly who is supposed to do this confirming, and / or exactly why it is that these reports are defined as “unconfirmed”? From my own independent reasoning, I would suggest that “unconfirmed” means that these reports are not necessarily from whom they claim to be. Now, while I could be wrong to think that that is what is meant, it is curiously liberating for me to be able to even arrive at that conclusion, let alone discuss it here.

When a project is challenging, I try to make a point of “explaining to myself what I am doing” as the project progresses – as if I were schizophrenic with one me ever clarifying and justifying my choices to the other me, and showing as such wherever possible, to make sure I get things right in the writing of my translation.

In short, I make no secret of the fact that consideration of… well, the truth… may well be of greater importance if you’re serious about doing a good job of a translation. The real question is whether or not it would be best to do what you can to have the reader end up familiar with it, either directly or in a more discreet manner.

Hey, I’m paid to translate far more than simple things like menus, straightforward simple requests or the kind of personal correspondence that one is expected to learn how to muster when they’re starting out learning a new language. And I think you know this.
17th January 2016


The more eager linguists among us may look forward to doing translation work in particular whenever they take lessons in learning a new language. Of course, it is known that deciding on / agreeing on the best way to put a piece of communication when rendering it from one language to another can prove frustrating – even for those who do it professionally, like me. And by all means suggest that I’m only blowing my own trumpet here, but – as should already be evident – I do this on a self-employed basis, which is why I claim that I must be under more pressure than anyone else (or certainly almost anyone else) to… well, get it right. But, like I said in my last comment, I’ve been doing this for seven years now, and I realise that some of the tales I can tell of my career to date show how much it satisfies me to pursue this line of work.

If you need convincing about this, there follows some more of my translation work-related anecdotes such as I have discussed in previous comments.

Original German: “Nahezu alle interviewten Produzenten brachten klar zum Ausdruck, welch hohen Stellenwert ‘I got it!’ für sie persönlich”
English translation: “Almost all the interviewed producers clearly expressed what kind of high value ‘I got it!’ represents for them personally” …their station or even the public in their country; and not “the kind of high value that”, where, doing word-for-word checking, I had to see and delete the “that” in the expression that I actually did use.

“Treated in a highly different manner from the treated animals” i.e. animals which have been treated or animals which are still being treated? I hope it wouldn’t mislead, do you know what I mean?

Original French: “Durant quatre jours, ce salon concilie ainsi arts et gastronomie, excellence du terroir et création, mais surtout dégustation et vente directe!”
English translation: “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” in the original was translated by “in short” at the end.

Original French: “C’est un artiste d’atelier : concentré, lent et dense”
English translation: “This is a studio artist: concentrated, slow and with substance”
Let’s just say that I knew better than to translated “dense” in the original as “dense” in the English translation!

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.”
I remember how, when I was doing this project, 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.

Original French: “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”.

Original French: “Arman Méliès se joue bien des étiquettes.”
English translation: “Arman Méliès goes by many labels”.
Although, I NEARLY translated it as “Arman Méliès is played by (represented by) many labels.”

Original French: “…qui permet d’emprunter trois pièces en même temps”
English translation: “…and where a customer can borrow up to three articles at once”
The words “up to” were added for better quality.

Original German: “Sie erzielt feste Vergütungen für geleistete Tätigkeiten, keine Provisionen.”
English translation: “They receive fixed payments for the work activities that they perform, not [I specifically remember deciding to remove the word “including” at this point] commissions.”

The phrase “lost in translation” is very widely recognised now. Not least because these days it’s so easy to find examples of bad translations whose intended meaning may be easy to understand or it may not be, but it will always strike readers as humorous. Sometimes it’s because of something simple, straightforward, and easy enough for anyone to define confidently, like a typo or an expression which, however commonly used otherwise, is just out of place in the material in question. Other times it’s owing to what might be labelled as stylistic or syntactical errors, the discussion of which can only really be done confidently if one knows of common terminology applicable with that sort of thing (assuming that this even exists at all). Of course, sometimes mistakes in translation revolve around cultural matters, and while it may be amusing on occasion, there are – there really are – times when it’s enough to cause embarrassment or offence! And if you really want to talk about cultural matters, then look no further than what Professor Mona Siddiqui says in her recent Thought For The Day monologue on BBC Radio 4 entitled “Culture is more than holding onto food, dress and ritual.”

Hence, we see why translation is regarded by plenty of people as a science, and as an art. Bearing in mind that, seeing as people have always communicated and different languages have always existed, translation is indeed hardly a “new thing”, there’s every chance that one would think that translation is a science / art whose “content” (i.e. its methods and principles) has changed very little or not at all after all this time – through the ages, no less.

You know, although I’ve just described translation as an art – for art is a cultural thing – I really should make it clear here that “imagining” isn’t always about thinking of things that don’t yet exist, like when you’re writing fiction or putting together a choreography, as will become clear in the next paragraph.

When I translate, I relish the chances I get to be inventive and clever in what is essentially the representation of a message. And of course I can and do get bothered and irritated (angry?) by gaps – real or imagined – in my knowledge of what is being said in the original material; and it’s by no means limited to the mere static and (generally) plain “boring” written information that has “ended up”, as it were, being the content of the original document for, for better or worse, it was just meant to be as such. What I’m saying is that every so often there are occasions when my own lack of knowledge of the story behind it (whether real or imagined – the context, if you will); and I have to consider that whatever may be “supposed” to happen with regard to the matter in question once my own translation work is completed and submitted, also has to be remembered and afforded enough attention, and it’s not like I can lean on anyone else to do that for me!

I hope this makes it clear enough what “imagination” can also mean. In a sense, it has to be recognised as a prerequisite for one’s very stability and welfare sometimes – I think Liquid Snake would agree on this in his final speech in Metal Gear Solid (PS1)

when he talks about how nature tends to “favour asymmetry” (from 7:01 onward). Hideo Kojima is a great writer, but then everyone knows that. You only have to read his Wikipedia article.

Now, as I said before, I, like a lot of other people, accept that translation is an art. But it’s rare for me to feel like I’m revealing “anything great”, or the underlying truth about anything when I do translation work. It’s not really self-expression, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling somewhat sorry for myself about it. At any rate, one of the things I find most fulfilling about translation is when I know that I’m not just writing the correct meaning of something in a way that some people would appreciate as “impressively articulate”. I will always remember that bit in the film Hot Fuzz where Simon Pegg is standing in front of all these schoolchildren with his hands his back talking about what being a police officer is all about. He says, and I quote, “Police work is as much about preventing crime as it is about fighting crime. More importantly, it is about procedural correctness in the execution of unquestionable moral authority.” …and only then do you see that he’s talking to all these schoolchildren – that works as a joke for me. Anyway, I know that these are very good (nay important) points, and I’m sure Rowan Atkinson – for he played Inspector Fowler in The Thin Blue Line, and I would feel very comfortable around him as a police officer – would agree. But you see, it’s not particularly unlikely that someone may need an example of Simon Pegg’s character’s points to properly agree with them as much as would have liked. How much do the points he makes really speak for themselves?

That said, in my translation work, I delight in it when I can write things which convey an idea which speaks for itself without the need of any “thing” (i.e. argument, incident, whatever) to serve as an example of it. A case in point: this is the point where I admit that RAC – Relief Addiction Cure, the term of affection that it is supposed to be obscene to use casually – was my invention (not that this was originally a translation of something from another language into English). Now, anyone can just decide to use any expression as a term of affection that it is supposed to be obscene to use casually. You can do that with a swear word, for God’s sake. But I remember how I amused I used to be by how it was, essentially, a “technical” “special” term of affection.

Not that I would expect it to remain all that popularly used forever. You see, once you’ve heard about the acronym RAC being used like this (just now?), then you can fathom what it means independently… and that means that you will, by logic, never meet anyone who will prove to be your own RAC, however great they may be.

Anyway, I’ve covered everything I wanted to cover in this comment: the topic of getting translation right, discussion of translation as an art, what “imagination” sometimes really means and its significance, how nature tends to favour asymmetry, the concept of comments which make points without the need for example (with what I say about RAC to back it up)… what shall I do now? I guess I’ll have to use my imagination.


Foreword: as I was writing this comment, I got to thinking that anyone who reads it would probably think that I “think too much”; but when it’s a matter of making a living on a self-employed basis, you could say that I’d rather think too much than too little (and, of course, “take” whatever’s coming my way as a result of this). Either way, it’s not a crime to want more appreciation, and it’s not a crime to want more power – if you’re serious about fair play – but I’d rather not let it change me in ways I couldn’t imagine before realising the same only too late, which could only happen as a result of the consequences; consequences which do not necessarily affect only me.

Foreword 2: an example of what I mean by the title is me translating something into English as “drafting of the overall plan”. For me it’s very easy to regard a “plan” in this sense as something outlined on a piece of paper or on a blackboard or something. That’s just the way I think, and there’s nothing wrong with that; but I found myself agreeing that I should realise that this “drafting an overall plan” does not necessarily involve a piece of paper or a blackboard or whatever in practice.

Sometimes we end up in situations where we would do well to realise that, by practically anyone’s standards, all bets are off when it comes to guessing what would be going through our mind or what conclusions we would arrive at (eventually)… but as long as we don’t arrive at a conclusion we can support with a workable argument it will only frustrate us indefinitely; and then it’s not long before it really does develop into an “all bets are off” situation. “What do you say?”, indeed; and you must know as well as I do that this doesn’t apply only to the question of what is the best way to reiterate something in a new language when you’re translating something (for this is a blog comment aimed at promoting me as a professional translator). So don’t you believe me when I say that I want to climb higher as a professional translator? Up to the highest echelons of the industry if possible? If I were ever told that I was officially the best translator in the world, I would be delighted, and as confident as I would ever need to be for however long I continue to do it. Well, wouldn’t I be? I do realise that, even for the activity of translation as a practice with a purpose i.e. the general concept of it in real terms, its industry has changed over the years, an example being the recent creation of CAT tools and even just the creation of the Internet; just another couple of cases of people eagerly putting forth their ideas to make things easier (in the domain of science). If you’re smart and determined enough, that is. Of course, I realise how likely this phenomenon in society as a whole is to push up standards, and however hard I was prepared to try to retain my position at the top of the heap in the world of translation if I ever somehow achieved it, it wouldn’t have any bearing on my wish not to want to appear complacent. That said, the bottom line can only be this: how smart and determined – nay, professional – am I in my job really?

I’ll be honest: I don’t really see myself as being at the top of the heap of the world of translation (at least not yet). Still, as someone who’s nothing less than a self-employed translator with seven years’ experience, there must be some things I have done which other people haven’t, and things I know which other people don’t, but that is surely the case vice versa as well. For example, while my professional translation motto is “communication needs the right words”, to me that just seems eclipsed by all of these mottos by other professional translators:

“uncommonly good sense” – Shotlander (on ProZ.com)
“Communication is all we have” – wlgener Waterford, Michigan USA (on ProZ.com)
Communication is more than just words – Jacques Desnoyers (on ProZ.com)
And I also recently got an email from a (supposed – possible scammer) translator called Ana Soloboda Ana.sloboda12@gmail.com, for which the title was “Make my words work for you!” Interesting.

Now, I would never want to boast too much about what I do. Seriously, Tim Doner may be able to speak more than 20 languages while I could only converse in three (including my mother tongue) while he’s only 20-odd years old, but he would never have been able to post all his videos in which he shows off so much if the whole world spoke but a single language (of course, I have to concede that I would never have been able to be a translator as a result of that, either). But as a professional translator of all things, I have an absolute obligation to commit to accuracy and reliability in translation whether or not anyone else can or will. For this reason, it is easy to regard “make-believe-based forgetting by default” (if that makes sense) as foolish and irresponsible; it is simply not admissible. And I continue to write about the subject. The big question is this: what can I talk about having come across something language-related purely by chance rather than pending a decision to have a look at this or that, do you know what I mean?

We shouldn’t forget that communication sometimes requires listening even more than saying what you will, but then anyone who’s ever been in a serious relationship will know that. Now, actors may make a living out of being people they’re not, but I demand myself to put myself in the shoes of the eventual reader of my work, and one thing that has struck me in connection with my work is that maybe, just maybe, I could be expected to explain their understanding better than they could – even if it’s illogical and amounts to being a sign of craziness – while still having a concentrated job to do my end to just write something… anything which will pass for a (correct) translation of whatever it is. I keep wanting to be both at once, and not just each in turn – it’s like I’ve become more aware of the realities of being schizophrenic as a result of doing this job, you know? Or how about considering the concept of writing something which you know may not make sense to a reader straight away but is supposed to later on (and I don’t even read suspense thrillers or crime fiction!)?

What am I talking about, anyway?

At any rate, I would find it very, very hard to think of anything better to say to convince you that I definitely DO consider what would happen if I got too cosy in my job, and definitely DON’T have an absent-minded and dismissive approach to it like an exercise in box-ticking, however challenging or unpleasant the particular actions in question may be. I don’t want to fall into a habit of “hoping for some understanding”, like Katie Melua in her song “A Happy Place” (although, personally, knowing that she spent her childhood in poverty – even though her father was a heart surgeon – and that she has done skydiving in the past, I find that she’s tougher than she looks). I will admit that, even with my level of education, I get surprised by some of the things that I remember; and, for all its simplicity and invariable abstractness, it frequently delights me (not always, of course). Believe me, whatever you think of me, and whatever I think of me, I have no reason to be ashamed to call myself as a professional translator such as I am today. At the end of the day, I want to remain a professional translator, which is probably the only decision which shapes anything in the matter for me personally. And when I do what I do, I find immense pleasure in writing these blogs.

But that’s enough about me. Now, I say this: nobody likes being told that what they are saying, while they themselves are so sure that it makes sense, is in reality a load of nonsense. That’s bound to put anyone’s nose out of joint, do you know what I mean? At this point I will include some more translation work-related anecdotes – challenges that I have had to deal with in my work:

French original: “Nous ne faisons pas de calcul pour cela, nous ne réfléchissons pas.”
English translation: In the material this quote belonged to, this is a reference to human acting on impulse. Although I translated it as “We do not perform any calculations for this; we quite simply do not think.”, the correct translation, I realised that an unwary translator could have “translated” it as “If we do not perform any calculations for this, we quite simply do not think.” (LOL)

French original: “C’est contradictoire avec le fait que ces derniers ont besoin de faire preuve d’intelligence situationnelle pour retisser un lien de proximite avec les clients.”
English translation: I did the right thing when I wrote “It’s a contradictory case [or maybe it would have been more appropriate to write “It will be a very different story”] should one consider the fact that”, NOT “given the fact that”.

I have seen “vorhanden” in things like contracts in German, and realised that “available” was a better translation than “existing”.

I have become familiar with the concept of mistranslating German “Fahrplan” as “travel plan” when it should be “timetable”.

German original: “Anerkannten Werkstaetten”
English translation: better translated as “recognised workshops” or “registered workshops”?

German original: “Zudem finden Sie die Berechnungsgrundlagen […] und verschiedene Alternativen hierzu.”
English translation: “Additionally, you will find the calculation bases for a forecast of the costs up until the end of the life of Mrs. Somerville, along with various options” (not “various alternatives”!)

German original “Pflegeleistung” (as the header of a column in a table) – would it really matter if I translated that as “nursing services” or “nursing payments”?

Verily I admit that it’s easy for one to agree that this may arouse discussion of the very way I do translation and how much I can rely on the methods that I do use (whether I’ve taken the time to define them for myself or not). Indeed, when translating I’m afraid to proceed step-by-step like with most tasks, for fear that that could result in an embarrassing mistake. After I’ve finally finished translating a whole sentence I just need to look at everything at once, and not just “Bit 1”, followed by “Bit 2”, followed by “Bit 3”… It’s not like being happy to live life day by day. I certainly imagine that clients wouldn’t be too happy if they thought that I treated the work that I was supposed to be doing for them as “just another job” – “just another boil in need of lancing”, as it were. Maybe I really do scrutinise written text to the point of borderline obsession these days, even if it’s my own (all for the sake of doing a good job in my work, of course); here’s an example: if you go to Civ 5 Wikia and look at the page of the Thai leader (Ramkhamhaeng), scroll down to Civilopedia entry – Arts and Culture and you will read “Ramkhamhaeng was an ardent patron of Buddhism. He also supported the arts and Thai artistic expression [return – new line] achieved an especially high level during his reign, especially in bronze sculpture and ceramics.” Here, “He also supported the arts and Thai artistic expression” works as a full sentence in itself, but don’t be thrown off, for “Thai artistic expression” is but the start of a new sentence within a sentence, after the conjunction “and”. You see?

There now follows a definition of the word “esoteric”: “intended for or likely to be understood by only a small number of people with a specialized knowledge or interest.” (Google search “esoteric definition”). I say this because, while lots of people decide to show an interest in foreign languages these days, it is surely the case that very few will be as willing to look at and discuss the art of translation in full depth to the extent that some people do… like me – well, I am a self-employed translator, after all. And a serious one, at that. What I’m saying is that I agree that it’s very likely that the average person on the street would label the study and practice of translation as an “esoteric” subject – and everyone can only confidently support their opinions they have on anything so far.

I recently watched Pat Condell’s latest Youtube video “Dumbing down university”. Speaking as a linguist, I find it both shocking and ridiculous (or maybe it should be more like embarrassed and worried?) that he says that British universities today feel the need to provide remedial literacy courses to new students, as if plenty of undergraduates were in Britain today had all the education of your average delinquent yob (or chav) who talks this: “Yo, wa g’wanin blud, you dig me bling, like? It’s like f***in’ well phat, innit?” And he really does provide links to newspaper articles to back this claim up. This is one of them:http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews…

I have read this article, by the way. So let’s talk about that for a bit. There’s a bit in it where someone says (quoted ipsissima verba): “Their needs vary from having difficulty with the very basics, such as ‘what does a noun do?’, to students whose English is fine but they have never constructed a report or written an academic essay.” Time and time again, we have to consider how much more likely we or anyone else would understand something in real terms if only it was explained in a different way. In that episode of Blackadder where Baldrick’s trying to rewrite the dictionary, his only definition for the word “dog” is “not a cat” – what “better” definition would you have given him to write down? It’s just that I sympathise with people who have the intelligence to go far but they don’t actually know what, say, a noun or an adjective is when they would surely “get it” straight away if it were explained to them, such as I am going to do here. In layman’s terms: noun is the name given to the kind of word which exists as a label for any given thing, like an object (like the word “noun” itself); and adjective is the name given to the kind of word which says something about something. Any dictionary will confirm these things, itself possibly providing examples. It really is as simple as that. And you don’t have to be any kind of self-proclaimed master linguist, like me, to clarify something like that.

Taken from the same article above: the writer actually claims that some university students “struggle with basic grammar”. Really? What is struggling with basic grammar, anyway, if it’s not just knowing how to get word order right? Myself, I am aware that many people are familiar with the common mistake in English that is writing “should of / could of / would” when it should be “have”, even though “should”, “could”, “would” and “of” (and “have”, for that matter) are all among the most commonly used words in English, and I don’t think I need to explain how “should”, “would” or “could” can simply not “co-exist” in English language terms i.e. when they are followed by the word “of”. Then there’s getting “to”, “two” and “too” confused, or not knowing the difference between “accept” or “except”, or “discreet” and “discrete”. To me that can’t be properly defined as “struggling with basic grammar” because I regard it as more a case of getting the spelling of words wrong (or rather, using otherwise correctly spelled words in places where they just don’t belong and, as such, just leaving a sentence “not making sense” in that it’s not grammatical; something which should be obvious). Then there’s the fact that sometimes people use “it’s” wrongly when it should be “its”. That I can understand, for you would use an apostrophe in, say, “That book is Louise’s”, so I would define, say, “The reason that car is not roadworthy is that the tread of it’s tyres is not sufficient” as a “grammatical” error.

But given that communication is generally to be understood as expression of ideas (whether they are properly elucidated or not), it shouldn’t be too hard to consider how I’m willing to look at the idea of translation as the same thing. I mean, as Pat Condell says in his video (mentioned above), our culture, and with it the success of our education, depends on people germinating ideas rather than exterminating them. And I imagine that it’s fairly common for people to have an idea which carries weight about a topic that matters which they regard as “smart” or “clever”… but they may falsely label it as original or their own while being none the wiser. Or – and I must confess that I was a bit like this when I was still a child – even if one is proud of such an idea for reasons which are hardly selfish, cynical or morally corrupt, they may love to see it demonstrated or verified but they are just not ready to do what’s necessary to realise that themselves. Just for a minute, consider how angry that mindset could (eventually) encourage others to become – not to mention yourself.

Maybe the truth is that even I’m not completely immune to writing things that are a bit odd to read, whether I’m doing a translation task or not. But as far as I see it, in all selflessness, the more I can prevent myself from writing things that sound a bit “iffy” in my translation work, the better. The thing is, I remember how, when I was at school, sometimes I was told by my teachers that, while there was nothing wrong with my own English – the language I translate into in my work as a self-employed translator – I sometimes wrote things which were a bit odd or awkward in terms of following them even if they had to admit that it did made sense (theoretically, at least, I presume). Now, when I do translation work, I definitely realise how serious it is that I find a way to write the intended message of the original in a way that makes sense, and it does weigh on me that I could end up in a scenario where I have to do this “somehow”. And it’s not entirely limited to the issue of the vocabulary I know or the verbal creativity I can show when it comes to the grammar of English (are you following me here)? When I’m writing a translation of something I do love it when I feel that I’m revealing a fact of significance about the subject matter that I am supposed to be writing about even though some might find it easy to claim that I don’t know what I’m talking about but that’s only because it happens not to directly concern me personally. In short, I have to be careful not to end up misled – not just by what I’m presented with, but also with regard to what I’ve allowed myself to feel about whatever it is that I’m effectively discussing in my writing of a translation product, which may well need properly outlining for me personally. And chances are that it will be up to me and only me to do that. After all, I can seldom expect a translation client to be fully ready to take the time to discuss with me why I chose to write this or expression or that expression, or why I seemed to think this thing or that thing.

I’ve been doing professional translation for seven years now and, maybe it’s a bit sad, but I refuse to regard the work itself as anything of an “adventure” any more. Having said that, I suggest that this is because I don’t want to feel that I equate my professional work to children’s stories of adventure – this isn’t “George The Translator – join him in his exciting translation adventures!” (much as I realise how much my job as a self-employed translator has taught me personally); this is real life, and to me it should be a more formal and euphuistic register that shapes the narrative of my blogs.
14th February 2016


Starting point: don’t we agree that there’s an art to translation – whether or not we could elaborate on this idea? Yes? Good. Also, bear in mind that, while this article is more than 2,000 words long, I don’t provide any examples of “translating from the heart”, as I see it, until in the last paragraphs. I’m sure you will understand eventually. Although, at this point, I think I should mention that a likely pre-requisite to “translating from the heart” is “explaining / clarifying from the heart”.

That said, while this is a blog aimed at promoting myself as a professional translator, I don’t actually want to proceed to discuss translation or anything I do / have done in this job personally straight away. Now… I find it easy to believe that there are some professions where people who do not do them tend to have rather rigid and obstinate ideas about the kind of person that those who do them “should” be. Basically they believe that they tend to dress alike, speak the same way, have largely the same personal priorities and ambitions and all the rest of it, while probably not intending to make friends with a person who practices such a job in their life. It’s like stereotypes, I think.

And then there are the kinds of professions where, if you’re serious about doing them, I would strongly recommend that you consider your very status and worth as a member of society and your presence in it before you even start considering how you would make a success of yourself doing such a job. And they are by no means strictly categorised, as you’ve probably guessed. After all, if you’re a teacher, it’s not limited to merely informing your students about what is correct in the subject you’re supposed to be teaching, or even being attentive enough to understand where and how they have ended up confused. Police officers are certainly expected to take charge of things, but to do so in a way that assures public confidence. And if you work in an office and get promoted to manager, you can expect to be told that your duties won’t just include “more of the same old typical carry-on, only lots more of it, and enough to try the resolve of a lot people.” Indeed, in all three, who would argue that an important part of it is being prepared to set an example to people you don’t even know? Even bar staff are expected to show the right kind of judgement and sense of duty when a drunken brawl breaks out; and however fond a lapdancer may be of performing, she couldn’t possibly fail to realise that her social skills will be put to the test again and again.

But I think about celebrities as well – singers in particular, for some reason. The idea of being famous has its allure even for someone like me, but at the end of the day, if I were ever granted the opportunity to be famous, I’m sure the only question that would really matter is what I would make of it (note: it was barely possible for me to decide whether it would have been better to say “would” or “could” there; I just thought it was worth pointing that out). Oh, it would be nice if I had that kind of looks and charisma and got paid loads for rousing crowds hungry for excitement and an excuse to be loud… then again, it has to be said that sometimes you get a singer or group of singers who change an individual’s life forever by doing what they do; but you knew that already, didn’t you? Now, being stuck in front of a computer doing what I do is hardly glamorous… but the thing is that I too have plenty to say which isn’t just of relevance – and not fickle relevance – to me “on stage” (or, in my case, when I’m communicating with customers in relation to my work), but also off it, nay even when I’m not actually looking forward to being on one.

As I already mentioned, I myself am a translator, and as such I don’t really think I need to care about my public image THAT much… but I am as keen to promote myself as I have ever been (hence this blog, for that matter). Mind you, while most people DON’T do a job in which they make good use of creative writing skills and not much else, I’m self-employed – if I don’t find out (let alone implement) what it takes to remain in this position, then who will? How far can I go, anyway? And, as easy as it is to regard a job like mine as boring, it’s not like it’s straightforward and plain sailing all the time: the practices of translation may remain the same, but even something as fundamental as language can cause division given its versatility. When I take on a project, I hope to find an attachment with the original material without getting too absorbed by it, if that makes sense.

That said, I’m very much ready to be honest and frank; I think I’m very lucky to be doing what I do today, and I’m sure the pride I place in it is evident enough. Perhaps unrelatedly, I remember how, during my childhood, I was sure that, when I became an adult, I eventually would become someone that I never knew I could be. Today I am 33 and it is an assumption that has been proven correct, which doesn’t surprise me at all. But I’m very pleased that it has not made me far angrier than anyone could ever hope to make me (well, intentionally and on an opportunistic level, anyway). Personally, I can’t help feeling that if you’re pretending to be something you’re not while not even really knowing or caring what that thing is… then you run the risk of going crazy. Love yourself for what you are; love yourself more for what you could be; love yourself even more for what you will be. That’s how I find it works.

And that’s the way it is. Reality is reality. And surely reality should be appreciated and embraced by anyone serious about doing any sort of translation work properly. Talking of which: cultural factors play a role in translation, right? Then consider this: it’s not like I don’t cherish certain personal memories from my past to this day. I’m sure we have all had episodes in our lives that we don’t remember as well as we wish we did. But traditions and legacies continue to mingle and rival with firmly held attitudes, hopes and aspirations of the present day to form what we call a culture; and culture’s not even the only thing to bear in mind in translation work; although, of course, that’s well known already. And anyone who wants to learn more about me will, I think, be pleased to hear that I have plenty of fantastic tales and roller-coaster rides from my own life which I would be very likely to include in an autobiography. Just as Google defines culture as “the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively” and “the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society”, my past surely makes me who I am. How about this: I remember when I learned that Vanessa Carlton has an album called “Be Not Nobody” and I got to thinking that by that she meant, “Don’t try to be ‘the true you’; seek to be ‘a true you’!” (I certainly think she’s a singer worth the name, in case you forgot what I said in paragraph 4.) I was impressed enough by this to state on my personal Facebook wall that she was my idea of a real woman and that however much I’ll never know, I was no longer afraid. I even remember writing a later comment in which I said that she had read what I had said about her and sent me an email saying that it was because of what I wrote that however much she’ll never know, she’s no longer afraid; “OK, I made that up, but I do wonder.” But, in all candour, things change (of course they do). Ever since I posted those comments about Vanessa Carlton I’ve learned of the quote from George Bernard Shaw which reads “Life isn’t about finding yourself, it’s about creating yourself.” Given the meaning of that quote, that was when I realised that Vanessa Carlton is not the only one who’s ever thought of it (if she ever did); but you can be sure that I still listen to her! I’ll say it again: things change… and I don’t always “get it” so easily; but I’m still pleased with myself for what I manage to learn in the long run – along with the occasional harsh yet inevitable realisation that comes with it, of course. Maybe these days I should be saying that however much I WILL know, I’m no longer afraid.

True, I enjoy the comfort of my study, a quiet space where I can be sure of not being bothered by others. On the other hand, I would define underestimating the weight of my job as habitually getting things done “somehow” and – perhaps not unrelatedly – explaining the things I do and the decisions I make on but a “basically” level. It has been said that the aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together – that their very nature cries out for the goodness in men (Charlie Chaplin’s Great Dictator speech). If an essential part of translation is taking the time to understand culture and societal values (obvious or tacit), shouldn’t one say that translation is also supposed to accomplish this?

Now comes the funny bit. Have you ever known of a time where you or anyone else tried to translate something that just didn’t make sense? To be fair to you, you probably think that I’m not making sense by saying that. But what passes for a good definition of text which “doesn’t make sense”, anyway? I haven’t forgotten the time I wrote that blog in which I thought of translating (or rather, trying to translate) “Has anyone really been far even as decided to use even go want to do look more like?” Other examples of written information I can think of which I find make no sense by my interpretation include the badger song on Youtube and the Big Brother conversation in which Jade Goody brought up “East Angular” and said that she thought it was in Tunisia for some reason. But I’m not going to stop there. I’m now going to write 50 words of something in English of my own creation which I would say doesn’t make sense, followed by my best translation of it in French:

“It’s a shame that squirrels don’t go water-skiing because I think that would be very funny. And it would be so cool if the moon was green rather than white. But I would especially like to be able to walk along ceilings, even though I couldn’t juggle when doing that.”

“Il est triste que les écureuils ne font pas du ski nautique – je pense que cela serait très drôle. Et il serait si cool si la lune était verte plutôt que blanche. Mais j’aimerais en particulier être capable de pouvoir marcher sur les plafonds, même si je ne pouvais pas jongler quand je faisais cela.”

You can decide how good my French translation of this is, or have a French native speaker decide. My point here is that I find it easy to be confident about translating things like this precisely because they have no purpose and I don’t have to worry about what I write “making sense” in real terms. Does that sound close to home? Either way, I certainly can’t and won’t dispute that people look to / depend on me to make sense in the translations that I write, just like any other professional translator.

Finally, about my actual translation work… I recently translated a contract in which I wrote the following sentence in the translated product: “The start and the end of the season are clearly stated in the seasonal confirmation of the Serbian Association (Annex 5 of the application); from which it can be determined that the 21st birthday of the player (14th July 2012) falls in the season 2012/2013”. I realised that I made a wise choice of words which suggested “it can be deduced from this contract that…” rather than “according to this contract…”. Those two things don’t mean exactly the same thing i.e. what does a given contract actually intend to make clear from the outset, compared to what could be understood from it with the right kind of critical examination? Maybe this is the kind of thinking that makes one a good detective / lawyer / judge. And this is what I dare to label this as “translating from the heart”.

Example 2: in another recent translation project (German to English), which was also a contract, I translated “Kommt eine Partei einer ihr obliegenden Instandhaltungs- oder Instandsetzungspflicht trotz Mahnung und Nachfristensetzung nicht fristgerecht nach” as “If any party fails to satisfy any [given] maintenance / repair obligation of theirs on time despite the provision of a warning and an extended deadline”. About the word “given” in square brackets: I originally didn’t think of including that, but then I wouldn’t want it to be “supposed” to mean (on a purely pedantic level) essentially “If any party failed to satisfy ANY maintenance / repair obligation of theirs”, as if to imply that failing to satisfy not all of them from a list of them was OK. They say “the law is a ass – a idiot” – I think much of the meaning behind that quote refers to how lawyers sometimes choose to interpret the intended meaning of the law and “justify” it with an “excuse” which is nothing more than selective logic.

But at the end of the day, when it comes to the translation work that I do for a living, I just know that I should be on my guard against misreading and misunderstanding things and understanding what simply isn’t there, and when I actually write what I write I do what I can to avoid miswriting things and encouraging an understanding of something which is either wrong or, well, doesn’t exist. One could argue that this requires the application of something like zanshin (the Japanese martial arts term – and I have a purple belt in jujitsu, by the way): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zanshin
19th February 2016


To those who live a plain existence which is not necessarily as satisfying as they like to pretend, their appreciation of the language they were taught from their earliest days is unlikely to extend too far beyond recognition of terms / individual words as labels for individual things, precisely because “well, that’s how it should be”. But we’re not stupid, are we? People have pointed out anecdotal facts about individual languages which they can’t do anything about and which are there to stay – I’m sure the age of the Internet has made society as a whole more aware of this phenomenon than ever. In the case of English – my own mother tongue – I wasn’t the one who thought of how the word “fish” could be spelled “ghoti”, for example. I wasn’t the first to observe that the sequence of letters “ough” sounds very different in words like “through”, “tough”, “cough”, “bough” and “bought”.

Of course, the content of these blogs I write for the purpose of promoting myself as a professional translator, is not limited to bringing up things like this; after all, in my eyes, it is to be understood as something that anyone could just end up doing, and I don’t want to sell myself short here.

That’s not to say that, during my time at school and university, my teachers and lecturers never referenced such anecdotes – which, without wishing to sound rude, would likely be appreciated by anyone who wasn’t there to study as the things most likely to retain their attention – in connection with whatever they were talking about at the time. It’s easy to pay attention to what you understand compared to what you don’t understand – but if you ask me, both tend to be easier than paying attention to what you once thought you understood.

The paradoxical truth is that, for all the good reasons I may have to call myself an “authority” on language and linguistics given my position as a successful translator who does it for a living (seven years of experience or not), it is just not my position to say what the precise meaning of any given term “should” or “shouldn’t” be; and if I have ever “sort of felt the need to do this” in the past, then I have tried to do it with some sort of tacit justification in the translation text that I am producing itself i.e. a supporting argument which speaks for itself. The thing is, I always have to make language-related decisions in what I do; of course I do. So it shouldn’t be hard to believe that I have sharp acumen for false translation.

Compare false translation with plagiarism, or talking in clichés and PBAs (see an earlier comment I wrote on 14th June 2015 which explains what a “precedent-based assertion” is, in the last big paragraph). People have done all three of the latter in the far simpler act of everyday conversation, and who’s to say that it doesn’t extend to works of writing? That said, please don’t accuse me of trivialising anything when I say that it’s common for people to think and state openly that they can’t express how bad they feel when something truly terrible has happened to them e.g. if they have lost a child or been raped. Being a translator and therefore a professional linguist, I guess I like to think that if anyone can express anything in coherent language (where details of the memories of it are LEAST likely to fragment and dissipate over time), it’s someone who does what I do; but I’ll be honest with you: I couldn’t promise you that I could always manage it without leaning heavily on comparisons, whether they were to be understood as realistic or wildly detached enough from reality to leave just about anyone “lost”… for words or anything else. I’m not stupid. An attempted definition of a word which is based purely on what it means compared with the meaning of other words, is too woolly for practical purposes, isn’t it?

People don’t agree that they could misunderstand something if they agree that it doesn’t make sense, do you know what I mean? But for something to be defined as “not making sense”… that’s too vague, isn’t it?

Maybe, just maybe, if I am going to make people believe that I am some kind of super-hotshot professional translator, I should freely admit to being prone to asking questions which I don’t know why I’m asking at the time (as long as they’re faithful to a sense of duty in what I do, of course). At any rate, I look at lists of words in various languages which are not so easy to translate (like this one http://www.boredpanda.com/untranslatable-words-fou… ), realising how this can extend to whole phrases and sentences as well; in recognition of all my clients who expect / yearn to be carefree with regard to what I’m supposed to do for them, I would rather have my translation work be reflective of astute “make-believe” than wholly uncertain “let-believe”, especially when I have no idea how much research the client is prepared to undertake in connection with what I write in order to ensure its veracity and reliability (if any). And I really, really wouldn’t want to know that anything I had ever said or written had proven to be falsely enlightening – and therefore potentially confusing, possibly with the result of someone becoming angry – after I had been forced to acknowledge that what I had said was incorrect even though I had said it in good faith. All I’m saying is that the more you practice translation the more inclined you become to regard it as a matter of the pursuit of the truth, as Ted Hartrup discusses so eloquently in episode 3 of the Ambition series on Zapdramatic (the psychological assessment), depending on the choices you make. Personally, for me it’s intriguing enough that I wonder if the character of Ted Hartrup is based on that of a real person, whether that’s supposed to the case (strictly speaking) or not. #PursuitOfTheTruth

Speaking of hashtags – and that was the first time I’ve ever used one – I would agree that people use them with words and concepts with which they, effectively, openly imply: “Let anyone say what they will about this if it is to be better defined – I just don’t care about it that much.” Now that sounds like a mindset to be avoided when you’re trying to create a product of correct and reliable – and, indeed, responsible – translation! I’m certainly used to translation and I find it easy enough most of the time, but I would suggest that it’s one of those things where a careless oversight when doing it could (possibly – depending on the details) lead to a mistake where identifying exactly what it was that led to it could prove a challenge; and only then comes the matter of actually correcting it.

I’m probably going to make a lot of enemies saying this, but I’m going to say it anyway. In a sense, translation is an exercise in being committed – wholly committed – “telling it how it is”. Maybe I should be claiming that I’m always the first to deal with text written in a foreign language ad nauseum for the right reasons. And you don’t need to be a genius to know that one purpose of communication is the revelation of truth. That said, it intrigues me to consider how many people have said something truthful which was redundant – maybe because it was a truth that was already known – but they still expected credit for it by virtue of their honesty and frankness. But among the times when I’m most satisfied in my work as a translator are when I translate something by writing something which I know in my heart indicates a truth capable of shattering a lie.
28th February 2016


I was recently going through my business records to get rid of records of old translation projects that I no longer needed, and I came across some very old projects I translated not from French or German into English, but the other way round. I very rarely do these jobs but I think it’s great that I can say that I’ve taken these on as well (they weren’t too sophisticated, mind)!

You know, people who have read a lot of my professional translator blog comments are by now very likely aware of how much I go on about how literate I am in the language I write in when I’m doing translation work, along with all I’ve freely said to back it up. But as important as that is in this line of work, I can’t always lean purely on that to help me out / save the day when I’m stuck. My job may be a very peaceful one, but, frankly, it’s just so, so likely that, whenever someone gives me a translation job to do, they will be willfully ignorant of the realities of what I do, the procedures I follow, the choices I make, which will determine whether the project will be a success (hopefully a definite success rather than a passable success, of course) or a failure. Mind you, even today I do most of my work for translation agencies, and this is very much less likely to be the case with translation agencies compared with private clients; and yes, maybe that really is why the “translation agency” exists. Anyway, my mother tongue is English, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it is English that I am paid to translate into – mostly. But there have been a few rare occasions where people have offered me translation work assignments with the language pair English to French or English to German, and in this comment I’m going to put forth a couple of examples of these.

At this point, let me make it clear that whenever I put forth the details of an episode related to some translation task I’ve had to deal with as a professional translator, I include both the original and my translation of it wherever I can, for sake of my own credibility. Of course, I believe that exactly how much this particular comment will be appreciated will depend on how much it is referred to people whose mother tongue is French or German, for their honest appraisal of what I say… but at the end of the day, I keep records of this stuff for a reason: a reason which is enough to delight me and potentially enlighten me, even if it’s not necessarily in the immediate future.

The first example is taken from a press release originally written in English, although it’s clear that it was written by an Indian rather than an actual native English speaker (not that I’m saying Indians’ English is usually bad, by any means – they’re actually very well educated and speak it very well, but I’m sure we all know that). The client in question, someone in India (surprise surprise) actually paid me to translate this press release into both French and German even though my mother tongue is neither of those, but the language I was translating FROM, not TO. Here goes:

“Located on the western coast of India, Gujarat is a leading industrial state with a unique combination of strategic geographic location, state-of-the-art infrastructure, multilingual workforce and concentration of corporate and financial resources. Its proactive government and business-savvy population make a perfect ground for businesses to flourish. By carefully planning special industrial zones and investment regions, the state has created a much more conducive business and regulatory environment within many areas, including in waste management, biotechnology and local transport system. With Luxembourg’s strong foothold in these sectors, the delegation’s meetings will provide an excellent foundation for building partnerships that will invigorate the economies of both regions.”

My translation of it into French:

“Situé à la côté occidentale de l’Inde, le Gujerat est un état industriel prominent qui dispose d’une combination unique : sa position stratégique géographique ; son infrastructure d’état de l’art ; son effectif plurilingue ; et sa concentration de ressources incorporées et financielles. Avec son gouvernement proactif et sa population entrepreneuse, il constitue une zone parfaite en ce qui concerne l’épanouissement d’entreprises. Parmi le planning prudent de particulières zones industrielles et de régions d’investissement, cet état a crée un environnement qui est beaucoup plus conducif pour l’entreprise et la régulation en beaucoup de domaines ; ce qui inclue le traitement de déchets, la biotechnologie et le système de transport local. Étant donné la progression forte du Luxembourg en ces secteurs, les rendez-vous des délégations constitueront une fondation excellente pour la formation d’associations qui revigoreront les économies des deux régions.”

My translation of it into German:

“Gudscharat, auf der westlichen Küste Indiens, ist ein führender industrieller Staat mit einer einzigartigen Kombination von seiner strategischen geographischen Lage, seiner Infrastruktur auf dem neuesten Stand der Technik, seiner mehrsprachigen Arbeitskräfte und seiner Konzentration von körperschaftlichen und finanziellen Ressourcen. Mit der proaktiven Regierung und der untermenbewussten Bevölkerung ist es einer perfekter Ort für Unternehmenwachsen. Mit der vorsichtigen Planung von speziellen industriellen Zonen und Investitionsregionen hat der Staat eine viel Geschäfts-und-Regulation-freundlichere Umgebung geschafft und zwar in vielen Bereichen z.B. Abfallentsorgung, Biotechnologie und das lokale Transportsystem. Dank dem guten Halt von Luxembourg in diesen Bereichen werden die Meetings der Delegation ein exzellentes Fundament sein für das Bauen von Partnerschaften die die Wirtschaften der beiden Regionen erkräftigen werden.”

The original sample from the second English text was taken from a document of LED instructions, and I only translated this into French:

“Each control gear in your installation can be controlled entirely individually. It is also possible to control the two outputs of the control gear separately.”

My translation of it into French:

“Chaque unité de contrôle en votre installation peut être commandée entièrement individuellement. Il est aussi possible de contrôler les deux sorties de l‘outil de commande séparément.”

Finally, the original sample from the third English text, translated into German (again, if it looks a little “off”, bear in mind that my client for this one was based in Lithuania, so it was probably a Lithuanian who wrote it):

“UAB Jutrix specializes in the production of high-quality stamped, bended and deep drawn parts. Main production process is advanced coil stamping. At your services more than 40 years of experience in stamping, professional approach to the work, qualified people and advanced technologies.”

My translation of it into German:

“UAB Jutrix spezialisiert auf die Herstellung von qualitativ hochwertigen Stanz-, Biege- und Tiefziehteile. Unserer Hauptproduktionrahmen ist fortgeschrittenes Spulestempeln. Wir besitzen mehr als 40 Jahren Erfahrung in Stempelarbeit und zeigen Professionalität bei der Arbeit, mit qualifizierten Personen unf fortgeschrittene Technologien.”

This comment ends with something rather more appealing. I haven’t forgotten the time this translation agency in France asked me to provide a translation of this French song into English. This is the original French text of the song:

“Il est pour chacun d’entre nous
Au moins une femme dans l’univers
Que l’on épouserait sur un coup
Comme on fait tapis au poker
La mienne est venue au Texas
Le jour de ma fête, sur la Terre
A Katy, en cet an de grâce
L’année où l’on s’aime à l’envers
Il y aura une jolie lumière, il y aura du bruit dans la cour
Elle fermera les paupières et nous irons faire un tour
Et si l’on roule assez longtemps
Pour ne plus penser aux détours
Que l’on a suivis trop longtemps
Pour ne pas se rencontrer
Ceux qui emportent nos mémoires
Et nos corps trop lourds
Ceux dont nous étions les moins fiers
Nous seront aveugles et sourds.
J’ai beau tourner dans l’espace
Je retombe toujours sur la Terre
A tous les coups je me perds,
C’est toi qui me serres et nos pieds sur la Terre
Dansent en attendant sous la pluie
Que les Indiens reviennent vivre sur la prairie
Que les esclaves puissent
Rendre leurs chaînes.
Jusqu’à Tucson la route est droite
Je ne lâcherai pas ta main
Jusqu’à Vegas tu fermes les yeux
C’est peut-être là qu’on s’embrasse
A ton doigt je glisse une alliance
Qui est dans ma poche depuis toujours
C’est un sosie d’Elvis qui nous unit
Que sait-il de l’amour ?
La route est longue allons-nous en
Je l’ai faite il y a si longtemps
Depuis des siècles je t’attends
Allons dormir sur Hollywood.”

I really enjoyed this project because I couldn’t wait for a chance to attempt a rhyming translation of it, like My Most Audacious Marketing Move IV (earlier ones: nr. 1 see comment dated 3rd October 2011; nr. 2 see comment dated 25th June 2014; nr. 3 see comment dated 26th June 2014). I wasn’t specifically asked for this and it wasn’t necessary but I got a kick out of it – but at that stage I thought it was likely that the project manager would want to come back to me with points about it anyway. I was originally inclined to translate this song something like this:

“For every man’s a woman who
Is like a poker wallflower
He’ll hold her as a jewel true;
He’d very quickly marry her
In Katy, Texas, along comes mine
We’ll meet again on Saints’ Day
This fateful year is ‘69
And we will show our love that way
There will be a happy light, there’ll be a serenade in the yard
And we’ll close our eyes and start a journey where we’ll never part
And if we drive on long enough
To forget about the detours
That we have followed long enough
In order that we won’t meet
Those who’ve stolen our ever-cherished memories
And ever-hungry hearts
The ones we were so far from proud of
We will be lost in the dark.
I keep spinning in space
And I always land on Earth
Every time I lose myself,
You hold me and our feet stay on this Earth
We dance as we wait in the rain
For the Indians to settle in this prairie again
For those tormented slaves
To break free from their chains.
Up to Tuscon the road is straight
I’ll hold your hand as we do this
And in Vegas you close your eyes
Maybe here is where we’ll kiss
I’ve kept a gift for you in my pocket for so long
I’ve been waiting to give you a turtle dove
The Elvis impersonator who united us,
What does he know of love?
To me, this road is nothing new
It’s still so long – let’s continue
It’s centuries I’ve waited for you
Let’s go and sleep at Hollywood.”

Sadly, I don’t have the text of my very first attempt at translating this song any more, but I do remember being told that I had failed to understand the saucy sexual innuendo of “L’année où l’on s’aime à l’envers”. As “à l’envers” usually means “upside down” or “backwards” (or something like that, depending on the context) I must have originally translated that as something like, “We will love each other just like old times”. But no, apparently, according to my project manager (who was a man, by the way), this was an oblique reference to the sexual position which I will strictly do no more than mention the name of here: the 69. And that’s why I settled on writing “This fateful year is ’69 // And we will show our love that way.”

But that didn’t stop him from asking for a “more literal” (i.e. a non-rhyming) translation later on afterwards. I found that a bit sad personally but I wrote one (at no extra cost); this is also supplied here, and feel free to compare that with my original rhyming translation (with the original French version on hand, of course):

“For each one of us there’s at least
One woman in the universe
That we would marry straight away
A real poker wallflower
Mine has arrived in Katy, Texas
On the day that is Saints Day
This fateful year is ’69, and our love
Will indeed be shown in a new way
There will be a nice light, and noise in the yard
She will close our eyes as we ride together
And if we drive on long enough
And forget about the red herrings
Which we have been following for too long
And thus avoid meeting
Those who’ve stolen our ever-cherished memories
As we feel so heavy inside
The ones we were the last to be proud of
We will be blind and deaf.
I’m spinning in space
And I always land on Earth
Every time I lose myself,
You hold me and our feet stay on this Earth
We dance as we wait in the rain
For the Indians to settle in this prairie again
We wait for the slaves
To break free from their chains.
The road is straight on up to Tucson
I won’t let you go
Up to Vegas, you close your eyes
Maybe here is where we’ll kiss
I slide on your finger something that will keep us together
Which has been in my pocket for so long
The Elvis impersonator who united us,
What does he know of love?
The road is long, so let’s continue
I have been doing it for so long
It’s centuries I’ve waited for you
Let’s go and sleep at Hollywood.”
29th February 2016


“Western civilisation owes its civilisation to translators.” (Kelly Louis)

Really? No wonder I seem to find it so easy to delight in making a big thing of what I do for a living (certainly in my professional translator blogs, of which this is my latest)! Besides, when I’m not addressing my marketing campaigns, sending invoices or chasing debts, my work doesn’t really entail anything other than, in practice, receiving translation assignments online, writing a working version of them in another language and sending them back (possibly with the need to deal with customers’ subsequent feedback comments), so it’s probably easy to conclude that I would hardly have anything to write about; and yet I have written more than 125,000 words (yes, 125,000) of articles just like this dedicated to promoting myself for what I do. I might as well mention that I found this quote on this website: http://www.languagerealm.com/quotes/quotes2.php

But however you may respond to that, I am compelled to mention that I have travelled a lot in my life. I say this because it is well known that the more you travel, the more you get a sense and feeling for different peoples and different cultures; and different cultures are reflected in their local languages (which shouldn’t come as a surprise, really). If anything, this makes the importance of considering accuracy in translation work all the more significant. And, speaking as a professional translator, surely if anyone should be prepared to bear this in mind, it’s someone in my position! It’s just as well that I’ve been renowned as a highly talented linguist from an early age.

Oh yes, the times when I do assignments as a professional translator are definitely times when I am NOT there to express myself or “find myself” in my writing. It’s just not about me. And I don’t expect anyone to openly acknowledge that it was specifically me who wrote a given translation piece, much less guess that it was my own work (although it will be a very different story if I start doing a lot of official / sworn translations, of course. It would certainly be nice if I got qualified to do that by becoming a member of the IOL or the ITI or something). But whether or not it should be specifically said that that is too easy to say, the content just doesn’t matter, to anyone else or to me. Read on – you’ll see why.

That said, as enthusiastic and proud as I am about finding verbal solutions which work (and properly so) in the new language when I do translation work, in a sense, what I do is little more than the basic role of communicating, complete with consideration of prose register, cultural elements and the other related things that matter. And yes, of course I realise that I get called on to do it where someone else just can’t – ever ready to defy the limits of machine translation tools, of course (not to mention the foolish and spurious sense of security and comfort / ease related to their use). And that’s great – and I think I’ll mention here that there is a quote by Albert Einstein in which he said that we are all geniuses, to show I’m not too full of myself here. Go and Google it. I mean, nobody likes not being able to make themselves understood, and as far as I can see, none of us have any excuse for disputing that when we were all babies once.

And so one may be easily inclined to ask how I really “do” translation – even if there is a relatively good chance of them becoming bored as they listen to a detailed explanation of it. When people talk in everyday conversation, it’s common for them to make up a sentence as they go along i.e. saying it, hence the habit of randomly saying “like” all the time, like Valley girls do. I endeavour to avoid taking my chances doing anything like that when translating: wherever possible, in my writing of a translation product, I will make up all the words contained in the sentence that I am currently in the process of creating, whose equivalent I am currently dealing with in the original, before I start my final definitive writing of it. Although, in practice, it’s usually clause by clause, especially if individual clauses could exist as recognisable (if possibly odd-sounding) sentences by themselves. But I will still always be ready to review the whole sentence afterwards. I’m sure I could discuss how I do translation a lot more, but in the scope of this comment I’ll leave it at that (suffice to say that I’m still learning, even after all these years).

Unless you’re something like an unusually rebellious teenager possibly in need of psychiatric help, there’s a chance that you will get upset and irate at being misunderstood (which is way different from being “misunderstood”, as if I really needed to say that). And consider how serious the implications of that can be given how it’s so easy to underestimate how angry you are compared with how easy it is to underestimate how brave you are (if the latter can even exist). I’m guessing that it should be agreed that, in the worst case scenarios, it would amount to someone’s very spirit potentially ending up lost / gone, maybe forever. Or even slander – I mean, I am familiar with this notorious story: apparently the French actor Gérard Depardieu once witnessed a rape when he was a child, and someone made the mistake of essentially mistranslating “pendant son enfance, Gérard Depardieu a assisté à un viol” as “during his childhood, Gérard Depardieu assisted in a rape”. …Oops.

Hopefully the examples of work-related anecdotes (as seen in previous comments) below do a good job showing my commitment to accuracy in translation (again), but this time with a sense of moral responsibility reflected.

German original: “anerkannten Werkstaetten”
English translation: “recognised workshops” or “registered workshops”?
It’s a matter of confidence, but it’s also a matter of legitimacy, I’m guessing.

French original: “Le contrat a été bien exécuté”
English translation: “The contract was ‘well’ (i.e. professionally and diligently) executed or ‘fully’ executed, or both? If the truth is not so obvious to you – and even if it is – I would invite you to consider the consequences of possibly mistranslating it, getting it wrong – hence the idea of the moral side of the commitment to proper translation.
5th March 2016


In previous blogs I’ve gone on at length about how examination of the very way you think / introspection helps if you’re serious about being a good translator (which is what I do for a living, of course). And why not? Especially when one could, in my opinion, quite easily argue that we’re limited by what we don’t know – and at least as much by what we mistakenly think we do?

The thing is, ignorance and complacency can prove costly, and not just to the culprits. You see, however intelligent you may be in the “in a bubble” sense, it also pays to be properly acquainted with the world around you if you are serious about convincing people that you are a “good” translator. What is the real purpose of an education, anyway? Now, lots of people speak multiple languages these days, including the multitudes who speak more than me. Good for them, but if we all spoke the same language, that would never have been a possibility. Then again, it is said that “He who knows no foreign language, knows nothing of his own”. For a key part of optimal translation work is reaching out.

I imagine that a lot of people who claim to be fond of foreign languages simply because they like the idea of being able to talk in a different language – as I once was, come to think of it – would be amused by literal translations (the more nonsensical the better, in my case) like what follows here:

French: “Monsieur, vous êtes droit, et si les français pensent que nous allons donner en ils ont une autre pense venant. Votre sincèrement, …”
English original imagined by me: “Sir, you are right, and if the French think that we are going to give them any they have got another thing coming. Yours sincerely, …”

English: “Misters, I refer myself at your French letters and if you think that the French tongue is less important that the English, your put the finger in the eye up to the elbow! Agree, Misters, the expression of my feelings the most distinguished.”
French original imagined by me: “Messieurs, Je me réfère à vos lettres françaises et si vous pensez que la langue française est moins importante que l’anglaise, allez mettre le doigt en l’œil jusqu’au coude ! Agréez, messieurs, l’expression de mes sentiments les plus distingués.”

…But so what?

You know, throughout history people have risked dying for things, and maybe some have knowingly also risked becoming insane for something while wondering if there are some things that people can only understand while borderline insane or after they have had a touch of insanity. But if you are one of these people, what do you hope achieve by letting your emotions speak for you – even if they are one of the very things that make us human? To be too comfortable doing translation means to run the risk of writing translation text in the new language which is against your better judgement – even if you could “justify” it.

I am indeed a self-employed translator. And that’s all very well. And those who know this may wonder how I stand (or would stand) in the professional translation community (if one actually exists); certainly if they feel for the saying “it’s lonely at the top”. When I took the plunge and actually became a self-employed translator – something I should have done several months before I actually did do it, but that’s another subject – I never really intended to become or end up a part of any such community. But if I did, what of it? What would I be most known for, whatever my reputation? And how likely would it be that the truth of it could end up distorted over time? And would I be typecast in any way over time for my ideas and attitudes?

I’m going to mention that I am the person who invented the terms vorning and COTHED / COTHEA (Confirmation of the Definite / Abstract) when it comes to the field of translation. This is what “vorning” means: when someone advertises a translation project, people respond to it, and the person who advertises it then has those who express an interest in it “do a sample”, or rather, gives all the people who express an interest in doing the project a different part of it so as to trick them into doing the whole thing for free while they may never find out; I call that “vorning”. Meanwhile, I would define COTHED and COTHEA like this: when you write something COTHED, the content of the point in question is already demonstrated and that’s what you point out, while COTHEA is explaining something intangible, like pointing out a concept, with no example given. I think writing COTHEA stuff is harder for people with but simplistic and functional writing skills in any given language. In a job interview, inexperienced people are, in my experience, more confident about proving their COTHED claims than their COTHEA claims. A good example of a COTHEA claim in this regard might be good conversation skills, where they may be a strict requirement but the interviewer is unlikely to be especially sure of what a candidate will do or say to prove them if they really have got them. Basically, it’s anyone’s guess, rather than an underlying readiness to compare whatever’s coming with anything that’s essentially, in some sense, pre-defined or typical. Consider when you’re writing COTHED content in translation work and when what you’re writing is COTHEA content.

I’m not going to go out of my way to focus on the history that led to their invention just for this – sorry if I’ve disappointed anyone – but I swear that I thought of both of these. Was it worth it? I will make this point in support of the idea that it was: aiming to make sense of what you’re reading is not strictly speaking the same as looking for the truth in it. A case in point: in this video labelled “the world’s worst rap video”

what’s the guy talking about when he says “don’t try to understand me, girl” (3:03)? By all means try to find some reasoning why in the lyrics (much as I believe that this would be in vain and a waste of time).

So what’s my point? Well, as far as I see it, I believe that an interest in observational and social psychology, as well as cognitive psychology, can play a role in learning how to translate effectively and confidently. I recently saw Inside Out and found it an interesting possible starting point for looking at human psychology and how it inevitably impacts our lives and those of others (at least, we all know how fond children are of Disney films, aren’t we?). I like that film.

Speaking of psychology in translation – for my work as a professional translator this time – when you’re self-employed, especially if you “want more”, there’s a very good chance that you will soon end up afraid to be dismissive of anything, and quite possibly attribute a stigma to dismissive attitudes (the particulars will depend from person to person, of course). And with the long hours I work doing this job, I already feel that I have a love-hate relationship with it. Still, I would say that I am very articulate when I write, and ALWAYS mindful of writing intelligent translations which work while being on my guard against leaving anything to chance which I can’t and don’t expect anyone to point out for me. And this surely shows in the times when I just can’t help writing something in the translation language which, while correct and in perfect grammar and all, I feel in my heart sounds odd to read, and it leaves me afraid that the project manager who gave me the project, during proofreading of it, would suspect that I had had a machine translator do the work for me when this simply wasn’t the case. Here’s a couple of examples from a recent project which I just had to take note of at the time:

German original: “Da vorliegend nicht nur 15% p.a. vereinbart sind als Zinssatz – bereits diese würde daher zu einem auffälligen Missverhältnis führen – sondern zusätzlich 5%, die dazu rechnen sind, in das auffällige Missverhältnis, kann gar nicht strittig sein, dass ein Verstoß gegen § 138 BGB.”

English translation: “Given that, at the moment, the conspicuous disproportion recognizes an agreed interest rate of not only 15% p.a. – for this alone would result in a conspicuous disproportion – but also an additional 5% which must be taken into consideration, it cannot be disputed that a violation against § 138 BGB has taken place”.

German original: “Das sollte ursprünglich auch im Sinne der aeris verhindert warden, da dies die amerikanischen Finanzbehörden auf den Plan rufen kann.”

English translation: “Allegedly, this was, originally, also prevented by aeris, for aeris can involve the American financial authorities in the matter.”

Indeed, if you agree that an interest in psychology can play a role in learning how to translate effectively and confidently, I would say that it’s not wise to focus only on what might be termed responsive psychology. For example, cultural elements are meant to be understood in writing, really; especially if the language of the writing is the language that any given cultural elements were originally expressed in! And the fear of them ending up lost when they are to be expressed in another language might induce xenophobia, or is that just me? But, getting back to the topic at hand, depending on the circumstances I have to deal with in any given translation work, is it really a question of the questions I should be answering, or a question of the questions I should be asking? Anyone can write a sentence and later include an add-on which specifies / reveals more information about a given situation, which may be something as simple as an adjective or an adverb or a whole subordinate clause – but you see, in translation work, some of the most important information that should be recognised lies in these add-on bits (like modal particles in German). And while I believe that text proofreading exercises involves the exercise and development of key skills for improving one’s translation abilities, but that’s far from the sole most “important thing” as far as that is concerned. And I have a habit of proofreading my own work (as opposed to others’ work) anyway, so…

Good translations are efficient as well as correct, right? Given that I’m reluctant to leave clients guessing after I’ve done a translation job for them, maybe that’s where I learned to consider how likely it is that someone wants someone else to understand something without stating it directly; and it probably does overlap with the subconscious to a certain extent (talking of which, Joy and Bing Bong explore the girl’s subconscious in Inside Out, that film I mentioned earlier).

What is the most important thing you would say – not pending any conditions? How about me, you probably wonder. That’s a good question. But things are different when you’re reckoning with the confines and challenges of translation work (especially if it’s professional, most likely). Even so, is it unreasonable to fight for more choice with regard to what you write when you’re doing a translation of something? I do hope not! But, as self-confident as I am about what I do, I’m not interested in regaling other people with what I am able to write in translation “all by myself”… for a key part of optimal translation is reaching out.
14th March 2016


John Bird is the founder of the Big Issue, the well-known street newspaper which I have repeatedly seen homeless people selling in my local area. I don’t read it myself but I know enough that I am aware that it was founded in 1991, a time when the British economy was doing badly. Indeed, in his book “The 10 Keys To Success”http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Keys-Success-John-Bird… , John says that “it was not a good time to start anything, let alone something charity-based.” And yet it is now published in four continents and has a circulation of more than 100,000, according to Wikipedia. John Bird has definitely been a successful entrepreneur – like me, since I’ve been a self-employed translator for seven years and I too have clients all over the world.

But what really motivated me to write this comment was not so much the existence and legacy of the Big Issue as that of “The 10 Keys To Success”, mentioned above. Apparently, as a child, John was homeless at five and he committed several crimes, having had several prison sentences by the time he was in his late twenties. I’ve made mistakes in my life too, but it never got close to anything that bad. Needless to say, he’s come a long way since those days, and I guess that it was his life that encouraged him to write this motivational book. And I have read that.

One book-selling website says that his style is “inimitable as well as no-nonsense”. What is his book about? Basically, it says that if you want success, you can’t wait for it; you just have to grit your teeth and make it happen. But how he outlines it all, the lessons he teaches in this book… it’s just all completely true. The Evening Standard describes him as “a hero of our time”, and I’m not going to argue with that.

So yes, I agree that his style is inimitable as well as no-nonsense. What would people think my style is like, I wonder? Do you think that, when he decided to get himself out of his rut through his plan to become a printer and, eventually, produce the Big Issue, he ever imagined that it would develop into the success that it is today? I wonder how he would have imagined being ready for something like that? Was he content to “let the chips fall where they may” and respond in kind? Or did he knowingly dare to pursue more than that at some point? Whatever the truth of the matter is, I observe that he was only able to write this book at all because part of all the hard work and determination that the Big Issue required was that he really did do whatever was necessary to come to terms with the truth so that he could put it into his own words – something I do all the time in translation.

Yes, translation is what I do. Even today I go on and on about the intricacies of language as well as work with it. I believe that’s very evident in my past blogs, but I’ve got a couple of new things to say here as well:

I indeed understand that culture determines language. I can still remember how, as a teenager, I gave the word “fatal” an alternative meaning in that if something’s fatal, that means it’s a thousand times better than being cool, and has proven itself capable of changing someone’s life forever in a very big, definitely good way. I am aware that people use the word “epic” in pretty much exactly the same way in Youtube video comments and whatnot, but I invented this new meaning for the word “fatal” long before I first found that out. But, if you’re a woman and “fatal”, I wonder how the French would respond to that, considering what a “femme fatale” is?

When I do translation work, it’s all I can do to understand what might seem all but illogical or irrational to some people when I’m reading the source material. I recently imagined that it’s possible for someone to develop an irrational fear of magicians when they see a magician do illusion tricks which rely on deception of the audience to work (like Darcy Oake – he’s good), and then, on a subconscious level, they decide that such people would probably use such deception skills to take advantage of them and in that way abuse them. What do you think of that?
16th March 2016


Foreword: I remember how, in my last big blog, I talked about how I was “self-assured” in my job. But looking back, that’s just not enough…

You know, part of being self-employed is wanting to be taken seriously for what you do (although it depends largely on your aspirations and ambitions, I guess). How? You tell me. I didn’t specifically know what to do or where to explore from the start either. No-one told me, but then I couldn’t have expected it, could I? Of course, I’m hardly reluctant to make it clear why I want to be taken seriously for what I do, or how I can I expect to achieve this – you’ve only got to look at my blog record, which, by the way, now has way more than 130,000 words in it, and that’s not including the short ones that I pay my marketing team to put up. But I put them up for a purpose, and a big part of that is assurance in some way, shape or form… hence the language of assurance.

In a sense, “speaking a language” can and does amount to knowing “tricks of the trade”. And translation work certainly requires being able to “speak the language” well, so to speak. People who are good at what they do will surely delight in their skill at exploiting “tricks of the trade” – some of which could only be appreciated by outsiders if they were sharp, switched-on or cynical enough. Indeed, sometimes the question of the legitimacy of some of them can prove a controversial matter. The so-called gift of the silver tongue is by no means a million miles away from being competent in the so-called language of, say, hope. Or – since I’m feeling really bold right now – seduction. As a professional translator I place a particularly high priority / emphasis on being acquainted with the language of articulate expression, if it ever existed. But of course, in reality, being self-employed, I realise how occupied I am about speaking the language of assurance. I mean, even today, for all my talent and diligence, sometimes people whom I’ve done work for feel the need to get back to me to point out things i.e. things I have written that… bother them. Because it has failed to assure them in some way. And that makes me sad. It is capable of leaving me annoyed and concerned (and, in the worst scenarios, irate), of course, but sad all the same. Even though I’ve argued that translation is both a science and an art, I really don’t see how it’s possible to do anything to just make translation easier – the practice of translation is what it is, and won’t have changed much if at all over thousands of years (although, of course, details of the actual practices used may be shaped by the actual content of the language translated from and the structures and vocabulary of the language translated into) – and I would say that there can’t be many occupations which require a person to “get with communication content” “in the right way” where this should be emphasised as much as it should be to professional translators like myself. This applies to both direct communication and indirect communication, including the realm of how it could end up confusing as if it were tacitly intended as such, such as devices like irony and double entendres, if that makes sense. Maybe the easiest way to define it as is all things that one is / can be mindful of when it comes to language. But the thing is, I do care for assuring those I do work for that they are free / have every right to put their disputes with my work in their own words (as if I needed any more reminding that I should be prepared to “get with communication content” “in the right way” if I should be taken seriously as a professional translator). Speaking as someone who’s self-employed, it’s just basic sincere cooperation. And “high thoughts must have high language” (Aristophanes).

Consider this part of a translator registration form for a translation agency whose name I have concealed [refer to image]. The bit I have circled didn’t seem like a good idea as something to include when you consider what that suggests about them! I mean, don’t we all agree that, however good machine translation tools may get, there’s just no substitute for human translators? Meanwhile, interprelate.com says, “There’s no such thing as foreign”, whatever that’s supposed to mean. Basically, I’m confident that what I have written here suggests that I really am as good a professional translator as I claim to be – and I’m going for gold here. All with the help of the language of assurance, of course. Since I went self-employed I have noticed a surge in how willing I am to stand out for certain things about me, but strictly on an in itself basis and not vis-à-vis others. It seems sensible to suggest that you can tell more about yourself than anyone else, but it pays to ask: on what basis can you tell the most about someone else? Myself, I think it’s what they think people are not as smart as they think they are, and people who are smarter than they realise, would agree about them. What do you think?

When I was young, I used to love the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the old cartoon series), and on Wikipedia you can get fairly lengthy character descriptions for all the main characters which just make perfect sense – I just never would have put their character descriptions in such terms back then, for the simple reason that I couldn’t. Being able to put it in such terms would have just plain eluded me back then; I didn’t have that kind of kind of vocabulary / command of language back then. But would the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles be the same if not for, say, the “bad boy” demeanour of Raphael or the comic relief provided by Michaelangelo? If I wrote my own Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles story, would the characters in it necessarily strictly be the same as those in the cartoon series I know, or is it more likely that I would be guilty of hijacking their image rights? I’m guessing that we all have things that we don’t remember as well as we wish we did, but for me the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is very much not such a thing (well, these characters were created by adults, before you start ridiculing me). But, hopefully this can be understood as a parallel of my own actual commitment to proper representation of messages and understanding thereof when I do translation work.

I’ve said it already, but I’ll say it again: I am a translator. And as a translator – an enthusiastic one – I’m basically fond of describing and verbally accounting for things in general without comprehension of it hinging on “knowledge” of what related stuff seems to be (which would effectively negate the language of assurance); and I would say that the language of assurance and my own competence in it is always good for backing claims that I’m very articulate and all that. And who’s going to dispute that a high level of articulateness is essential for being a good translator? And I’m not afraid to state that people proofread my translation work all the time – certainly all or most of the numerous translation agencies I have done work for – and that doesn’t surprise me at all. In fact, good for them, for being responsible. For people who read something they know to be a translation, are always keen to read the language of assurance bits of it (subconsciously). Surely the language of assurance ALWAYS promotes confidence.

While we’re on that subject: time for some work-related anecdotes from my work as a professional translator, which should help to paint a picture of me as a professional translator (just as I have done in previous blog comments):

In one recent French-to-English job I translated “pas de pile ni de batterie” as “no battery of any kind” – I was proud of myself for coming up with that apt solution.

I also translated French “L’utilisation d’une base de données permet à plusieurs utilisateurs de facilement consulter les données simultanément” as “Use of the database allows many users to consult data easily, simultaneously” in English. Is it OK to split infinitives here i.e. would “to easily and simultaneously consult data” have been better?

And is French “Vérifier qu’aucun défaut n’est signalé” really the same as “Check that no fault notification appears” in English?

When I saw “Brandverhalten” in a German technical contract I was translating recently, my first thought was “DON’T translate this literally i.e. ‘fire behaviour’ ”, so I decided on “fire safety conduct”, which is a sound suggestion, right? But then – like, almost straight away afterwards – I imagined a proofreader changing this to “fire procedures”, which struck me as even better, so I went with that instead.

Unusual expressions can still be easily remembered (probably for their apparent sentimental value more than anything else). But the language of assurance is a cut above the language of logic – the latter being language which only does its job in logical terms.

But there are two more things I want to bring up here which suggest concepts that are worth bearing in mind when you do translation. I include them because I think it will ASSURE you of things in general as far as understanding of doing translation, what I do, properly is concerned.

Number one: if I did a translation, how different would it be if I did it again (presumably with some sort of differing result) vs. if somebody else did it?

Number two: have you ever heard people say “it’s obvious” and all you can think is “how?” In Lord of War, the Nicolas Cage film, there’s a bit where Yuri’s dad asks him “Is this how you want to be remembered?” even though we all know, as does he, that he doesn’t know exactly what he’s talking about by the word “this” in that sentence. But he’s suspicious, for the right reasons, when he says to Yuri, “I don’t think you’re going there to sell Pepsi Cola”. But anyone’s who’s watched the film certainly knows why: the reason Yuri’s so rich is that he’s an arms dealer, and how willing is he going to be to be open about something like that!? It’s the same in the Kingsman Secret Service film, where Galahad says to Eggsy that he’s humiliated him by stealing his boss’ car. Of course Galahad had nothing to with it, but it’s a matter of having enough wits about you to remember that it was Galahad who chose Eggsy in the first place.

Basically, the language of assurance has cultural value which shouldn’t be underestimated. In translation, knowing it is, in my opinion, a far greater badge of honour than writing something possibly awkward-sounding however well it reflects the content of the original and “in the right way.” Of course, there’s no language of assurance to be found in, say, the French version of “I should of” (“Je de dû”, which I invented), but I just want to reiterate that people in my position are supposed to be the first to be able to translate things with ALL the relevant and proper points and hints implied.
2nd April 2016


Admittedly, “Taking on the so-called ‘non-normal’ challenges of translation” is a vague-sounding label for a concept, and no less vague-sounding as a title for a professional translation blog, such as this is supposed to be. I thought of defining it as “reckoning with possibilities of reality with no precedent” – in other words, not just “the likes of which you’ve never seen before, but which hardly anyone, if anyone, has ever seen before”. But then, I can believe that most people eventually come to realise – or, indeed, remember – that not all claims about things, and not even all impressions about things (even if they stem wholly from direct memories about them) are rooted in an appreciation of what is real – it’s only a matter of when. If I were wrong about that in the real world, I would be very confident that it would leave me disturbed.

You know, I recently saw the trailer for the new Jason Bourne movie, in which Matt Damon says “I remember everything now”, but then there’s a bit where one female character says to him, “Just because you remember everything doesn’t mean you know everything.” In my book, no wiser words have ever been spoken. Living a lifetime ashamed and afraid of your memories through no fault of your own is a fate I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. And it would appear that the translator who is hungry for more status and power will, inevitably, always be yearning to realise self-validating facts if it helps to produce translation work which is correct and reliable and can be trusted no matter what. These are facts which, ironically, have nothing to do with sensitivities or cultural priorities as such i.e. even though aspects of language (in its standard form) are most often born not of the individual but of the consensus of society. After all, “real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance” (Confucius). If you’re going to get afraid of and / or angry at anything, let it be your ignorance – my own ignorance would certainly only harm my business prospects.

Now, some people can do brilliant and usually instantly appealing things as masterfully and confidently as anyone who was born in the United Kingdom, like me, can speak English (much as I appreciate that we simply won’t speak exactly the same). A gymnast can do backflips, for example – imagine being the first person to accomplish that! A master chef may know gourmet recipes off by heart, and associate a certain kind of personal prestige with it. But it could quite easily also be something categorised as everyday “boring” standard stuff; it could quite easily be something that’s NOT normally only done “for show”, certainly if it’s a habitual thing practiced in one’s everyday life. And yet we never know exactly when or how we will next need to rely on our English language skills (with actual hope and faith) when it’s difficult to believe that anything could work as a substitute for them. Myself, I can undoubtedly speak good French and German as well as English, but even today, for all my prowess and history in it… all my skills in these languages, however fertile it may be as a conversation subject, are just not something I can always take for granted. Indeed, just because I can speak French and German well doesn’t mean I’m going to claim that I know “most” words in these languages. I’m not even going to claim that I know “most” words in my mother tongue, English. It was Derek Walcott, the Caribbean poet, playwright, writer and visual artist, who said “The English language is nobody’s special property. It is the property of the imagination: it is the property of the language itself.”

Language indeed changes and is seldom uniform for everyone. How nice that I learned of this Thought for the Day article from BBC Radio Fourhttp://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03qpryb

At the end of the day, it’s good to identify things. I do mean real “identifying things” i.e. as / for what they are, and not just what they’re not. It makes you feel smart. Especially when they don’t actually exist yet (in practice). In a way, it doesn’t just help you to learn; it’s a part of growing up. And even though becoming a self-employed translator was the best decision I made in my life – and I subsequently am very much in touch with who I really am and live a relatively satisfying life which reflects it – sometimes it’s still easier for me to talk about who I “should” be rather than who I really am, which, in all candour, really is capable of leaving me unsettled and intimidated.

But about translation, my job and living. When I’m undertaking translation assignments: my work is full of challenges when it comes to producing a proper and working translation from what I’m reading in the original. When I say “challenges”, most of the time they’re things that would definitely be accepted as challenges by people who don’t have the language talent I do even if it’s a “challenge” that I can overcome pretty easily as long as I apply the right kind of thinking – sometimes it’s “typical fare” thinking, sometimes not.

But one may wonder how anyone whose mother tongue is not English would translate something like barely comprehensible chav-speak, like this:

“oi init bruvv, got my 4 by 4 ravers and bass line skankers init sket. we goin to blow this place out wicked blud. ahhh mate thats well dog has it bluddd oi lets sketchit yo ay and hit the legs this is well waffle munter bruv.”

…into their own language while retaining the would-be authenticity of it, or with the application of any linguistic devices that utilise aspects of an idiolect which everyone just knows is not spoken by everyone, but rather people who knowingly classify themselves as separate from the norm of the average person in society at large in some way as a result of what they do or think (whether they admit – or believe – it or not). With non-normal challenges like this in translation work, aren’t you just originally overwhelmed and not knowing what to think other than how confusing it is, only to think: just what in God’s name could be the story behind anything like this?

If we’re going to look at ideas for tackling this sort of thing: starting by trying to categorise anything and quite possibly everything in any commonly known existing way won’t help. Think about it. And while we can all explore our own inner world fully without delay or hindrance at any time, deep down we usually know what to expect; but we don’t usually believe that we could find it easy to explain the abnormal properly even if we were everything we wanted to be and probably more. It may frighten us… but in translation, words are words. But however much you may think I think of translation as a game, it’s not all entirely fun and joy, as if I really needed to point that out.

Oh yes, we are inclined to avoid abnormal things which have no place in our mentality or mindset as we know it. (By the way: Google defines “abnormal” as “deviating from what is normal or usual, typically in a way that is undesirable or worrying.”.) And that’s perfectly understandable. After all, it tends to trigger psychological upheaval from the subconscious until we’re simply not the same person. Look at paedophilia. I could not explain why some people are sexually attracted to children, but then again, how could we hope to coax anyone into admitting that they were if they were, for reasons best known to themselves (or maybe they don’t know the reasons, which would only make the matter – and I use this word with great trepidation – engrossing)? I know, I know; it’s abnormal – and evil – behaviour, of course it is. That said, mind, I do agree that sex is sometimes used as an instrument of domination; but it’s not like I am not concerned about what people will think about me if I simply came across as too eager (in a morbid sense) to discuss something so… well, wrong, disturbing and criminal here. But, for the sake of showing that I have a modicum of sensitivity (and responsibility) and don’t want to trivialise anything, I do accept that inappropriate sexual contact with a child is a choice – in all likeliness a choice characterised by some kind of warped enthusiasm for something which has been tacitly (and certainly shamefully) mislabeled as something to be encouraged or rewarded rather than discouraged and denounced – who’s to say whether these reasons lie more with the rapist or with the child (in the paedophile’s mind) in any individual case. One thing that really doesn’t help alleviate the emotional temperature that is, inevitably, universally recognised with the subject, is that today’s teenagers are more sexualised than ever, and I’m sure today’s paedophiles have noted that very well. But, supposing I wasn’t the person I am today, and actually did – surely for reasons which really should be in violation of my better judgement – have such askew inclinations which most people simply couldn’t bring themselves to discuss… I know I WOULD know better than to actually “make a move on”, say, a ten-year-old girl who’s fond of experimenting with make-up (hello, psychiatrists and police. Please, don’t worry. I solemnly swear that I do know better, and like everyone else, there are some lines I will NEVER cross, no matter what.). It’s simply not something that one will openly relish or celebrate under any circumstances; not least because, at some level, she’s actually being encouraged to play the role of a silent victim, do you know what I mean? There wouldn’t be any kind of consent on her part revolving around anything which would be any more likely to reinforce a sense of well-being than to undermine it – I mean, having someone believe that they “should be” something as part of the pursuit of something that is morally wrong is one thing, but having them believe that they “are” something as part of something morally wrong is a lot more detrimental and nauseating, because it’s more insidious i.e. once they start to buy into otherwise unstated lies. And probably end up a pawn which sustains an agenda that is morally wrong, of course. Personally, without anyone getting upset, I think that that’s very likely to induce insanity, certainly among the more naïve. Like I said earlier, living a lifetime ashamed and afraid of your memories through no fault of your own is a fate I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. But, to a paedophile, would that even factor into the equation if they were more concerned with, say, defying the constraints which exist as a result of conscience as they proceeded to rape a child and / or use him or her in a porn film and probably make money off of it on the dark web? And for what!? No-one should be prepared to try something like that for hormonal highs or discovering new sources of ego-driven wry pleasure, do you know what I mean? Anyway, just as paedophiles try to work with things which have purely imagined characteristics and merits in the pursuit of sub-human pleasure, when I’m translating, I do have my limits which I can be reluctant to acknowledge, let alone discuss, when it comes to dealing with text in the original with elements that are non-existent or just rooted in something that is, for lack of a better word, improper – maybe they are there entirely because of my own imagination – and usually simply aren’t “meant to” “be there” either.

Now, as someone who translates for a living, I regard myself as someone expected to defy the limits of reason related to words used in verbal communication (who else would? Or could?). I don’t like the idea of being stuck in any kind of habit where pretty much everything I say about something is things that it’s too easy for me to say – even if it’s true – after a while it starts to sound less authentic (not to mention the fact that doing it too much would suggest something negative – if, most likely, indefinite – about me). And my job is essentially one of writing texts which I know people will rely on wholly – texts for their benefit and not mine. In one recent German-to-English translation project I nearly translated “Geschäftszahl” as “business number”, which is hardly a stupid idea (depending on the context of course), but at the end of the day I went with “reference number.” Now “reference number” isn’t really jargon but I did get to thinking that this was worth treating as a case of (successful) use of correct terminology rather than just a matter of preferred / standardised choice because one person said so.

But I have become especially averse to / on my guard against misinterpretations and false ideas in communication in general. Just because there’s such a thing as “waking up” doesn’t mean that there’s such a thing as “waking down”. But I want to impart an actual example from my own life. There have been times when I have accepted a translation project with what I at the time called an “irrevocable” deadline, meaning that the deadline could not be extended under any circumstances – this was pointed out to me at the start, before I accepted the project. But suppose I mentioned to someone that a deadline for a given translation project was “irrevocable” and, not knowing what “irrevocable” meant, they asked me what I meant and I explained to them that it meant that the deadline could not be extended; would they end up thinking that the word “irrevocable” quite simply has the definition: “something that cannot be extended”? Because that is not a completely accurate definition of the word.

To admit that “you’re done” with something can be interpreted as an open admission that you have fully given up trying to come to terms with it, and in the worst case scenario would start to develop early feelings of personal helplessness, and quite possibly impatience / annoyance with those who insisted that you do so anyway (although whether or not you would rather dismiss it from your life entirely is another subject). Such is the importance of an open mind, if I’m not mistaken.

How used are you to handling moments of madness? Someone should ask Katie Melua that – she has a song called “A Moment Of Madness”, doesn’t she? Anyway, at the very least, like most people, I aim to continue to act normal (or should that be “normally”?) on principle, for the greater good – I certainly wouldn’t want to know that it’s not the damning truth that I mostly try to achieve this “somehow”. But who’s going to argue that sustaining patterns of normal reasoning was and always will be a part of managing this successfully (and not just when in professional translation work)?

YO! I’M A GANGSTA RAPPER FROM THE SHAOLIN TEMPLE! SUP, HOMIE? CHECK DIS, YO! DRAGON FIST! YAH! YAH! HIIYAAAHHHH! FO’ SHEEZY! AND PEEP DIS, CUZ I CAN DO A KICKFLIP ON A SK8BOARD STR8 IN2 A SMITH GRIND WHILE PLAYING A GUITAR, YO! CUE ELECTRIC GUITAR RIFFS. No, not really, of course I’m not, and of course I can’t. Whoever heard of a gangsta rapper at the Shaolin temple, practicing kung fu moves in an incense-scented room, anyway? Or a Shaolin monk ballin’ it on da streetz rappin’ like a badass mofo as he skins up a bifta? Or a gangsta rapper or a Shaolin monk doing a 900 on a skateboard in a halfpipe like Tony Hawk etc. etc. (ROFLMAO) No, enough with this nonsense; I’m George Trail, and I’m a very ambitious professional translator. And I claim to be as sane as anyone I’ve ever known. Having said that, as a “good man”, I’m a man of virtue and faith, with keener good intentions. And as such a person, I may be the first to realise that an insane thought about something is pretty much inevitably – in practical terms at least – accepted as better than no thought about it at all (even if it isn’t), even and perhaps especially if you can put it into terms of your own (I think of the lyrics “Got to think about something to keep from going mad” from the No Doubt song In My Head). And I know I have to keep putting things into terms of my own (both literally and figuratively) when I deal with problems in translation however bizarre they may seem – what follows is a few more work-related anecdotes (see earlier comments) which, I hope, will exemplify this:

French to English
French original: “Je trouvais que ce mode de financement collait avec l’image de l’entreprise”
English translation: “I found that this method of financing went well with the image of the business”.
I chose “business” rather than “company” at the end. Well, it was Skinoo, the company that makes that product for breast-feeding mothers.

French to English
French original: “Ci dessous, vous trouverez ce que Christophe a à dire sur son histoire”
English translation: “Below you will find what Christophe has to say about his story”
I went with “story” at the end, even though I had thought of saying (implying) “the history of the establishment of his company” (and not his history in a more general, vague sense)

French to English
French original: “Je ne me souviens pas nécessairement de grosses erreurs lors de ma campagne”
English translation: “I don’t strictly recall any substantial mistakes made during my campaign”
I went with “recall” rather than “remember”, which was my first inclination.

And that’s what I do. While I don’t see myself as any kind of amazing hardcore guitar-playing skateboard-riding kung fu rapper any time soon (wouldn’t that be great? But never mind LOL), I continue to wonder; I continue to act; I carry on…
30th April 2016


“Words only connect where our wavelengths fully match.” (Max Frisch)

I was encouraged to write this comment as I was writing and editing the words of my last comment. Now, just because I’ve been a professional translator for like 7 1/2 years now, and, quite frankly, simply regard myself as “better” at translating than more than 9 out of 10 people in this world, doesn’t mean I never marvel at the translation solutions provided by others. And this would include people who don’t have translation experience on par with mine, just for future reference. Let’s not forget that Einstein said that it is imagination that is the source of real genius. I suggest considering that, sometimes, the product of imagination is better than the real thing – well, I once read that knowledge can be a dangerous thing in the hands of the ignorant.

As I write this, I continue to like the idea of achieving the status of best translator in the world as much as ever. But I can’t be the only one who’s ever thought that translation competence and potential is limited not just by lack of understanding of words and language as applied but by ignorance in a more general sense – ignorance of content and ignorance of existing situations, circumstances and consensuses in a larger forum; a forum bigger than the individual. Have you heard of the expression “edge of reality”? It’s the name of Darcy Oake’s tour in which he seems to take the art of illusion to the limit, and it’s a very good, fitting name if you ask me. And he is very good at what he does. But studying the art of translation and acquiring (and maintaining) proficiency in it, and doing it at the highest standard, asks one to actually journey to the edge of reality – and non-reality – if you ask me. I cannot overstate how liberating it is to transcend understanding and reality of the de facto kind – but then, there’s adept enforcement of pure and absolute understanding (based on acquaintance with otherwise always undefined reality) with manifestation of the application of one’s own common sense. This is what separates a great translator from a good translator. After all, reality, understanding and common sense begin and end in the mind… even if it’s not that strong.

I think that the best way that I can illustrate this is as follows: it is a sensible suggestion that, when people translate, they don’t always care to depict in their own minds (consciously) any sort of visual representation of what is essentially implied by the words that are to be translated and / or any sort of visual representation of what is essentially implied by the words in the translation version that they are writing, as if to show that they live in hope of finding something in it to confirm that they are right i.e. it’s something to confirm that their translation is an accurate one. But you hardly need a degree in foreign languages or translation to translate simple content, examples of this being what you can expect to read in children’s story books or in tourist information leaflets. This is an example of a piece of simple writing with very straightforward content, specifically with nothing potentially misleading or clever literary devices in it or anything like that:

“The baths have been modified on several occasions, including the 12th century when John of Tours built a curative bath over the King’s Spring reservoir and the 16th century when the city corporation built a new bath (Queen’s Bath) to the south of the Spring.” (taken from the Wikipedia article on the Roman Baths in Bath, Somerset, England; first sentence in the second paragraph under “Museum” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_Baths_(Bath) )

Now it’s easy enough for anyone to take that sentence and switch nouns around (and yes, I know this is going to sound peculiar and nonsensical, but bear with me):

“The Kings have been modified on several baths, including the 12th bath when John of Tours built a curative corporation over the Reservoir’s occasion spring and the 16th spring when the city bath built a new century (bath’s century) to the south of the Queen.”

Or you can do it with verbs:

“The baths have been built on several occasions, building the 12th century when John of Tours modified a curative bath over the King’s Spring reservoir and the 16th century when the city corporation included a new bath (Queen’s Bath) to the south of the Spring.”

Daft and nonsensical it may be, but any French person who speaks good English, and any English person who speaks good French, should be confident about being able to translate these altered sentences into French “correctly” if only by the logic of the rules of the language of French (as an example).

And that’s why I am willing to address the question of whether defying existing boundaries of common sense – defying the supposed constraints that it imposes (which may or may not be imaginary) – helps one to be a better translator, for the sake of all humanity, assuming I know what I’m talking about. We all know that there is no confidence in translation without confidence in… just some notion that makes sense, always backed up by logic. Now, there is a well-known existing bad English translation of a mailshot originally written in Spanish, one very long sentence (not that it can really be called that) which reads like this:

“Half statement of press publishes and distributes free sectors publications of the most representative Spanish industry in order to collaborating exporter of the products and manufactured of happiness in the expansion companies, for the one which we have considered you could be of their interest know to the the detail the reference of the fabric industrial Spaniard, of the that they are facilitated the reasons social, complete adresses and description of the productive activity for medium from journalistic reports.”

What IS this actually supposed to mean? I will see if I can gain some insight as I apply the following translation experiment. Now, I don’t speak Spanish, so I couldn’t even begin to arrive at conclusions about what the text in the original Spanish version was or might have been, prior to writing a proper translation of it. What makes things even more awkward is that this English version is not even grammatical. So I decided to put this English text into a machine translator, to translate it into French, wondering if I could write a convincing English translation of that which would be enough to demystify the content of this English text. It would have been a different story if I had access to the original Spanish version; I would have used that instead. And the only reason I’m using a machine translator here is that this English text is not grammatical; maybe what it “translates” it as (well or badly) will give me some ideas. Anyway, here is the automated French translation of this bad English text:

“Demi déclaration de la presse publie et distribue des secteurs libres publications de l’industrie espagnole la plus représentative afin de collaborer exportateur des produits et fabriqués de bonheur dans les entreprises d’expansion, pour celui que nous avons considéré que vous pourriez être de leur intérêt connaître la la détail la référence de l’Espagnol de tissus industriels, de l’qu’ils sont facilitées les raisons, les adresses et la description de l’activité productive pour les moyennes des rapports journalistiques complets sociaux.”

What I’m going to do now is translate into English this French version word by word, NOT using a machine translator (as in the faux English-to-French translation of “I want to leave school”: “Je veux à sortir école”, which any French person will tell you is not proper French, and does not make sense, even if all the individual words are).

“Half declaration of the press publishes and distributes sectors free publications of the industry Spanish the most representative in order to collaborate exporter of the products and manufactured of happiness in the companies of expansion, for that which we have considered that you could be of their interest know the the detail the reference of the Spanish of tissues industrial, of the that they are facilitated the reasons, the addresses and the description of the activity productive for the averages of the reports journalistic complete social.”

To start off, let’s tidy this up a bit, so that it’s a bit easier to follow even if we might not really expect the final product to reflect the intended message (I thought it best to replace a few expressions – I am aware that “tissu”, for example, can mean “tissue” or it can mean “fabric” or “material”, and “material” is quite far from “tissue” as a general concept):

“50% of the declarations of the press publish and distribute free sector publications of the most greatly represented Spanish industry areas in order to promote collaboration of exporters of happiness-causing products and goods in the expansion companies, regarding the one which we have considered that you could be of their interest pending knowledge of the details of the reference of the fabric industry Spaniard, whereas they are facilitated for company-related reasons, along with complete addresses and descriptions of productive activity for media (i.e. taken from journalistic reports).”

Or maybe the “medium” is supposed to signify like “on average” / “typically” and has nothing to do with media simply because it’s next to “journalistic reports”? It was a taxing task at points, as you have probably guessed, and sometimes I felt like I had to, in theory at least, do what I could to “get in touch with” and invoke a sense and cleverness that someone other than me would have had in a case like this even if it felt like it would go against / impede my own – “miraculously”, of course, like through prayer – in order to write a comprehensible version of this piece of utter gobbledygook as a demonstration of how good I am at translation. Of course it’s nonsense, but clever nonsense exists. Look at some of the things that Michel Lauzière has done (e.g. that horn suit, and when he plays music by going past loads of glass bottles in succession which are filled with varying levels of liquid while wearing roller skates with little firm cords sticking out the side of them). Then you get stuff like backmasking on Youtube, brought to us by everyday people who otherwise would not be known by many people throughout the world, which brings a lot of amusement time and time again. And it’s true in translation, as well; for example: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I invented “Je de dû” as the French translation – or rather, equivalent – of “I should of”, while “neppas” is the French version of “innit” in English. Now let’s try a better translation (which, to a certain extent, is but a rewriting where this approach was deemed more convenient) of this; one which is actually supposed to be authoritative in some way:

“Half of what is said in the press includes the publication and distribution of free sector publications of the greatest-represented Spanish industry domains, which seeks to promote and enhance collaboration of exporters of pleasing products and manufactured goods in expanding companies; if you will bear in mind the one which we have considered could have an interest in you subject to knowledge of details of reference information of Spaniard fabrics / material industry figures, in light of the fact that they have facilitated company aims; not to forget complete addresses and descriptions of production activity for the media (taken from journalistic reports).”

Ideally this would be a successful case of being “found in translation”, if that makes sense.

Now, I think it would be premature of me to label myself as anything like a Master of Understanding or a Master of Reality at this point. But recognised standardised methodical and logical approaches can only be so helpful when you’re doing translation work. But I’m sure that the better I become at not always taking exclusively the words in front of me as my starting point, the more likely I am to get there. At this stage, I at least know that there are very evident reasons to back up my claim that I am articulate enough to be a translator worth the name – and this does include awareness of things like non sequiturs, metaphors and allegories.

When did YOU, in your efforts to master something, last find yourself saying “I have no idea what I’m talking about here… yet”?
1st May 2016


As a professional translator who wants to go far in the industry, I cannot over-emphasise how much I care about taking the risk out of translation wherever possible.

I admit it: I don’t always know exactly what to do (at the start, anyway) to find the best way to write a good translation of any given sentence. Still, I do know that the need for independent thought never dies – but then I have the good sense to realise that it never really does; not just in translation, but in anything. (And isn’t it usually relished anyway?) Even so, in my work, there are occasions where I am just forced to take risks, whether I like it or not – in the worst case scenarios, the best I can do is highlight what I’ve written in a comment which states “please verify” i.e. please verify this attempted appropriation compared to the corresponding place in the original. And if I do make a bad decision and actually write something that deserves to be defined as stupid… well, I don’t think I have the option of not accepting responsibility for it. It’s always a good sign if you can identify independently the very reason why you made a bad choice in anything, whether you deserve to be berated for it in some way or not. In the case of translation, this most likely means being in touch with the very way you think, and your mindset and attitudes in and to things in general, on a whole new level. (You know, there is a song called “Over-conscious” – the first time I learned of it, it was on the Alex Parks CD called “Introduction”.) That said, it’s not always easy to shun the tendencies of your mind – certainly if you are a proud and confident person for the right reasons. Whether or not you consciously think as much doesn’t really change anything. But I stopped having imaginary friends when I realised that they agree with everything I say (LOL).

Now, everyone knows that translation is not just about replacing words with words – indeed, a translation of a message is by no means likely to be proper or “real” if it’s not put into the right context through careful choice of words. It was Arle Richard Lommel who said, “Machine translation will displace only those humans who translate like machines.” However good machine translation tools get, I agree with him!

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that it’s unwise to look at the subject of translation – and translation-related judgement, for that matter – always in a “typical” way. I can still remember one translation project I did years ago where what I translated was a letter from French to English, which ended “Agréez l’expression de mes sentiments les plus distingués”. Now, “Agree the expression of my feelings the most distinguished” would definitely have been too literal a translation, and there’s no way I wrote that. But, if we’re talking about viewing translation in a strictly “typical” way, we might write a revision of that as something like “Agree the most distinguished expression of my feelings”, but that doesn’t really work either. In “typical” attempts to write revisions of it which are progressively less literal-sounding and awkward, we may say e.g. “Acknowledge the most distinguished expression of my feelings”, followed by “Please acknowledge the most sincere expression of my feelings” etc. etc. …all while overlooking the fact that letters written in English do not usually end anything like this, but rather something like “Yours sincerely” or “Yours faithfully” on its own in a new paragraph, just before the signature of the sender.

I once saw this advert of two simultaneous messages discouraging the use of a mobile phone while driving (this is now illegal in Britain). Basically, it was one line of the first message written in red, then one line of the second message written in blue, then another line of the first message written in red, then another line of the second message written in blue, and so on. You can only read one thing at once, right? I agree – just because the messages were written in different colours didn’t make things any easier. But translation can be like trying to read two things at once. You just want to be sure that what you’re writing is as correct as you’ve been led to believe by… well, something. Something in your mind. Or, consider jokes which are supposed to originally plant one idea in your head to “mislead” you, before you’re then left to realise that it’s something else that’s being talked about, at the end. It’s a common format in the jokes you hear in “Scenes We’d Like To See” in Mock The Week, for example.

Now, as a professional translator, I’m as concerned with the truth in my work as any judge presiding over a legal case (both establishing it and sustaining it through carefully considered actions). At the end of the day, you just have to know how to show the truth in a reliable and credible way, unfalteringly.

When we agree that something has “gone to someone’s head”, as the saying goes, we usually immediately start to prepare for a rough ride in connection with it and might be afraid as we consider the possible results of the situation. If we see someone behaving erratically, and agree that they have “lost it”, it usually triggers feelings of discomfort and alarm. Just for a moment, bear with me as I state a couple of lines of rather erratic nonsense:

“I’ve shown a considerably greater interest in Madonna these days ever since I learned that she was allergic to peanuts, because for years I thought that the printing press was invented by the Indians, not the Chinese.”

Now, of course that’s nonsense by anyone’s standards, but there’s no reason to label it as something which is capable of causing a disturbance. There’s nothing in it capable of misleading or obfuscating any kind of truth. And I’m sure I wouldn’t have to worry about being hunted down for saying it if I didn’t live in a free country.

But that doesn’t mean that there’s never any reason to care about something which clearly isn’t true (or even existent at all) even if it initially seems to violate the ways of sense. (I’m sure psychiatrists will understand and agree.) In this animated song video

we see a man who clearly has a problem with donkeys which is just, well, demented; although I guess that no-one should take it seriously really, on the basis of the argument that it’s nothing but a piece of comical nonsense. Still, thank God it’s just all made up. But I personally do wonder what he would think if he saw a donkey, say, killing someone with malice aforethought. Would he really feel confirmation / validation at what he (supposedly) thought, or would it more likely be terrorised surprise? And just how would he feel about himself? Anyway, the thing is, I do my best to consider that someone I do a translation for may not be quite right in the head in their assessment of it – no offence. All I’m saying is that judgement and forethought are everything in a lot of jobs, and translation is certainly one of them. I suppose it could be said that they are “anything” in translation. Being “clever” is just the tip of the iceberg, but then I would say that because professional translators will always be the first to be recruited to translate difficult material and I’m a professional translator. Apparitions born of one’s own mind (and indisputably nothing else; and whether they are surreal or actually somewhat realistic) simply must never be allowed to have a greater presence than appreciation (or simply consideration) of what is actually there, and what the truth actually is.

But you see, nothing – NOTHING – can pass as a substitute for one’s own mind when it comes to translation work. And if you think that everything I’ve been saying here sounds a bit absurd in its own right (certainly the donkey video bit), then maybe – just maybe – the shocking truth is that taking a risk of becoming a bit insane can actually be an essential prelude to learning, or learning how to realise, something of fundamental importance; however long it may take you to put it into your own words – this coming from someone who makes a living putting things into his own words while fully expecting it to be judged by others, and in a way which does not necessarily make sense in real terms. And if it does make sense, it’s a question of how (and when) I will actually understand the reasoning behind it. Maybe I would indeed be kidding myself if I ever suggested that I would always know what to do if listening – proper listening – weren’t enough when it came to writing a translation of something guaranteed to be passable. Whether or not I could actually acquire an ability to find out what in any given scenario, I can at least see that the status of my way of thinking is in no “official” way any “higher” than that of anyone else.

I just think it’s good that I continue to be successful in my job, and that I’m hardly ever starved of translation assignments, which are, of course, my lifeblood. Ultimately, it would seem like me taking the risk out of translation is a case of knowing what to do when confronted with a need to challenge my very mind…

Let the adventure begin / continue!
19th May 2016

I now include the link to my new site here: www.georgetrailtranslator.co.uk
21st May 2016

The video linked to at the end of this comment seems to be an indication of how the masses – not just small groups / demographics of people – like foreign languages to a certain extent and making use of them if they can, even if it tends to be just for one-off pleasure purposes. But it’s best to hire a fully-fledged professional translator if you want a translation of material that is more formal and challenging in nature than this…

23rd May 2016


The well-known mistake of writing “your” when it should be “you’re” is exemplified in this video.

Although, I have also seen “you’re” when it should be “your”, “interestingly” enough. I’m a professional linguist and I just thought that I’d post my take on the whole thing.

Now, to his credit, the person who made this video makes a clear (proper) case as to why it’s “you’re” and not “your”. By that I mean I think anyone would agree that it sounds like it actually has a decent level of credibility and authority to it. True, what he says is correct; but it is tempting to say that he doesn’t need to say or do anything to back it up. I fully disagree with that, and insist that he does it well, hence the aforementioned decent level of credibility and authority attached to his very true point that “you’re gay” is correct and “your gay” isn’t. What I mean to say is that he doesn’t just enter into anything like a load of subjective rambling in which he leans on his own life incidents and recalled opinions or whatever from his own life which even he may not recall all that easily, in an attempt to bolster what he thinks he wants to say. In other words, wholly personal paraphernalia which he clings to for reasons which are not constructive (at best) and which others usually couldn’t hope to identify without him explaining it to them however intelligent they were (and even then there’s a fair chance of them ending up bewildered), even if they were qualified psychologists or psychiatrists or whatever. There are no unhelpful claims of would-be insightful reasoning with the statement of anything which can’t be understood by others as readily examinable or verifiable in some way. For example, yes, he makes the point that “gay” is indeed an adjective (at least in this case), and no-one can dispute that. Look it up if you don’t believe me, or if you don’t know what I’m talking about. And looking up a word in a dictionary is of course just the same for me as it is for you or anyone else, although everyone knows that – you could say it’s too easy to say.

As far as I’m concerned, though, it’s also too easy simply to say that “ ‘Your gay’ is wrong” at all, as true as it is. But on some level, it also seems too easy for me to point out that “Your” is a possessive pronoun when it’s one of the most commonly used words in English. To me it’s too easy to say that “You’re” is the abbreviation of “You are”, especially when you’re expected to choose which it is between “You’re” and “Your”. When I was studying this video for the purpose of writing this comment: there’s no sense to be gleaned from when the “hater” guy says “My gay! My gay! My gay!” and seems to cheer it; I don’t know why that bit was included – but it’s too easy for me to say that. I just believe that to point out that the “’re” bit in “you’re” stands for “are” is enough reason – self-explanatory reason – to show why it’s “you’re” that’s correct. The guy does actually say “I AM gay; you ARE gay” in his pointing out why it’s “you’re gay” that’s correct, as well as the sign bit; but the fact that “’re” is specifically supposed to be short for “are”, as conjugated from the verb “to be”, and nothing else is in my eyes a point that counts as a nec plus ultra point here. Think of it as me making that point constituting self-explanatory reasoning in connection with this matter on a level that I am happy with; a point constituting self-explanatory reasoning which definitely invalidates the need for further discussion.

That said, I challenge anyone to make a valid point about the content of this video which I don’t already know / haven’t already figured out and which it is not too easy to say when you think about it. Still, if I ever became a perfect linguist or translator, how would I know it? I don’t even believe in God, so it’s not like, under the right circumstances, I could ever expect a supernatural voice in my head to go, “George, you are now a perfect translator! Round of applause for George!” and look forward to my work life being like walk-on-the-beach easy for the rest of my life as a result. Oh well.
26th May 2016


Dealing with the limitations of translation work capability / options is not necessarily easy or straightforward on any given occasion by any means, not least because they tend to be subtle and / or elusive. Lots of people say that translation is not just about replacing words with words, and of course that’s very true. Would you translate the ungrammatical English sentence “I wood of bin there” into French as “Je bois de poubelle là”? If not that, then what? Whatever the case, such people, when they talk about this, mostly allude to writing as an art and aspects of the same which simply have to be recognised in some way when it comes to linguistic aspects which may apply in one language but not another, and – and I appreciate that this sounds vague – are “just different”. Less commonly, it may be supposed to be a reference to cultural and societal factors that a writer intends to reflect. Knowledge of translation as an art and not just as a plain practice, helps one to understand certain things independently, or maybe predict them… but one’s own knowledge that they take for granted can only assist them so much, isn’t that right? It’s enough to compel most of us to crave for a mind so open that it’s distracting, if that makes sense.

But at the end of the day, writing – communicating – is expression in itself – mind you, I can understand people thinking that things like the notes I made in the writing of this comment, do not count. And people don’t like forfeiting the right to speak, certainly if the subject is of importance to them. And, sure as death and taxes, this would include the right to speak what is probably a load of nonsense if there’s a possibility that it could – just maybe – be a prelude to realising what one actually is talking about at a later stage. You see, when you look at the subject of “interpretations” of things like religious texts, along with arguing whether this thing or that thing was translated “properly” or “badly” (WHATEVER THAT’S SUPPOSED TO MEAN – just thought I’d make it clear that I specifically never wanted to say that indiscreetly), it’s easy to get to thinking that translators have a far greater responsibility in that the very solidarity of society, at least in part, hinges on them doing translation work which is not only “correct” (by whatever justifications which are logical or otherwise provable) but… quite simply reliable and trustworthy. And I don’t think too many people can discuss the meaning of that with any sort of confidence, let alone eloquently and with passion. You really don’t have to be all that willing to engage in intelligent debate to realise something like that; it struck me while I was having a shave.

Hopefully the following example will provide some sort of enlightenment on that score. You can say I’m stating the obvious here, but there’s no hope of one being a translator worth the name if they can’t or won’t show ongoing linguistic inventiveness that is both clear and reliable, or else… something will just not function or develop as desired; and the consequences of that can be so bothersome or, depending on the circumstances, worrying. And I’m very well educated so believe me, I know what I’m talking about. Anyway, here’s the example: anyone who’s ever felt patronised before they had a word for it, will surely be soothed a bit once they learn of the verb “to patronise”. What I mean: the fact of knowing this word should help them to feel a bit less angry whenever they do get patronised, as they are, now, then able to discuss the details of their grievance more confidently, even if it’s only to themselves, in their head (after all, isn’t that what independent judgement is all about?). Whatever the case, we now realise how grateful we are for the existence of the verb “to patronise”, aren’t we? Oh, I’m such a witness of my own…

Now, I know that people have deliberately written certain sentences in English which may not look grammatical at all but, when they’re looked at in the right way, you see that they are. Maybe the best known example is “Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.” The only definitive way to explain how it works is to explain certain aspects of English grammar – like what a parsed sentence is, in this case – to the listener, who will NOT NECESSARILY HAVE HEARD TERMS LIKE THIS BEFORE. There is actually a Wikipedia page dedicated solely to that sentence (they have pages for everything, don’t they!?). Not that you have to be a professional linguist like me to do this, of course; but at the end of the day, the explanation required will essentially be (end up) the same for anyone who wants to put it forward. Think about it. But, getting back to the topic of me and my translation work – for this is a blog as I wrote as part of my translation career – I don’t solely discuss things like grammar as grammar in plain yet indisputably objective terms for the purpose of making clear what I claim to know about translation. I think this is clear in other blogs I have already written, and I’ll basically be “going beyond” in the rest of this comment as well. Want to read on?

Yes, when it comes to translation work, one may get to thinking how they could be sure of answering certain hypothetical questions which some people, hypothetically, find it only too easy to ask. Questions like, “How do I convey the author’s ‘true’ intent (assuming that I actually do / could ‘get’ it)?” “How do I convey the author’s ‘authenticity’ (assuming that I actually do / could ‘get’ it)?” Or their state of mind? There’s a lot to be said about the state of mind of the character who sings this song (played by a comedian

Call him a “hopeless case”, call what he says “weird”, but on some level you feel sorry for him (certainly if his family died), and he must subconsciously want to be indulged and treated with a distinct level of favour which is hardly aggrandising in nature. But I find it only too easy to believe that the reason he… well, pretends to play a trick on us by telling us not to wear mittens with the result that this makes our hands cold, is wanting to compensate for powerlessness and all the fear that goes with it – but that doesn’t mean others should feel concerned about his intentions, right? If we imagine, just for a moment, that this is a real person: he must know that he doesn’t actually victimise anyone with this non-trick (or try to), but, whether you want to hear it or not, he simply wouldn’t be smart or competent enough to victimise anyone, would he? Do you think he would agree? But just how would he expect himself to be remembered, and how would he feel about others being expected to consign his bizarre song to memory (and why not, if it really is “the best Christmas song that ever existed”)? What would be the things most likely to make sense to him on that score? Now, the lyrics may be easy to translate into another language when you think about it, but you just know that I’m just not talking about the linguistic structure of the song here, don’t you? Myself, I like it when I’m sure that people will remember my samples of translation work for the same reason I will remember them, or when I’m sure that they will be consigned to memory in the same way that I would consign them to memory.

Please don’t presuppose that I am in any way usually bad at overcoming translation barriers and understanding complex issues in individual instances, but maybe it’s just too much for me to believe that I could always make what is hard easy – certainly when it’s so easy to want to disprove the adage “good questions require good answers” in translation – coherence can be anything but straightforward here. It’s not like I’m not used to obeying rules purely for the sake of doing translation work and correctly; rules which, in all candour, may have an importance to someone else that I have underestimated. That said, I continue to do what I can to identify any and all other rules that should be followed… but that doesn’t mean I never wonder when it’s better to break the rules.

It’s one thing to follow rules. Of course, being self-employed, I have certainly felt the need to set my own rules for myself from time to time. And while I’m as interested as improving my status and reputation as the next entrepreneur, there are probably people in this world who will knowingly judge me more readily by the rules I break rather than by the rules I make – whether it’s good, bad or neither. Sound familiar?

It makes me irate when I pay attention and still fail to arrive at the normal expected conclusion, or solution for something, which is (effectively, at least) the only one that is accepted as correct. And that only supports my belief that I’m the person capable of making myself most angry in connection with my job, given my actual situation. Still, I am pleased that I’ve got plenty of work in the pipeline right now, and I remain fairly confident that I am capable of finding at least as much satisfaction in it as in a world of sunshine and rainbows forever.
2nd June 2016


As a professional translator, I long ago got used to the expectation of occasionally justifying the correctness of my work to my clients. I want to discuss this here – and I believe that it will require reference to certain things for which a consensus normally cannot really exist no matter how fervent people may be about it.

Now, every so often one comes across a piece of written material which they consciously agree would require no real thought to translate it into another language, and a confident translation at that (depending on who they are and where their interests lie, I suppose). Personally, I think that if we wanted a translation of Tom Green’s Bum Bum Song into another language

…most people would probably write exactly, or damn near almost exactly, the same thing, when you think about it. But the arguments on the “best” solution would always revolve around logic, not around anything more emotionally charged, like the content of conviction or hope or faith. Verily I suggest that so much of that revolves around any and all abstract things / stuff / paraphernalia that you can only arrive at with thinking that is anything but typical. And so, in the matter of translation of this song, there’s little to no fear that you may be required to back up anything with reference to anything that you might end up realising that you don’t remember as well as you wish you did. It may be defined as the realm of argument which depends on conviction for its existence, never mind its credibility.

But, as implied at the beginning, good translations tend to require “real thinking” – define that however you want, if you can. Now, from where I’m standing, it’s probably not worth aiming to define “real thinking” in universal and generic terms (and certainly not casual terms) here, but there’s no better place for me to discuss it than right here. Maybe, just maybe, I will end up looking up a dictionary definition of a word even though I already have a very clear idea of when I’d use it based on my own experiences in life. Like the word “tolerant”, which I found myself Googling recently (6th June 2016). And it can indeed be an annoyance when you look up a (or, according to some people, whom I pity for this reason, “the”) translation of a foreign language word in your mother tongue and the word you get is one you’ve never heard of before, or a word which you actually have heard but have little to no real grasp of its meaning if you’re honest. Then there’s the few occasions when I’ve had mistaken beliefs about the meaning of a word I’ve used in my English translations.

Like “privy”, for example, as in “the features privy to a good solution” (sic). I have mistakenly used “privy” like that before when, according to its Google definition, this word is used properly in the sense of a person “being privy to important information” (i.e. a person who would know such important information) or something like that.

Then there’s that French to English translation project comprised of five files I did in which I saw the word “amélioration” in two separate files in the original. I chose the word “improvement” for one but not for the other in the translation. In one file I translated “Amélioration de la performance opérationnelle” as “Improvement of operational performance” but in another file I translated “Amélioration du chiffre d’affaires” as “Increasing turnover”, for reasons which, I believe, require no clarification, all things considered.

This example is not actually taken from a translation, but I’m going to put it forward anyway. For a long time I thought that defying someone meant setting out to do what it takes to “beat” them after they have imposed something unwelcome on you where it looks like they hold all the cards… and then you’re the one who emerges victorious. But apparently not. Go and Google “defy definition” and the definitions of this word offered are “openly resist or refuse to obey” and “appear to be challenging (someone) to do or prove something.” Things like that.

Some may view the concept of learning a new language as something where you can feel free to succumb to tendencies to be gullible and dismissive of phenomena you would rather reject for reasons best known to yourself (…or maybe not) and it won’t have a negative impact – it may even be conducive in certain circumstances. But, at the end of the day, you simply can’t always hope to translate properly if you’re not awake (in a manner similar to the Buddha sense) and “switched on”. Certainly when research needs to be done, it’s futile to treat it as a “push a button and something will be done to resolve the matter soon enough” solution. I don’t regard translation as a sleepworking job, and never did. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, there really does exist “Things you should never say to a translator” videos on Youtube; watch one and two for yourself and you will see. If you can speak a foreign language, good for you, but if that’s the case then what’s the most challenging material YOU have ever translated (at least, correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t most people taught at least one foreign language at school these days?)? In any case, I think we all agree that the lyrics of the Bum Bum Song are very easy to translate, but I think that personal correspondence letters / emails and non-text-heavy menus are examples of texts which are on the same level.

You see, if someone wants a translation of something which is formal and elaborate – in that you can be SURE that it delves into the subject it covers comprehensively without letting any and all subjective views get in the way of things; and not necessarily just from the author’s point of view – by default, their best hope would be to turn to a fully-fledged professional translator, rather than just someone who speaks enough of a given foreign language to “get by” in it and accomplish simplistic tasks in it (without wishing to sound belittling: see how they delight in ordering things in a restaurant or bar abroad in that language. I remember doing that sort of thing when I was very young.). Google defines the word “treatise” as “a written work dealing formally and systematically with a subject.” It’s not necessarily a book that’s supposed to be read from start to finish and that’s the end of the matter; one who writes a treatise may fully expect readers of it to come back to it later for future reference after they’ve read it to their heart’s content the first time round – and why it not, if it pertains to a subject whose details are by no means going to be static / set in stone? Hence my claim that even professional translators would agree that taking on translation of something like a treatise is a bold thing to do, even after one is given all the opportunity they want to put forth all the language / translation qualifications that they have, in all the detail they want (even if the content of it would, in whole or in part, only come to them on the spot i.e. they consciously think that no-one would be particularly likely to guess that the definitions in question had been established beforehand. No PBAs – see my comment dated 14th June 2015).

I think that provides an idea of the true extent of the challenges of my work. In view of how much I care about accuracy, reliability and just plain appropriate register / “feel” in the translation material that I write, I could probably start a social media phenomenon with the simple question “What have you only learned pending a mistake (a mistake which has not necessarily been identified, let alone defined, heretofore)?”

For the time being, I have indeed put forward examples of the challenges I have encountered in my translation work to date – “work-related anecdotes”, as I have referred to them in previous comments. In recognition of how people want to be confident about my translation work and agree that it’s reliable: I want it to be articulate, I want it to be to the point, and… I want it to feel like it was done by a translator worth the name.

So tell me, do you agree that every bit of this looks like the work of a translator worth the name (it’s a French translation of a certain song)?

“Mon cul est sur le rail
Cul est sur le rail
Passe regarde à moi
Mon cul est sur le rail

Mon cul est sur l’homme
Cul est sur l’homme
Il fait beaucoup d’amusement
Quand on se met le cul sur un homme

Mon cul est sur le seuil
Cul est sur le seuil
Ne tombe pas du seuil
Tu pourrais te blesser le cul


Et cela n’est pas très amusant
Si tu tombes et te blesses le cul
J’aime me mettre le cul sur des trucs
Il fait de l’amusement pour tous


Mon cul est sur le fromage
Cul est sur le fromage
Si je suis chanceux
J’attraperai une maladie

Mon cul est sur le suédois, suédois, suédois, suédois

Mon cul est sur le gum
Mon cul est sur le gum
Je peux souffler une bulle
Avec mon cul cul cul

Mon cul est sur le navire
Le navire cuirassé
J’espère qu’ils ne tireront pas le canon en mon cul
Avec un jaillissement de caca partout

Et cela n’est pas très amusant
Quand ils tirent un canon en ton cul
J’aime me mettre le cul sur des trucs
Il fait de l’amusement pour tous


Mon cul est sur le chien
Mon cul est sur le chat
Mon cul est sur le phone
Mon cul est tout seul

Le rail est tout seul
L’homme est tout seul
Le suédois est tout seul
Mon cul est tout seul

1, 2, 3, 4
Mon cul est tout seul
Mon cul est tout seul
Mon cul est tout seul
Mon cul est tout seul
Mon cul est tout seul
Mon cul est tout seul
Mon cul est tout seul
Mon cul est tout seul
Mon cul est tout seul
Mon cul est tout seul
Mon cul est tout seul
Mon cul est tout seul
Que quelqu’un enlève le caca de mon cul
(Enlève le caca…)
Il faut que le caca soit enlevée du cul
Je dois enlever le caca de mon cul
Je veux entendre le canon
Je veux entendre le canon
Non, non, non, non, pas l’idiot
(Cul est tout, cul est tout…) Je veux entendre le canon, je veux entendre le canon (pas l’idiot)!

And that’s the end of this comment.
11th June 2016


Foreword: “context” is a thoroughly abstract concept, I agree. But linguistic context and subject matter context are of equal importance in language matters, whether or not there’s any translation involved. Think about that one.

To the average person capable of doing translation, there are many, many subjects that they may be able to do translation work in only without feeling some sort of cosy / nice / endearing / appealing (“personal”) attachment to them (especially if it’s a subject close to them in their own personal comfort zone), where this means that any sort of liberal approach to getting the job done is instantly dismissed as less than advisable. In practice – to define it properly – it surely requires “thinking outside the box” (comfort zone, indeed), and the need for educated guessing is probably never made completely redundant. It’s for all the times when a “workable” translation just isn’t good enough. Indeed, different viewpoints related to any given “non-simple stuff” (i.e. any broad subject with an emphasised role in society in the real world) are by no means unlikely to play a role in anyone understanding them more deeply. I think of the Will Rogers quote “It isn’t what we don’t know that gives us trouble, it’s what we know that ain’t so”. In other words, it’s all about context.

But this blog, for its purpose of promoting me as a professional translator, is supposed to be about languages and translation. And I’ve seen plenty of foreigners speak and / or write English. Now, from my experience, some foreign people seem to get a bit annoyed when you comment on their English out of the blue, even if you’re commending it (as if it’s only too easy a thing to do) – they would rather treat it as an awkward matter (certainly if you can’t resist imitating their accent because you claim that it appeals to you. Chinese accents in particular can sound comical to British ears, if I may say so). But seriously, I do find it pleasing to see a foreigner speak or write English well – they may say a few odd-sounding things which are only semi-correct linguistically but are otherwise entirely understandable, but they usually do manage it well if they do it confidently. But you can’t truly master a language (at fluency level) merely by the kind of obdurately logical thinking that is conducive to understanding things like scientific fields or algorithms. Hence, one should be prepared to play the context game when doing translation work, or even just cementing their understanding of some aspect of a foreign language as correct.

Here’s a linguistic context case study. I was doing a German to English translation project fairly recently in which I saw the word “Abnahme” in the original, whereupon I proceeded to look it up just to be SURE of using the most optimal word in the English translation and not just the first word that came to mind. I was then reminded that it can mean both “acceptance” and “decline”, even though “accept” and “decline” are only too easy to regard (correctly) as antonyms! And that’s not even it. There were more English words in the list of English suggestions that this word can be translated into, including “purchase”, “inspection”, “slackening” and “amputation” (no doubt a kind of “removal”, which was yet another word on the list) – just ask anyone whose mother tongue is German and can also speak good English. You could say that I was playing “the context game” back then.

To me, taking a word out of a context indeed isn’t limited to momentarily isolating it from whatever individual text in which it is found – whether or not such a text should be recognised as categorised in any way, shape or form, and whether or not the purpose behind it all is clear from the start or you fully agree that it would actually take some time to define it properly. If you are serious about good translation, it’s a good idea to ponder the other words in the sentence / entire text in which you saw it, and ask yourself if that sentence / entire text includes any other words whose existence (use) in it can be the only sensible explanation for seeing a given word (hypothetically) “taken out of context” in the text at all. That’s what I think. It’s only one argument to support my case, anyway.

But what is context anyway? I don’t agree that a dictionary definition is enough; I would insist on elaborating on known existing examples for the sake of a solid and confident grasp / understanding. An arena for concepts, specific or vague, definite or abstract, in connection with any given interest or subject? At any rate, in professional translation you may be expected to deal with material with a legal context, or a technical context, or a medical context and so on. By contrast, there is no context worth the name to speak of in, say, an offhand game I once played while I was waiting for my plane to land when I was on holiday once, where I decided to make the longest sentence I could where I could use every letter of the alphabet but no more than once. I remember once asking at university what was the longest word anyone could think of in which you could use every letter of the alphabet but no more than once – someone said “uncopyrightable”, which is even better than “ambidextrously” – and so I decided to take it to the level of whole sentences (with no concern as to whether or not they make sense – it’s like backmasking, and there are definitely videos of that on Youtube). I thought of “Quartz flew by his dog” and “Why do brazen pigs fuck?” (if you will pardon my language there) among other things; but what I’m saying is that there is no truly engaging CONTEXT to speak of in connection with the game because, however much of an interest one may show in it, at the end of the day the only thing that matters is the sole rule of not being allowed to use any letter in the alphabet more than once (and what you can come up with when you play it, of course).

Rather, I’ve been translating for seven and a half years now and I still feel put at ease against what I do and the challenges I have to face in it every time I see a case of a note included alongside what is a translation of something done by someone else – a note which might read something like, “This is a rather literal translation – think of word X in the sense of whatever and word Y in the sense of whatever”, or “This translation may seem a little odd but it’s very likely that, in the original, the speaker wanted to imply sarcasm (or whatever) at point X.” […] I certainly don’t need reminding that languages function differently, or that there are certain words in certain languages for which there simply isn’t a ready equivalent in English, or anything else like that – but, frankly speaking, a lot of people don’t have the insight or inquisitiveness (or the patience) to go into too much depth in such topics. At any rate, being able to swiftly come up with a good, optimally fitting translation of something then forget the matter forever can be but a forlorn hope in my eyes sometimes – or is that too easy for me to say considering how much of my life I have spent translating “non-simple” stuff from French and German into English these days?

I suppose the big question is: what do you do when you’re translating and there’s no context that you can determine (assuming that there is any specific one which can / is just waiting to be determined)? Do you agree that there are times when translating with confidence specifically hinges on you assigning a context to this or that word or phrase? And if you can’t, invent one, so to speak? For I believe that there are occasions when it’s best to make an attempt to assign a self-formulated – and always (indisputably) honest! – context to a translation if it will help it to work as well as it should, or to validate / reinforce its overall quality, if that makes sense. Would you endeavour to play the context game as a first step to trying to make sense of a bad translation?

I’ve never watched The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but I know enough that vogon poetry (widely accepted as “the third worst in the universe”, apparently) is associated with it, in particular the following poem:

Oh freddled gruntbuggly,
Thy micturations are to me
As plurdled gabbleblotchits
On a lurgid bee
That mordiously hath blurted out
Its earted jurtles
Into a rancid festering confectious organ squealer.
Now the jurpling slayjid agrocrustules
Are slurping hagrilly up the axlegrurts
And living glupules frart and slipulate
Like jowling meated liverslime.
Groop, I implore thee, my foonting turling dromes,
And hooptiously drangle me
With crinkly bindlewurdles,
Or else I shall rend thee in the gobberwurts with my blurglecruncheon.
See if I don’t.

Of course, it leaves us scratching our heads and guessing at every turn. Then again – of course, indeed! – this is just a nonsensical concoction in a piece of fiction, so who’s going to dismiss the idea that such guessing would be in vain and pointless? And why not? What would be the point of trying to get anyone to “take it seriously”? There’s certainly no context to work with if we are seriously considering (supposedly) deciphering it in any way, shape or form. Still, that never stopped the human race from translating The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy into foreign languages, this including vogon poetry:

Good for whoever did that – I’m assuming they were Czech. But that said, here I have decided to set myself the goal of delivering a good French translation of the piece of vogon poetry above, knowing that I have no context to work with. I cannot put too many words into any sort of context (verifiable or not) because I don’t know what so many of them mean (but then they are made up and are not supposed to mean anything in the realm of what is real, of course). In any case, bear this claim in mind: no-one will be able to suggest that I have leant entirely on a machine translator! Anyway, here we go:

Oh gruntbuggly freddli
Tes micturations sont pour moi
Comme de gabbleblotchites plurduits
Sur une abeille lurgide
Qui a mordieusement blarassé
Ses jurtes eartées
En un organe-squealer rance, purulent et confectieux.
Et maintenant, les agrocrustules jurplantes et slaijides
Slurpent hagrillement en leur montée des axegrurtes
Et de vivantes glupules frartent et slipulent
Comme de jouillante, viandisée foieboue.
Groop, je vous implore, mes drômes fountinants et turlants,
Et dranglisez-moi huptieusement
Avec de bindewoudes crépus,
Ou sinon je vous fendrai en les gobbre-wouittes avec ma blourguecronction.
Observez si je ne le ferai pas.

I admit that there are many words there which I purely made up (and I will point out here that I don’t need anyone to suggest that I don’t know what they mean because I already know as such; or else I wouldn’t have been able to say that, you know?). But what do people think?

“Context” isn’t really a teachable subject, if you know what I mean. But I don’t really think context is all that hard to imagine in practice. Consider this example: if someone were to make the statement “Even Gandhi probably drew the line somewhere”… well, who’s going to think that that sentence doesn’t make sense rather than accept it, without any questioning or investigation, as a reflection of the point that, even when it’s weighed against the point that “Violence is not the answer”, there are indeed some dire scenarios of marked seriousness beyond parody where violence can be justified, as easy as it is to want to avoid talking about the… context? (Well, seeing as this is supposed to be a translation blog, Gandhi did say that anger and intolerance are the enemies of correct understanding.)

But… I talked about “linguistic context” “in language matters” earlier; now I want to talk about “subject matter context” in the same. If you agree that I should be doing more to discuss the context game specifically in connection with multilingual / translation matters I do remember being specifically taught that the German sentences “Sie dürfen nicht rauchen hier” and “Sie müssen nicht rauchen hier” really don’t mean the same thing in that, despite what you can see at surface level, only “Sie dürfen nicht rauchen” is “proper” because that does actually mean “You are not allowed to smoke here.” The second sentence, while grammatical, is odd because the verb “müssen” connotes the idea “You do not have to smoke here (i.e. but feel free to if you want; you’re under no obligation to do so)”, effectively on principle. And “Die Tür wurde geschlossen” and “Die Tür war geschlossen” both mean “The door was closed”, but… you could say it depends. The former is to imply specifically that a person went and closed the door thus leaving it no longer open; the latter is to imply that the door was simply standing there closed (in a state of being closed). Both concepts are quite easy to understand – and in no way peculiar the way “You do not have to smoke here (i.e. but feel free to if you want; you’re under no obligation to do so)” is.

But let’s take an example that’s actually from my own recent translation work. The original was in German language and I saw this in it: “Der Laden ist sehr eng, die Produkte sind schwer durchschaubar und wegen des engen Raumes gibt es nur wenige Produkte im Produktbereich.” I translated it into English as something like, “The store is very narrow, the products are difficult to grasp, and with the narrow space there are only a few products in the product range.” My concern here is on the first five words: I originally was confident that “Der Laden ist sehr eng” should be translated as “The shop is very limited” (i.e. limited product range), before I read the rest of the sentence with the right level of attentiveness and realised that it really should be translated as “The store is very narrow” (its corridors, anyway). You can only imagine how surprised as I was when I discovered that a literal translation was the better option here.

Context issues can also become apparent in the scope of one’s own knowledge of but a single language – is there a difference between “continuously” and “continually”, such as I wondered in a recent project (I was wondering how best to translate German “kontinuierlich”)? It’s just that I got to thinking that maybe – maybe – “continuously” is strictly “supposed” to mean “on and on” while “continually” is strictly “supposed” to mean “something carrying on from what it has been in the past.”

If something has what is agreed as a context, then it is something that one can get engrossed in like it’s an adventure. One may gain opinions as to its content (which are not necessarily wholly based on that content) which may be incorrect but not unintelligent or biased – as if they were destined to gain such opinions. And even incorrect opinions may prove enlightening in the long run. For the time being, I can only agree that the existence of context is indeed likely to be accepted by any individual whether their imagination patterns are more likely to be helpful or more likely to be hindering when they are doing translation.

Is it just me or does the average person but wait to have their average opinion or viewpoint in connection with a context validated by someone or something else somehow / by chance (which is by no means unlikely indefinite)? But for the time being, it’s a realm of conversation which I fully believe can only be discussed with an inner fortitude kind of confidence, and we all know how elusive that can be. And that’s the context game.

7th July 2016


Well, I recently got back from a holiday in Greece. I spent it on my now-retired parents’ yacht, with my brother (just like Malta, really) – for me personally, putting aside all the indulgent beer drinking and bargain price shopping for things I didn’t need, we visited a couple of sites of interest. But I spent a surprising amount of it trying to find a reasonably cool space in the shade in such persistently and mercilessly hot weather (without being in anyone’s way), merely so I could be sure of being able to check my emails or play on my Gameboy in peace (and we didn’t always have Internet access – we spent nights in multiple locations over the two weeks I was there). But I still went for walks on my own in the local area (enjoying plenty of indulgent beer drinking and bargain price shopping for things I didn’t need along the way) – and yet, embarrassingly enough, I never took the time to learn any Greek beforehand, even if it might be a little broken. True, all the locals spoke good English and there were so many signs in both Greek and English – some of which looked very much like they were created by local authority, and there were some which were only in English – and Corfu definitely gets plenty of tourists from mainland Europe who, it is tacitly assumed, speak English as their first foreign language, but I’m guessing that it is harder for me to justify something like that when I am supposed to be a professional linguist, no less. Indeed, you don’t even necessarily need to go out and find and purchase a language learning package these days – just go to Youtube and learn it watching videos for free. In all candour, there’s probably never been a better time for me to write a new translation blog. So I put in the time and effort, and what you’re reading now is the result.

Over in Greece, my parents could only offer me (i.e. for my holiday) what was there, as they put it, but I couldn’t complain. I guess that in this blog I will be focussing a lot more on me “offering what is ‘NOT’ there” when I do translation work as nothing less than a professional translator; but of course, I guess I’m supposed to be accountable when my work “provides readers with things that are non-existent and which probably ‘shouldn’t’ be there.” But I don’t just translate things that can be simplistically illustrated, like “my car is white” or “I went to a concert yesterday” – I understand that people (in essence, at least) fully expect me to provide properly functioning unbiased verbal accounts of what a situation is or represents (there’s no “should” or “should not”). And I know that everyone does that all the time – I think I have done well to consider that it can sometimes be based only too much on past personal experience or what one “just expects” (probably because it only exists as a result of them being lost in a labyrinth of confusion and delusion which breeded on their personal experiences and nothing but; not that they necessarily have anything wrong to answer for in terms of being selfish or irresponsible or anything like that).

Now, although I’m an atheist, I am tempted to become religious just so I could challenge God to a translation treatise writing contest. Does being “fluent” in a foreign language i.e. having an excellent knowledge of its grammar and a wide vocabulary and whatnot really amount to being “confident” in it? You see, I can still remember being forced to learn, often in vain, how to discuss issues and opinions when studying foreign languages at A-levels and at higher level education. This is merely discussion of what makes a truly proper and reliable translator, and why you should accept that I am one. It’s why I write these blogs, after all. That said, however, I’m not about to write a comprehensive translation treatise here for the world to read for free, thus risking giving only too much succour to my competitors and basically committing professional suicide. But it’s certainly a broad-based subject (how’s this for a double entendre: …God! LOL). Not least because it is as much about knowing what comes to be / has come to be in language application as much as what is (“supposedly”) “supposed” to be in it.

Discussion of the structure / methodology for the writing of a translation treatise is not out of the question in this blog. But where to begin the formulation of something like that? Recently on the radio I heard a report that some people had done research on the best biscuit to dunk in one’s tea. (Why? You tell me. But that’s another subject.) They mentioned various brand names of biscuit (and probably a few different brands of tea, as well – I don’t remember) but I couldn’t help feeling that it would have had more weight (so to speak – what a bad joke) if they specifically mentioned the full list of which criteria of the biscuits they had used from the outset (whether highly scientific criteria which only “true biscuit experts” understand or just simple concepts everyone can familiarise themselves with e.g. what is the thickness or size of the biscuit? What is its sugar content? How easily does the biscuit crumble? What kind of grain is it?) But I don’t buy at all the idea that, in translation work, you could weigh anything and everything in any sample against a certain set of uniformly applicable criteria (however large), and nothing but, and expect complete and perfect results every time. It’s a language thing. Sorry if I’ve caused any frustrations by saying that, but I just think that that is the case.

Hopefully the following four points will provide some clarification of what is meant by this:

Explain why you may read “I should of” when “of” should be “have” (and I know that’s obvious) but you will never read “Of you had a nice day?” or indeed “No, I ofn’t had one” (or “No, I oin’t [i.e. “ain’t” from “have”] had one.” (Much as I know that “I should have” tends to be pronounced similar to “I should of” and ignorant, less-educated people end up writing it as the latter because of this.)

To think that there is an actual expression in the old language of Canaanite / Phoenician (which is the native language of the leader Dido of Carthage in the computer game Civ 5) which translates literally as “It is” where it really means is “agreed” i.e. “I agree / consent to that” (they translated it as “agreed”, anyway).

Maybe “don’t” and “do not” can lead to different results when they are translated into whatever other language by a machine translator. It’s all to do with the presence / non-presence of the word “do” in particular.

We all know what “I’m back” means in English but I foresee the possibility that a machine translator may (not necessarily, but it is only speculation anyway) translate it as “I am back” in whatever foreign language where the word “back” is taken as the noun, i.e. like a person’s back (a person has a backbone) and not as the adjective where back means “returned”. But of course, you don’t say “I am returned” in English (even if that might actually be the exact word-for-word literal translation of “I’m back” in any given other language – at least, it wouldn’t surprise me); it is “I have returned”.

This is the irony of it all: when I was on holiday, I saw some guy wearing a T-shirt which said, “Be a voice, not an echo.” The irony lies in this: I know that I can “be a voice” (certainly if my self-expression in this blog is anything to go by); however, in a way, the opposite applies in translation i.e. I’m supposed to put aside my preconceptions etc. Don’t forget that I invented the term PBA (precedent-based assertion – see blog dated 14th June 2015). After all, it’s somebody else’s stuff, not my own, that I’m supposed to say. You could say that I wonder what my clients take for granted about me when they put their trust in me even though they just won’t take the liberty of elaborating it in their own terms (should they actually even think of that).

So what would a good translation treatise touch on? I personally would pursue a study in which progress depends on acquaintance with (purely reality-based) hypotheticals as much as with flat fact in the domain of language as both a concept and as a basis for whatever other concept. Check this: not all intelligence is the same, if you get my drift (e.g. Google specifically defines “guile” as “sly cunning or intelligence”, while those who are sly are often regarded negatively e.g. if they are deceptive).

Basically, as far as I’m concerned, there is a strong case for arguing that I am one of the great translators / translation writers of my time and that, as such, I should be among the first to write a translation treatise if one should be written at all (even if I am still concerned about negative, non-transient ramifications for me as a result of me personally doing it) – after all, I’ve written 150,000 words of blogs on the whole translation / multi-languages thing, just like what you’re reading now.

When people get in touch with me to talk about translation work I have done for them, I try to be prepared for discussion about it that is not necessarily “really” informed or substantiated by these people (not that I want to mock them for anything, and even though translation is my work, my doing, my lifeblood); so who could blame me for wanting more power – some might say an absurdly high level of power… like that of God? Yes, being self-employed means I can “do whatever I want, whenever I want”, but I have come to believe that you can be given all you’ve ever wanted or envied others for, and more, and still be angry at your circumstances. I actually go into that a bit more in the next paragraph. Then again, if it were possible to do 100% correct translation by magic means then it would surely be only a matter of time before I would no longer have this job. Who knows what I would get up to if I acquired some truly otherworldly magic powers – not a huge amount, just enough to turn a cockroach into a chimpanzee which proceeds to make a bungee cord all by itself and climb up a crane before jumping off the top of it while wearing it – wheeeeeee! – or swing through the streets of London on web like Spiderman – “hey, look, it’s Spiderchimp!” – or drive a bicycle that’s moving downhill handstanding upside down on the handlebars – bell ring, wave hello… actually no, he would then lose his balance and crash… or WOULD HE? It was only after I’d finished writing that bit in the draft of this blog that I remembered the old PG Tips adverts with chimps wearing human clothes that were trained to do all kinds of stuff

– maybe that’s actually the very thing that led to me to coming up with those ideas, maybe not. Wouldn’t surprise me. Until then, I can’t do a whole lot more than refer to bilingual dictionaries to show how much I care for my clients (apart from making a point of listening to them, of course).

I believe that people are capable of achieving great things without knowing what they’re doing, but it depends. But reliable translation does demand an admittedly relatively elusive special kind of skill, sustained by a special kind of attention. By all means say I’m splitting hairs in my extensive writings about it, but it’s my job, you know?

If you are still reading, that would indicate that you have faith in continuing to read my writings to learn more about what I’m talking about, at least as much as closing your eyes (presumably going somewhere that is spuriously “special” in the process, whether you like it or not) as you pray to The Almighty One for the same purpose.

I intended to end this blog in spectacular fashion from the start:

Thy translator,
Who art in Berkshire,
George be my name,
Thy language barriers be appreciated without ridicule (whether immediately recognisable or subconscious),
Thy desired message be conveyed
In English as it is in French or German.
Give me this day my daily translation assignments (email attachments are generally most convenient, and you can always scan it if it’s not a Word, Excel, PowerPoint or PDF file georgetrail@googlemail.com),
And forgive me my verbal imagination limitations,
As I forgive those who can’t wait to give me a load of usually completely abstract and probably overreacting argument carry-on as a result of their own verbal imagination limitations,
And lead me not into literal translation,
But deliver me from complacent reliance on Google Translate,
For mine be professionalism, cleverness and initiative,
Until I retire from this line of work.

28th July 2016


It hardly needs emphasising that I want to be taken seriously as a translator. The reason why should be obvious: I do it for a living. That said, however, I like the idea of rising higher and maybe I will one day actually be recognised as one of the best professional translators of my time… but that’s not going to happen by itself and everyone knows it. Which is why I am a whole lot more concerned than I used to be about being competitive – believe me, I would not say that unless I REALLY meant it. For I have been feeling very differently about myself in recent months as a result of this.

At any rate, I’m sure lots of people can name any number of “good” ideas which DON’T need any kind of truth to have their value validated. I know I thought of a number of such things as a child, one of the most appealing examples for me personally being the time I learned to say my name backwards i.e. I recorded myself saying it forwards, “George Trail”, before learning how to mimic exactly how it is “said” backwards when it’s played backwards, “Roy-harl’sch Sch’norsch.” But wanting to rise higher as a professional translator means, I find, doing all you can to embrace (often otherwise unmentioned) ideas which DO require the acknowledgement of some element of truth to have their value validated. I will tell you this: have you ever believed that I have had dreams about being one of the best translators in the world? Well, I couldn’t just say, “Right, tonight I will dream about being or becoming the best translator in the world as I go to sleep tonight.” What would be the point? I would know all that was coming all too well anyway – even if it were detached from reality!

Talking of which: just recently I was translating a text from French to English in which I saw this in the original: “Vitrine de gauche en entrant / vitrine de droite en entrant”. When I first saw that my very first (instantaneous) “response thought” was, “Oh, these are windows that are located at a / the entrance” – all because of the “en entrant” bit, of course. But then I took a step back and got to thinking “or are these doors which open inward?” They both seem like equally intelligent and valid ideas, don’t they? But there was no way of deducing what the correct interpretation was from reading the rest of the text in which they were found – the text that was presented to me as part of the overall translation task – alone.

A text to be translated, however challenging, remains static in content – it will never impose any kind of paradigm shift. At least, not in itself. Sometimes what is “reasoned” happens only because of what happens purely in one’s mind. It always pays to be aware of what happens to go through your mind – look up the term “apparition” and you’ll see.

Or watch Fight Club – you will NEVER forget the great twist scene in which the fundamental truth is revealed.

But it’s not limited to dealing with whatever private thoughts and concerns I come across which I don’t have to worry about leaving the confines of my study (figuratively speaking) to deal with, is it? The truth is that I’m a whole lot more sensitive to how others judge me – based on my established merits or otherwise. But far be it from me to make fun of those who just can’t do what I do (this coming from someone who was bullied at school). I am a professional translator; having done it for nearly eight years now, I can definitely say that I’ve succeeded at it, at least on the surface level. Yes, I know that there are people who can translate as well as me, or better, and good for them. But translation is also a job that a lot of people simply can’t do and won’t do; but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t many people who seriously think that they can do it well but they can’t, most likely because they are blinded by how chuffed they are that they can speak another language as well as their mother tongue. Personally, I know I will never forget how easy I found my studies of foreign languages at school, and how much I had a reputation for being an “exceptional” linguist (not to brag); but if you only remember one thing I say in this blog, let it be this point: when I translate, my number one frustration is not being able to verify / confirm choices I actually consider to be good ones with information that is not with me but then it may be, for all I know, non-existent. And I agree that being tired can cloud your judgement / disrupt your ability to think clearly… and when you start to become disinclined to accept blindly suggestions you are provided with as good / the best ones, then you’ve got a whole new ball game.

But it is agreed by the masses, and rightly so, that a certain kind of intelligence is essential for good and reliable translation work. But even that’s not enough for me – I try to reveal in lucid terms how it is done here (once again), all for the sake of my credibility and likeliness to be recommended (at least up to a point). Some may be attracted to the idea of doing translation for a living by the fact that you don’t face other people in it who will try to get the upper hand on you in some way as you perform the craft. And it’s not as if translation isn’t the same as it’s always been – for thousands of years. Even so… for all my commitment to and confidence in my job, even I have my ups and downs which I cannot always be prepared for no matter how hard I try. I could only blame myself for sustaining the idea that if I keep on fighting for circumstances where I can deservedly be sure of easy money, they will come eventually… all in vain. No – being limited by what you don’t know or understand is often worse, so to speak, than being limited than what you do know or understand. If you are going to develop an obsession for anything, make sure it is something real rather than some distorted skewed concept that only exists in your head that you have allowed to develop, and actively sustained, over time. And obsessions are known to be unhealthy – rightly so – aren’t they? So much madness has arisen from obsessions; and whether you want to hear it not, it includes that which has incited some rather terrifying examples of malevolence. At least I continue to become more aware of my own limitations over time. I would console myself by saying that there is one thing that people like more than being great, and that’s becoming great.

You have to understand that I am aiming to discuss absolute fundamentals here: not just the person I am as a translator, but the person I am at all. Indeed, I would rather tell everyone I felt rotten i.e. tired and dirty and compromised and sour inside than tell everyone that I felt like a used condom, which is supposed to mean more or less the same thing, in this case. Maybe it’s just me but I’ve come to regard that to claim that you’re feeling “like a used condom” (used as an example), while not being prepared to elaborate, suggests that you’re just a little crazy.

I want to be taken seriously as a translator and as such I claim that, if you are a hardcore one, you will always try to be as prepared as possible to justify your ever-existent yet tacit claim that you know what you are talking about in what you write as the product of your translation work. Certainly more so than this girl https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3l35shgmXEw , who talks all this rubbish about “pounds” and “planets” and “gravity” which is nonsensical to say the least. Who knows what’s (really) on her mind when she starts suggesting that “England is closer to Jupiter than America is”, or that “America is, like, in the middle of the solar system”, or that “England is the closest planet to the Sun”; but, if I may say so, I would find it impossible to believe that she would actually be willing to account for her blatant ignorance, or even that she could even if she really wanted to, even if I gave her a pen and some paper and allowed her 30 minutes to put it into words. She’s just too lost in thoughts which even she must know are just not grounded in reality; and, to be honest, maybe I am guilty of encouraging others to regard them with a focus and inquisitiveness that they don’t deserve. Have I made a fool of myself? If I have, too bad for me. But the fact is that I resolve to be as prepared as possible to wrestle with such thoughts when doing translation. Sometimes you simply don’t know what to expect. Call this a generalisation but languages can and do work differently, they can be not just incongruent, but wildly incongruent. I live to bridge these gaps as aptly as possible in my own creative writing – fully prepared to be inventive to make it happen.

12th September 2016


Foreword: I imagine that many people will believe that I am expressing myself with… unusual candour in this blog. However, my main objective here is discussion of the barriers of translation and making a solid case as to why I am a “good” professional translator (even though I’m probably damaging my prospects by helping my competitors by posting this).

It would hardly be an exaggeration to say that a great translator is concerned with the possibility of the people they do their work for “mis-reading” what they write, only to blame them for it; not so much because it is the easiest thing to do as because they just don’t see what other options there are anyway – whether or not the translator does / would.

It’s all about having an open mind in translation – or rather, communication. Picture this: person A asks person B what their name is, and person B responds, “Well, basically, my name is Anthony, do you know what I mean?” Check it: I can fully imagine people laughing over that, for two reasons. a) If someone tells you what their name is, that is but very simple and straightforward information – why say “basically” in connection with it? b) The same applies for the “do you know what I mean?” bit. I cannot emphasise this enough: part of having an open mind in translation is having an open mind with regard to expression, whether premeditated or incidental, and perhaps in particular if it’s hard to determine which of the two it really is.

So what is this blog really about? Now, obviously, being labelled as insane is enough to make anyone uncomfortable and quite possibly angry – perhaps in particular if it’s frivolous / false labelling. Of course, I realise that, in practice, people use words like “crazy” and “mad” all the time in complete casualness while having no true understanding of “insane” really means. It’s not enough to say that a person who is insane does something that’s unusual or is prone to it; but even I can only elucidate the meaning of it so much. In essence, it’s being out of touch with reality – a state of mind which effectively prevents normal perception, behaviour or social interaction. People who are insane ARE mentally ill.

Disclaimer: that said, far be it from me to mock or insult anyone whose condition leans that way, or judge them unfairly (it would only make me look bad, after all). Like Jeremy Kyle, I merely (sic) say it as it is.

I imagine that relatively many people – certainly those who are naïve – don’t know the difference between psychology and psychiatry. Google defines psychology as “the scientific study of the human mind and its functions, especially those affecting behaviour in a given context.” It is the science of the mind and mental processes. The definition of “psychiatry”, however, should probably be approached with more discretion. In any case, Google defines psychiatry as “the study and treatment of mental illness, emotional disturbance, and abnormal behaviour.” And I don’t see any way to become more knowledgeable in the latter field than to look at what triggers these things, which generally amount to cases of solidified perpetual fear of something whereby it has tacitly become a big “no-no” even to address them objectively, or a fully developed and reinforced envy or sadness or anger which is in tandem with denial or obsessive guilt, or simply an attitude of warped / unjustifiable / inexcusable priorities. Myself, I am just as concerned as I can be with what is real in translation and what isn’t – for everyone’s sake. As far as translation – or rather, my work as a professional translator – is concerned, I try to be prepared for those individuals who have a problem with my work criticising it out of an incongruent idea which could only have arisen from ideas which are… distorted in terms of either content or context, or both. I try to be prepared for surprise in general – I try to be prepared for what some may insist is unexpectable. But the frightening bit is how unlikely said individuals are to address these mental processes – certainly independently (with apologies to such individuals who would think that I am judging them unfairly). It can be a challenge to get someone to touch on an insane idea they have even when you are openly willing to make unexpected sacrifices and compromises in order to help them to do so. After all, plenty of insane ideas are seldom if at all defined in workable terms, which isn’t at all surprising when they so often lie in the subconscious. Of course, no-one should get into the habit of falsely labelling claims that are incorrect as a sign that those who state them are insane – only if there is no way to reason them, they are not logical and they are a product of something which just couldn’t be seriously suggested by anyone, however ignorant of reality they were.

Now, they say you should never underestimate the imagination of the young – this is especially true when they really do underestimate their own imagination (and I’m not even a father). But I’m on my guard against underestimating the imagination of my clients – especially when they underestimate their imagination. That said…

Anyone who has watched 8 Mile, the film starring Eminem, will be familiar with “rap battles” and what they are, and will invariably understand that the battles which audiences revel in the most are those with references to reality. It is common for one battler to make indiscreet references to reality – and not just such as they have experienced it – in the belief that it will be a potent weapon against their opponent, purely to gain applause and increase their chances of winning the battle; and these do include references to cruel reality events that they know their opponent has experienced, just to exploit them. Put simply, these references are by no means unlikely to be provocative, and I know as well as anyone who’s really into it that there are times when it has just gone too far – sometimes culminating in violence. The rap battle featured in this Youtube video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zxvCOqS60nk is not one of those battles. After all, it’s only easy to say that it’s just full of vapid and completely pointless comments which the opponents don’t so much “say” as “end up saying” (Mic Assassin in particular). And it’s only too easy to point out that there are so many offhand comments which in themselves reflect that the one stating them has no idea what they are talking about, and that they could never make a verifiable case for what they are saying in any way, even if they admitted that all they had going for them was reference to the realm of misinformed hearsay and such, simply because that doesn’t actually apply in such cases. They don’t validate or invalidate anything, but then everyone knows that. But at the end of the day, these people are just like everyone else in that they are only human, and I cannot emphasise how important it is to realise that a person is not just their history, including what they “should” be or essentially “are” (out of habit) for the same reason; like, one is as one does – and thinks – you know?

Basically, what I’m trying to say is that I strive to be prepared for my clients’ imagination which is part of their judgement of my work, and to be the first to go out of my way to maintain order and rationality when it’s only too easy to make guesses and propose wild theories at the drop of a hat.

That said, it’s all I can do to just be prepared for my own imagination and how it may work against me (you could say that it’s like: “I shall not underestimate my own imagination”). See the case studies below.

If you’re playing Civ 5 and you’re at war with Maria Theresa (the leader of the Austrians) and you declare peace with her, she says to you (in her native language of Austrian German): “Ich hoffe, ihr seid nun zufrieden. All das Getue, und nichts dahinter wie es scheint.” The English translation of this provided on a website devoted to this game is: “I hope you’re happy with yourself now. All that silly posturing, and yet nothing to back it up it seems.” I felt that I could do a better translation of that, but, admittedly, only after having seen that one. Something like: “I hope you are satisfied now. For all you have done, it would seem that there was nothing to it / nothing behind it.” But then, “done” is, admittedly, a literal translation of “Getue” (even though “Getue” meant as a noun indicating a concept rather than as a past participle), and “For all you have done” is not supposed to be an indication that she is actually impressed by “all you have done”. And “nothing to it” is not supposed to be taken in the sense of “this / that was only too easy”, hence my alternative suggestion of “nothing behind it” (like she was laughing at you). At the time, I thought my version was better, but now I don’t know. Say what you will.

Taken from the original version in a recent German to English translation project: “Frau Schopp möchte sich nun beruflich in einer Region weiterbilden.”
My translation of this: “Professionally, Mrs. Schopp would like to obtain further education / training in another domain.”
Or maybe it’s like: “she would like to obtain further education / training in this particular industry, only in another location” i.e. the region bit. It’s just a thought. I may be wrong.

Taken from the original in a recent French to English translation project “Le Pass, c’est aussi des événements toute l’année à découvrir sur www.pass.be”
Does that really translate as “The Pass also offers events throughout the year – discover full details on www.pass.be”, which is what I put, or is it about annual events (held at Easter, Christmas etc.)? – there was once a time when I never would have thought of the latter.

Oh yes, life is full of surprises, and it has to be appreciated that this is true even when you seriously believe that things couldn’t be any more favourable for you, whether there’s a goal involved or not. I am now confident enough to acquaint myself with just about anything “not normal” and capable of confusing me ineffably, without it rendering me insane. In the domain of translation: whatever definitions you are willing to assign to words, let me just say (as others have done) that thoughts are powerful things – truer words have never been spoken. But at the end of the day, I am very proud to be a professional translator, who provides multilingual services to others for a living, and I appreciate hugely the conditions that have enabled me to pursue this at all, let alone enjoy any kind of possibly enviable success.

17th September 2016


I saw this quote on the Financial Times website once: “You must take risks to learn languages” (Michael Skapinker). I don’t know about that, but I nevertheless find it easy to agree that one can easily get deluded as to how well one really knows a foreign language – this coming from someone whose job is a professional translator of all things! I’m sure I could learn a random new language if I really pared down – even a relatively little-used one like Korean or Greek or Hungarian or Swahili – but things are different now compared to when I was younger. You see, when I was younger I could count on spending some time learning French or German from a willing teacher in a classroom environment several times a week, and my main concerns didn’t really extend beyond the day’s lessons at all. But now that I am 33, I have a business to run and it’s all too often a question of finding time for anything I would fancy doing; and this means that there’s a bigger chance of getting distracted / having my thoughts scrambled. Even though I am proud of myself for how I manage today, still… it’s just sad sometimes.

Some will probably suggest that being able to translate well requires a certain kind of “gift”. Others will likely argue that it’s simply a matter of literacy and perception and – well – “listening” properly. Indeed, Italo Calvino said, “It is not the voice that tells the story, but the ear.” But I wrote this new blog as a reflection of how I am prepared to critique my own work as a self-employed translator, even if I am… unusually proud of myself at any given time I have any particular good idea when I am doing any given piece of translation work.

You know, have you ever known of a case of anyone translating their own work? Nabokov https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vladimir_Nabokov likened self-translation to “sorting through one’s own innards and then trying them on for size like a pair of gloves” (!) (Did he really write English prose despite the fact that his mother tongue was Russian? Wow. Good for him.)

Either way, put simply, I have plenty to say about it.

I think this is worth a look, for starters. I still have in my records a file I saved which includes a “translation test” for being accepted by a certain translation agency i.e. to do professional translation work for them. When I say “translation test” in inverted commas, it wasn’t really an exercise in translation at all: I was supposed to take nine separate English sentences and “make them make sense in my target language [i.e. English] so that they do not read like a translation from English” – I had no idea what language these sentences were originally translated from, but that would seem irrelevant here.

Here’s what I did with this:

“The hotel uses big keys for the room. When you come and go, they take them and keep them underneath the counter of the front desk.”
Reworked by me as: “The hotel has big keys for its rooms. When you leave the hotel or arrive in it, the staff will take the key for your room and store it underneath the counter of the front desk.”

“Airport hotels are a practical and convenient solution to the problem of arriving back to the airport late at night or having to depart early in the morning.”
Reworked by me as: “If you arrive at an airport at a late hour, or you have an early flight in the morning, then you will surely appreciate the practical and convenient solution that is airport hotels.”

“Is the Euro really like the Hotel California? Perhaps you can check out permanently, after all.”
Reworked by me as: “Is the Euro really like the Hotel California? It is possible that, all things considered, you might actually be able to check out permanently now.”

“The hotel was founded in 1978, and the new West Wing opened in January 2009.”
Reworked by me as: “The hotel was founded in 1978, and the manager opened its new West Wing in January 2009.”

“Running a resort hotel offers unique problems you can’t always foresee in advance.”
Reworked by me as: “When you are in charge of a resort hotel, you are sometimes confronted with unique problems which cannot always be foreseen.”

“The school prepares students to plan and manage hotels in the international arena.”
Reworked by me as: “The school teaches its students hotel planning and management skills at an international level.”

“The hotel staff will go out of their way to make your stay with us memorable and we believe that you will leave us feeling that the combination of good value, service, and comfort is unequalled.”
Reworked by me as: “The hotel staff will go out of their way to make your stay with us a memorable one, and we believe that, when you leave, you will agree that you have enjoyed an unprecedented combination of good value, service and comfort.”

“Access for Disabled Guests: There are four steps at the front of the building—assistance with those is always available.”
Reworked by me as: “Access for Disabled Guests: There are four steps at the front of the building – we make sure that we are always able to provide assistance to those who need help with them.”

“As well as thanking the hotel staff, we’d like to thank Faye our florist and Orange Entertainments (who provided an excellent pianist, Geoff Hiscott, and magician, Jack Stevens and Sue and her great stationery).”
Reworked by me as: “We’d like to thank the following (in addition to the hotel staff): our florist, Faye, and Orange Entertainments (who provided an excellent pianist, Geoff Hiscott, a magician, Jack Stevens, and Sue, with her great stationery).”

Of course, I must not forget that when I do translation work, I must always be prepared to ask questions – which are by no means “typical” ones, of course – to do with the language I am translating from i.e. the foreign language, which is not my own. And that’s often a lot more challenging and complicated than asking myself questions about what I have ended up writing in my own language (as important as that is as well) – I’m sure that’s easy to imagine. Exactly how well one can do this will be the key determining factor of whether or not, during a translation job, they understand isolated concepts that are waiting to be understood… and can provide a working equivalent of it in the new language, the one they are translating into – usually the one that is supposed to be their native tongue.

Several months (nay a number of years) ago, when I used to translate a number of survey responses from French into English for someone in Hong Kong every week, I generally regarded it as “easy” work to translate – certainly for someone who is as qualified for it as I am, not to brag – although that didn’t mean that I never had to be prepared to deal with French text which had plenty of distinctly casual expressions and / or was only semi-literate in places, rather than being written in standard formal language which follows all the rules and conventions like this blog. For example, I once read “je trouve que le Nokia musique est top” in the original and I have it recorded that I just wondered: “is this music composed by Nokia staff (like ringtones), or the Nokia theme? Sorry, but there’s no hard and fast way to tell which it is from this offhand comment alone!” Another comment in the original in this work read “Sobriété du téléphone, puissant et fluide, Windows phone”; rather than translate “Sobriété” literally as “sobriety” or anything of the sort, I thought about it a bit and eventually decided on the word “reliable” instead; I made what I believed to be the more sensible choice of putting “A reliable phone which is powerful and fluid” (Windows phone)” as my translation of this bit. For the small comment “Très rapide et convivial”, the word “convivial” was not translated literally as “convivial”, hence my translation of that bit as “Very fast and user-friendly.” English speakers are a lot more likely to latch onto “user-friendly” compared to English “convivial”, after all. When I read “J’ai été conquis des les premières secondes d’utilisation” elsewhere: although I don’t actually have a record for what I wrote for that, I did make a note which indicated that I wondered whether the word “conquis” in that sentence was actually supposed to mean “conquered” in English i.e. “completely bowled over”, or “just” “won over” i.e. enough to be impressed, and likely “more so than I would have expected.”

And this, as an example, is what might be called “real French”, or “French French”. This is the French that French people actually use in practice, not exclusively bound by what some people (who speak French as a foreign language, like me) might think it “should be” based purely on the French they were once taught. This is not about one’s knowledge of “French” with a concern only for proper grammar and vocabulary that can be found in any bog-standard French-whatever bilingual dictionary; all I’m saying is that “French French” includes elements which are strictly – obviously – more likely to be used by those who speak French as their mother tongue compared to those who don’t, which are not necessary at the highest standards of the language that they are capable of. You might think I’m just talking about slang and swear words, but I’m not; it’s not even just idiomatic phrases like “it’s raining cats and dogs”, which would just always sound bizarre in any language other than English; it’s quite simply the whole realm of aspects of French which are not really taught but which have ended up used, habitually, by the masses of those who speak French as a foreign language up until the point where they have just bought into it. A case in point: “Il est probable que…” is often taken by native French speakers as “It is likely that…” rather than the more literal “It is [merely] probable that…”.

And yes, I am aware that you get the same thing in German, just in case you’re in any doubt. For example: I once translated “Tourengehen leicht(er) gemacht” as “Touring made (yet) easier” (the usual English translation of the German word “leicht” is “light”, but I just don’t “buy” “Touring made (yet) lighter”, do you?).

I’ll end this by bringing up one more angle it’s worth looking at this topic from. It’s three French sentences (in turn), followed by what I might once have translated them as, with discussion behind it, and then finally “What I have learned to translate it as.” Enjoy reading!

“Leur activité est fortement dépendante de la disponibilité de cabosses améliorées, qui est irrégulière.”
What I might once have translated it as
“Their activity is strongly dependent on the availability of improved pods, which is irregular.”
(“Strongly dependent” does work, but I guess that sometimes it pays to use something other than the first words in English that spring to mind when dealing with certain words – see how I translate “fortement dépendante” below.)
What I have learned to translate it as
“Their activity depends a great deal on the availability of improved pods – something which is irregular.”

“Quelques paysans utilisent les engrais, mais dans des proportions trop peu significatives pour qu’elles soient réellement efficacies.”
What I might once have translated it as
“Some farmers use fertilisers, but only in proportions that are not enough for them to be really efficient.”
(The word “proportions” seems redundant here – besides, the sentence is about fertilisers, but it’s not enough to say that. It highlights an issue revolving around fertilisers: the farmers – who are from the Ivory Coast – don’t use enough as they don’t have enough money to buy it in abundance.)
What I have learned to translate it as
“Some farmers use fertiliser, but not enough for it to be really efficient.”

“Cependant dans ce domaine, les prix parfois meilleur marché dans les villages reflètent plutôt la mauvaise qualité des produits vendus aux paysans.”
What I might once have translated it as
“However, in this domain, the prices which are sometimes cheaper in village often reflect the poor quality of the products sold to the farmers.”
(Does this mean that the products sold to farmers are always of poor quality? While a valid sentence in English, it is still “off” and you soon agree that it deviates from the subject matter if you’re not prepared for it.)
What I have learned to translate it as
“However, in this domain, the prices which are sometimes cheaper in villages are often a sign that the products sold to the farmers are poor quality.”

Of course, this isn’t the only time I have put forward samples in my business blogs for the purpose of discussing “real translation”. Just to clarify: in earlier ones I frequently refer to them as “translation-related anecdotes”, if that makes sense.

18th September 2016


I like Rammstein, the German music band, and they’re popular enough not just in Germany but elsewhere that people have translated the lyrics of their songs into other languages (certainly English, at least). But how cool it is that I found this rhyming English translation of the lyrics of the song “Engel” (“Angels”) which, for what it’s worth, are pretty much on target.


Meanwhile, the following is a good (“official”) literal English translation of the German lyrics of this song (if not one which rhymes):

Those who are good in their lifetime on Earth
Will become an angel after death
A look at the sky and you wonder
Why one can’t see them

Only after the clouds have gone to sleep
Can one see us in the sky
We have fear and are alone

God knows I don’t want to be an angel

They live behind sunshine
Separated from us (infinitely far)
They must cling to stars (really tightly)
So that they don’t fall from the sky

Personally, I was quick to compare it with my own French rhyming translation of the Garbage song “Right Between The Eyes” – see My Most Audacious Marketing Move II (dated 25th June 2014); and, while we’re at it “My Most Audacious Marketing Move” (dated 3rd October 2011) and “My Most Audacious Marketing Move III” (dated 26th June 2014).

So what is this particular blog all about?

Put simply, I’m taking the “My Most Audacious Marketing Move” thing one step further (which I never saw myself doing). By that I mean providing my own RHYMING FRENCH translation of the lyrics of the song “Engel” (if strictly taken more from the original German version than from this rhyming English version; and even though my mother tongue is neither German nor French, but English). Here it is:

Ceux de vies biennes ont la sort
De devenir d’anges après la mort
En regardant le ciel, tu
Comprends que personne ne les a vus

Il faut attendre le dodo des nuages
Pour voir en haut notre entourage
Nos peur et solitude s’allongent
Dieu sait que je ne veux pas être ange !

Ils vivent derrière l’ensoleillement
Séparés de nous infiniment
Ils doivent saisir les étoiles (très fort)
Pour éviter une fatale voile

Translated (literally) as:

Those who lead good lives have the fate
Of becoming angels after death
As you look at the sky, you
Understand that no-one has seen them

It’s necessary to wait until the clouds have gone sleep
To see our entourage up above
Our fear and solitude continue
God knows I don’t want to be an angel!

They live behind sunshine
Separated from us infinitely
They must seize stars (very tightly)
To avoid a fatal fall

Or, let’s compare it with my French translation of the rhyming English translation:

Laissez désir pour mérite et mœurs
Dans la tombe : dans anges en chœur
On cherche la raison pour laquelle
Ils sont invisibles en le ciel

Seulement après les nuages endormis
Peut-on voir des anges en paradis
Étant seuls et en peur ils questionnent fort
Bon dieu, pas un ange après la mort

Les vies des anges sont éternelles
Sép’rés de nous, derrière le ciel
Leurs âmes pâlissants se glacent
Mais un blanc paradis se passe

Translated (literally) as:

Abandon desire for merit and morals
In the grave: angels in a choir
One searches the reason why
They are invisible in the sky (i.e. “people don’t see them in the sky”)

Only after the clouds have gone to sleep
Can one see angels in paradise
Being afraid and alone they question a great deal
Good God, not an angel when I die

The lives of angels are eternal
Separated from us, behind the sky
Their fading souls become ice
But one witnesses a paradisiacal white

Oh yes, translation is what I do, baby!

19th September 2016


As someone who has studied French and German at degree level and who now makes a living out of it as a self-employed professional translator, it can be hard for me to accept it when it is suggested to me that my knowledge of French or German – never mind English – is anything less than impeccable, for reasons which do not necessarily make sense to me at the time; as hard as it was for me to accept it when, during a driving test, was pointed out to me that I was speeding (and yes, of course I failed).

Those who have read my blogs for a longer period of time will probably know of my translation quality feedback form, the text of which I first made public on here on 31st August 2013.

Anyway, sometimes “good enough” just isn’t good enough – in my case i.e. in my professional translation career, the truth of the matter is that people who accept that I am a professional translator and who ask for my services – and even if they don’t – always expect me to show a knowledge of French and German – and English, for that matter – that is more than simply passable, even if it should be accepted that the facts of it are 100% correct and the criteria of it 100% sagacious (in theory, at least).

But I have no interest in elaborating all I can based on what I happened to be taught about what I claim to be a master in, and nothing but. Yes… even though the people who taught me French and German included native speakers… well, I don’t want to vociferously blame anyone for anything without reason, but they just didn’t teach me everything.

While I may know “good and correct French” and “good and correct German”, I just can’t always speak it like the natives can, for the simple reason that I don’t have the sense of their mother tongue that they do (sound familiar?). Basically, I hope to learn as much about the abstract, relatively obstruse truth about the content of these languages as possible – and I will do it where no-one else can or will.

I myself wrote the French and German versions of my quality feedback form – and I send the French version to people whom I have done work for in France, and the German version to people whom I have done work for in Germany. As part of this blog, I hereby present the text of them as follows:


George Trail Translation Services

Si vous remplissez ce formulaire, je vous prie d’inclure un cachet et / ou votre signature et le scanner.

Détails du projet
Ma référence :
Votre référence (si applicable) :
Nom(s) du/des fichier(s) original(aux) :

Je m’engage à la production d’oeuvres de traduction de bonne qualité, pour lesquels ses destinataires devraient sentir à l’aise quand ils les lisent (et en particulier les “utilisent”). Mais si vous trouvez que je suis responsable pour des éléments de mauvaise qualité en la traduction que j’ai récemment faite pour vous, je vais écouter vos plaintes et ferai mon meilleur en ce qui concerne les mesures correctives.

D’abord, comment évaluez-vous cet oeuvre de traduction en general ?

0 – absolument inacceptable
1 – distinguablement pauvre
2 – très pauvre
3 – pauvre
4 – au-dessous du niveau adéquat
5 – à la frontière
6 – loin de parfait mais encore equitable
7 – acceptable
8 – bien (meilleur que passable)
9 – très bien
10 – excellent

Votre réponse :

On dit que les meilleures traductions n’ont pas l’image qu’elles sont des traductions en la réalité. Les erreurs que vous avez notées, elles sont à quelle fréquence ?

0 – tant que la compréhension est pratiquement impossible à chaque tour
1 – il y en a assez que lire le texte (sans parler de sa compréhension) est un défi en soi
2 – trop ; les élements corrects sont là mais ils sont peu nombreuses et espacées
3 – il y a beaucoup d’erreurs, dont la plupart devraient être appelés pire que mineures
4 – le texte pourrait bénéficier d’une certaine réécriture de gros en de nombreux endroits
5 – il y en a quelques mais, en général, elles n’entravent la lisibilité globale du texte
6 – il y en a une poignée mais les mineures ont tendance à l’emporter sur les plus majeures
7 – relativement peu nombreuses ; il y a une petite chance de preuve d’insouciance mais rien de grave
8 – seulement quelques-unes, et il est probable qu’il ne faut même pas besoin de beaucoup pour les corriger
9 – elles sont très peu nombreuses, et même avec cela elles sont presque toujours subtiles ou même difficiles à noter du tout
10 – il n’y a aucunes (ou presqu’aucunes) erreurs

Votre réponse :

Maintenant, on va établir la nature des erreurs que vous prétendez avoir observées. D’après les catégories listées au-dessous, comment est-ce que vous les décririez globalement (merci de donner des exemples le cas échéant) ?

• Fautes d’orthographe (fautes de frappe courantes ou non) ou de la ponctuation, de grammaire ou de syntaxe
• Le phrasé maladroit i.e. des phrases / expressions qui sont difficiles à suivre (meme si on pourrait les interpréter comme correctes en théorie mais on croirait que ceci n’arriverait pas naturellement)
• Mauvais choix de mots individuels ou de termes spécifiques (ce qui pourrait être de fausses traductions de mots d’après la portée de sens incorrects d’eux, ou d’échec d’utiliser de la terminologie correcte, ou de dire quelque chose que même s’il pourrait être parfaitement normal en un autre context, est hors de propos ou particulier en le contexte spécifique du texte en question)
• Des phrases qui, même si elles sont correctes et apparaissent érudites, suggèrent quelque chose en relation avec l’objet du texte que ceux qui s’en occupent savent ne peut pas être vrai
• S’il est difficile à dire exactement, vous pouvez préciser ici :


George Trail Translation Services

Wenn Sie dieses Formular ausfüllen, bitte schliessen Sie Ihren Stempel und / oder Ihre Unterschrift ein, und scannen Sie es.

Meine Referenz:
Ihre Referenz (gegebenenfalls):
Name(n) der originalen Datei(en):

Ich beziehe mich darauf, gute Übersetzungarbeit zu schaffen; jene die dieselbe lesen (und besonders “benutzen”) sollen dabei wohlfühlen. Aber wenn Sie finden dass ich für Elemente von schlechter Qualität in meiner kürzlich gemachten Übersetzungarbeit für Sie verantwortlich bin, dann werde ich Ihre Beschwerden anhören und mein Bestes tun, Korrekturmaßnahmen zu ergreifen.

Zuerst, wie würden Sie diese Übersetzungarbeit im Allgemeinen schätzen?

0 – völlig inakzeptabel
1 – unterscheidbar schlecht
2 – sehr schlecht
3 – schlecht
4 – weniger als angemessen
5 – bei der Grenzlinie
6 – bei weitem nicht perfekt, aber immer noch fair
7 – akzeptabel
8 – gut (besser als ausreichend)
9 – sehr gut
10 – ausgezeichnet

Ihre Antwort:

Gesagt ist, das die beste Übersetzungen nicht wie Übersetzungen aussehen. Wie häufig waren die Fehler, die Sie beachtet haben (bestimmte oder angebliche)?

0 – so viele, dass das Verständnis auf Schritt und Tritt praktisch unmöglich ist
1 – so viele dass das Lesen des Textes (geschweige denn das Verständnis) eine Herausforderung an sich ist
2 – zu viele; die korrekte Teile sind da aber sie sind wenige und weit zwischeneinander
3 – es gibt viele Fehler, und die meiste davon sollen als schlechter als kleinere Fehler bekannt sein
4 – der Text würde davon profitieren, in vielen Plätzen voll wieder geschrieben zu werden
5 – es gibt sicher einige Fehler, aber im Allgemeinen behindern sie die allgemeine Lesbarkeit des Textes nicht
6 – es gibt eine Handvoll Fehler aber man würde sagen, dass es mehre kleinere Fehler als größere gibt
7 – relativ wenige – es gibt eine kleine Chance dass Nachlässigkeit zu beweisen ist, aber es gibt nichts Ernsthaftes
8 – nur wenige, und es ist auch wahrscheinlich dass nicht viel gefordert wird sie zu korrigieren
9 – sehr wenige, und auch dann sind sie fast immer subtil oder sogar schwer zu bemerken überhaupt
10 – es gibt keine oder virtuell keine Fehler

Ihre Antwort:

Jetzt werden wir die Natur der Fehler, die Sie angeblich beachtet haben, ermitteln. Sehen Sie die Kategorien unten – wie würden Sie sie überall beschreiben (gegebenenfalls bitte geben Sie Beispiele):

• Fehler beim Rechtschreiben (allgemeine Tippfehler oder anderweitig) oder Zeichensetzung, Grammatik oder Syntax
• Umständliche Phrasierung i.e. Phrasen / Sätze die schwer zu folgen sind (auch wenn sie theoretischerweise “korrekt” interpretiert werden können, aber es ist unwahrscheinlich dass dies naturell kommen würde)
• Schlechte Auswahl einzelner Wörtern oder spezifischer Begriffen (dies könnte: falsche Übersetzung von Wörtern wobei die falsche Bedeutung angegriffen wurde; Versäumnis, korrekte Terminologie zu verwenden; etwas zu sagen das bei irgend welchem anderen Kontext völlig normal sein könnte, aber es ist ausser Platz oder eigentümlich beim spezifischen Kontext dieses Textes)
• Phrasen die, auch wenn sie korrekt und sogar gelehrt sind, schlagen etwas in Verbindung mit dem Gegenstand des Textes vor die jene die damit besetzt sind wissen dass es nicht wahr sein kann
• Wenn es schwer ist, genau zu sagen, dann können Sie sagen was Sie wollen hier

…and now a French speaker has recently, at their own suggestion, made corrections to the French version of my quality feedback form after I sent it to them (see attachment)! Why!?

Look: the French and German versions of some of the pages on my site www.trailtranslation.com were written by me personally, in case you were thinking that they were done using a machine translator (or even if you were thinking that I paid a mother tongue speaker to do it). If you doubt me, ask the staff at Web.com / Scoot, whom I paid for it.

Thank you for reading this and taking the time to understand my case. I’m done. Gotta get back to work now…

21st September 2016



Yo, I’m a self-employed translator
And I’m here on a mission
To show you that I am
For real about my position
Those who judge my work don’t just look for
Linguistic mistakes or omissions
So, I try to be prepared for anything, like I would
Expect the Spanish Inquisition

The thing is, we all follow certain rules
When we communicate
Grammar and emphasis of individual words and
All the rest one could state
But my mastery of three languages
Means I’ve mastered three whole systems
And making sure it doesn’t deteriorate
Surely signifies wisdom

When I translate, I register facts and make sure that
Nothing important’s neglected
For it should be the truth, not merely whatever’s
Concluded that is reflected
And, yes, some words have different meanings
But one should not overlook the mood
Or be biased in their response
To the conveyed attitude

But I can’t always hope for advice on how to show
That these things are acknowledged
And I’d rather avert a situation
As sticky as a bowl of porridge
So I ruminate on what I write
Even when my clients refuse
Hence me including in my work the occasional
Comment to peruse

It’s basically an issue
That I always take to heart
Do you want my advice?
Well, maybe this is a good start:
Be wary of writing things that do not
Make sense logically
Here’s an example: “Do you think that
So-and-so’s my RAC?”

25th September 2016


To those who think that I just spend my days at work in my study with a carefree attitude, loving all the chances I get to make money in the relaxed environment I work in purely because I have a confirmed talent for languages which it’s so easy to wow others with, I offer this blog as my rebuttal.

As I continue to accept and complete translation assignments with almost obsessive fervour out of a desire to earn more money from it than I currently do… every so often I take a step back to allow for accommodation of the accounts of others of what makes one a “true” linguist or translator (usually praying that they’re not full of perplexing jargon and whatnot, and regardless of any and all well-justified claims I could already make that I am such a person); knowing full well that, whatever personal experiences I’ve had of which I don’t believe that others have had similar ones, others will have had certain personal experiences of which they won’t believe that others, including me, have had similar ones. The thing that should be accepted here is that many people who speak more than one language think that to learn a new language is to become familiar with a whole new viewpoint of and attitude toward society at large and the very world we live in. Certainly if articles like this are anything to go by http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2015/03/speaking-second-language-may-change-how-you-see-world Interesting.

And I guess that that is what has made me wish I could develop a knack for pre-empting awkward questions from those whom I have submitted completed translation work – questions where I find it all too easy to end up not knowing what to think, let alone do (at least originally, and that’s if I’m lucky).

Question: how well do you think I listen – actually listen? There’s a bit in Metal Gear Solid Sons Of Liberty where, when you’re playing as Raiden, you can select the Claymore mines as the active weapon then call Snake on the Codec to have him tell you about them. Part of it is when he basically says, “Be advised that the mine doesn’t distinguish friend from foe.” I realised what was being implied straight away without him having to explain it: “Don’t trigger your own trap.” In other words, you can set off your own mines by walking over them and getting harmed by them in the usual way if you’re not careful. (Duh!) And that’s supposed to be an example of successful “real listening” at work. And I think that “real listening” is very important in translation, for the – well – usual reasons: that it averts misunderstandings and staves off ignorance (whatever the consequences of THAT could be).

In one comment for something that I included in some of my more recent translation work I said, “Can this be confirmed as right or wrong?” (Not merely one of the two.) I think that’s a very apt viewpoint to look at this from. And it’s not just in translation that unintentionally misleading words exist: for example, when you’re trying to make new friends on Facebook, if you click on the “send request” button to do this (say in a link in an email) when you’ve never tried to get in contact with this person before ever, it will say, “Your friend request has been sent to so-and-so.” However, click on the same button when you have already sent this person such a request in the past and it will say “You’ve sent this person a friend request” on the screen (if they have not accepted your request by then). What I’m saying is, just look at how similar those two sentences are to those unwary about that.

The Facebook post for George Trail Translator dated 30th September includes the words “For incredible translations in English, German, or French, call me on: 01344 773948 today!” Don’t ask me; I didn’t post it. Personally, I regard “incredible translations” as out of context here. It’s just that, reading “incredible translations” to me suggests that idea that I try to regale people with what I do, as if it’s all about astounding them or leaving them in euphoric delight, like I were a celebrity or professional athlete. Come on! Translating is hardly a glamorous job; it can be pretty boring, as true as it is that I have found satisfaction in it. But, for the sake of a professional image, I know that nothing can substitute what I am able to say to those of my customers who have ended up frustrated and do so even if they know that they are less than inclined to make allowances for me and my limitations of which I do not necessarily have a full awareness and knowledge. Oh, don’t I know that, as a self-employed individual, I have no-one else to fall back on when confusion trumps hope!

Many a person has felt chuffed about being able to hire someone to do their gardening or replace a pipe at their home while knowing that they could probably do an adequate (if not fully “professional”) job of it themselves if they would just take the time to do their homework before actually getting round to it – who knows, they might actually enjoy it! But I also know full well that I would be out of place in a debate on the finer points of horticulture, and that I have no extensive knowledge of plumbing equipment and techniques enough to make even the best professional plumbers keen to listen to me to a certain extent – nothing I could hope to impress anyone with. Similarly, I know it’s not enough for me just to have a command of a foreign language (as well as my own) that’s “satisfactory” or good enough to please or even impress at an everyday level / raise eyebrows; my customers can but hope that I can show a masterful level of articulate literacy when it truly matters – I know I would be oh so likely to feel the same way if I hired a translator, including if the material to be translated were, in all mercy, very challenging and sophisticated (or perhaps especially so).

But having said that, it’s not like I’ve never written “work-related anecdotes” as examples of what I really do in the past, and I will be doing it here as well. Even today I frequently feel the need to, say, mention to a customer that I wouldn’t be surprised if they thought that a particular word I chose in my translation of a given part in a text was odd or something given the context – it’s just that I was left a bit unsure as to the best way to go given the equivalent expression I happened to come across in the original. Let’s just look at these:

French original:
“Le Pass, c’est aussi des événements toute l’année à découvrir sur www.pass.be”

Does that really translate as “The Pass also offers events throughout the year – discover full details on www.pass.be”, which is what I put, or is it about annual events (Easter, Christmas etc.) – there was once a time when I never would have thought of the latter.

German original:
“Er beobachtete genau”

I guess it depends on the context, but I thought it meant “He made accurate observations” or “He was precise in what he noted”. But I tried putting it through Google Translate, just for comparison, and that said “He was watching closely”.

German original:
“Intensivere Klänge erzeugte er durch Ausholen mit dem ganzen Arm”

I decided to translate this as “He produced more intensive sounds, marked by upswinging with his whole arm”. Of course, I realise that “He produced more intensive sounds” is loose-sounding and vague, with nothing to convince the reader that I actually know what I’m talking about / what’s taking place, but then I wasn’t there. I merely happened to come across this sentence in a document that I of all people ended up translating, for better or worse.

German original:
“AT nur, wenn einschlägige Probleme klinisch auftreten sollten.”

Now, I translated this as “AT only if relevant problems should occur (at a clinical level)” when it probably would have been better not to use the word “should” – but what if, in the original, we’re talking about problems that are expected to occur?

German original:
“Nach Lagerung und Desinfektion erfolgt durch den Oberarzt Dr. Walisch der Gastroenterologie eine Gastroskopie.”
My first translation of this was “After admission and disinfection, Senior Dr. Walisch performed a gastroscopy (gastroenterology). [as in, “something that “falls under the gastroenterology banner”, not that I know actually know anything about that.”]” That was the first time; after I looked at the phrase another time it just, for some reason, straight away came clear to me that it really meant “Senior Dr. Walsch (of the gastroenterology department) performed a gastroscopy.” I’m sure I would have gotten it first time round had the words “der Gastroenterologie” been in brackets.

But even I still occasionally end up with no choice but to do my best to decide on the best approach to take, the best principles to apply, when I do translation. And to be frank, the approaches that I do take, the principles that I do apply, may well be anything but “standard” or “typical”, and therefore wildly abstruse and hard to elaborate. For example, take the following joke (which is awful, I know, but it is what it is):

Where do Muslim ninjas live?
Saudi Arabi-yaaa!

And here’s my attempt at translating it into French and German:

Où habitent les ninjas musulmans ?
L’Arabaïeeee (!) Saoudite.

Wo leben muslimische Ninjas?
Saudi Arabijaaaah-n.

All feedback graciously accepted.

21st October 2016


As a professional linguist, I concern myself with all things language and linguistics – and someone in my position should always be among the first to study language and linguistics and preoccupy myself with it from whatever angle, however tough, abstruse or insane-sounding, right?

Did you know that the word “Babel” in the Tower of Babel means “confusion”? Now, I make no claim of being a Biblical scholar here, but I did read the story of the Tower of Babel online somewhere and see a video about it on Youtube recently. It is agreed that the people built the Tower of Babel to reach the skies (i.e. Heaven / celestial paradise), as well as bind themselves together, and that it would be a proud, eternal monument to themselves. But we can but wonder why God took away our singular language; but then it was probably because he didn’t want us all joining Him in Heaven considering what was taking place, because, apparently, “We just don’t belong there until we’re dead.” (Cue sad faces and a mass ensemble of “ohhhh”.) Still, He was kind enough not to destroy the Tower of Babel, which to this day remains recognised as a symbol of unity in the human race when you think about it, whether completed or not.

But that doesn’t answer this question: when God destroyed our single language, did He invent all the new ones Himself or didn’t He (assuming He does actually exist)? Not that it really matters because people continue to change / influence / contribute to their own languages all the time, whether or not they label it is at such. Indeed, French actually started off as one of many despised vernacular varieties of Latin. When I was at university one of my German lecturers actually told us the story of the origin of the F-word. I can’t imagine God inventing swear words, can you? And you can actually buy the Klingon Dictionary (by Marc Okrand) on Amazon, believe it or not.

Oh, what do you have to say for how you (choose to) communicate? Indeed, I’m reminded of the early point in the film 300 where Leonidas tells the Persian messenger, “In Sparta, everyone, even a king’s messenger, is held accountable for the words in his voice.” Not that we could all hope to actually talk to God as so few people speak what is officially His language, but even then we don’t even all agree on what that actually is: some say it’s Ancient Aramaic or Hebrew, some say it’s Classical Arabic, and still others probably say it’s Sanskrit or something. Actually, what does it even matter when, being omniscient, He should know all languages anyway? So, Praise be to God, Dieu soit loué, Lob sei Gott, Alabado sea Dios, etc. etc.

Like everyone else, I might go to Heaven when I die, but then I might not. For the time being, in this life, for better or worse, one of my top (and most fulfilling) priorities in this life (if not THE top priority) is continuing to do the professional translator thing – and keep records of it for generations to come (admittedly, this is to promote myself as a professional translator more than anything else). I’ve said a lot in these business blogs and it looks like I’m not quite ready to stop it yet. It may be true that we don’t all speak one specific language between us but I’m only too happy to challenge limitations across known languages.

I suppose not everything is possible in translation. Consider this: back at school, I remember the odd occasion of people rubbing out letters on the blackboard that said what was for lunch that day and leaving nonsensical and crude things, including – dare I say it – in the case of “fresh fruit”, rubbing out the first three letters of “fresh” and the first three letters of “fruit” to leave “shit”. Shit for lunch? No thank you. Sorry if you’re vomiting now. In French, you can’t rub out individual letters in “fruits frais” to leave “merde”, and in German, you can’t rub out individual letters in “frisches Obst” to leave “Scheisse”; I get that. But my approach here is not supposed to be limited purely to ruling out what is simply not possible in translation; which brings me to the next paragraph.

I recently looked at some sentences which sound crazy in English but are still grammatical. I wondered what would transpire in my best attempts at translating them into French and German. It was impossible to predict what would develop / how things would turn out, but… well, why not? For the record, this does not include stuff which deliberately has specific words in it with multiple meanings which are aimed at stirring confusion; stuff which just loses its validity in any language other than English, like the following three examples:

1. Have you ever noticed that “read” rhymes with “lead”, and “read” rhymes with “lead”? Also, “read” and “lead” don’t rhyme. Neither do “read” and “lead”.
2. “I see,” said the blind man, as he picked up his hammer and saw.
3. Time flies like an arrow, but fruit flies like a banana.

Now let’s translate some of these crazy sentences in English, into French and German. And let’s see if they retain an element of this craziness in the new languages. I got these sentences from here http://mentalfloss.com/article/49238/7-sentences-sound-crazy-are-still-grammatical but you probably won’t need the explanations provided therein to understand them if you know French and / or German:

1. The horse raced past the barn fell.
French: Le cheval est passé en courant par la bois de grange. (apparently no element of craziness retained here)
German: Das Pferd ist bei der Scheuneholz vorgelaufen. (apparently not here, either)

2. The complex houses married and single soldiers and their families.
French: Le complexe accommode des soldat mariés et célibataires et leurs familles. (apparently not here, either)
German: Der Komplex beherbergt verheiratate und ledige Soldaten sowie ihre Familien. (apparently not here, either)

3. The rat the cat the dog chased killed ate the malt.
French: Le rat que le chat que le chien a chassé a tué avait mangé le malt. (Now the rat could only have eaten the malt before the cat killed it, which is why I put the main verb – manger – in the pluperfect tense rather than the perfect. And see how I’ve included “que” phrases within other “que” phrases, although I have to admit that you probably cannot do this and call it proper French. What do native French speakers think about this?)
German: Die von der vom Hund verfolgten Katze umgebrachte Ratte hatte das Malz gegessen. (Again, the main verb – gegessen – is in the pluperfect tense here. I enjoyed doing this one – it was a bit of a challenge, but I enjoyed it. Not least because I think the element of “craziness” is still retained.)

Has any of this gotten you thinking? Whether the answer is yes or no, thank you for reading.

Signed: George Trail

30th October 2016


What is meant by the question contained in the title of this blog? Well, if we are to discuss “quality” in translation in work, what values and standards and concepts do we use as benchmarks? How do we improve the quality of our translation work, or teach someone how to do this?

It’s not like I’ve never discussed the importance of articulateness / literacy in the topic, the practice of translation. And I’m not at all surprised that clients demand “quality” in translation work. I do too, and I can say that because I’ve been a self-employed translator for eight years now. And even now, for all my attempts at innovation and determination to come across as intelligent, it’s not always easy, but what can I do? Or maybe I should be saying “That’s life.”

I have limits to my ability and understanding, but I insist most sincerely that I try to overcome them. Which brings me to the next paragraph.

The comedian Catherine Tate’s character Lauren Cooper, a poorly educated Chav-like teenage girl, is popular because she makes comedy of what might be termed excessive dismissive tendencies. This is what Lauren shows with her catchphrase “Am I bothered?” and it’s what is often seen in those who have a habit of saying “Whatever” in response to something someone else has said. In the Lauren Cooper skits, while she’s not truly aggressive or antisocial, Lauren is sometimes admonished for being rude by other characters for her flippant and irrelevant inanities which tend to make an undeserved mockery of her peers and / or the situation she is in at the time, but I have to admit that even I, for someone who’s supposed to be well-educated, am sometimes amused by them. There is one skit where she’s in a classroom and she has a new English teacher played by a famous actor who has played Doctor Who. She just has to ask him “are you the doctor?” even though (from her perspective) everyone knows he is not Doctor Who but her English teacher. And when she says, “Did you park the Tardis on a meter?”, that amused me because of the idea of the Tardis actually being on a meter and inevitably getting people’s attention as they walk past; I liked that one. (By the way, for the sake of my own dignity here: at the end of this skit, Lauren’s English teacher does get his thingy out which Dr. Who uses – whatever it’s called, I don’t watch Dr. Who myself – which he uses to turn Lauren into a doll-size figure to stop her interrupting, and the audience like that as much as they like Lauren’s fatuous comments that her English teacher finds so unwelcome. Good one, mate.)

Let me get one thing clear: nobody likes the idea of being clever but only in a useless way, any more than they like the idea of being stupid. I mean, if you’re highly knowledgeable about rocket science, there’s no hope of applying it as part of a measure to cure someone of their drug addiction. And nobody’s going to be impressed with anyone who boasts about how much they know about quantum physics when there’s a rape victim to console. Now, lots of people have written online articles about the various kinds of scams to be on your guard against in the modern world, and how to spot them. They say, “Remember the saying: ‘If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.’” They say that scammers aim to generate strong feelings (usually fear or sympathy) in the victim and proceed to use it against them as the first step in a plot to steal someone else’s money. If we’re serious about wanting to avoid being scam victims, and if we’re serious about being honest with ourselves as well as others (and not arrogant), the following concept is likely a good starting point in just about any occasion: ask yourself not what you know, but what you don’t know. I know I’ve talked about the robots in the film I, Robot in another of my blogs – could they “think” like this? You know, the magazine New Scientist has apparently written on “Your hallucinating brain – how our minds invent the reality around us”. So I’m obviously not the only one to touch on this… unusual? …kind of thinking. But whatever adjectives you use to describe it, however much it is to be described, it is surely to be applied more. That’s what I think.

Let’s look at an example. Who hasn’t received scam emails like this one?

“Attention: Beneficiary
Bank of America (officea12@deptofficesstp.cn.tn)
01/20/2016 21:47
Recipients (officea12@deptofficesstp.cn.tn)

5218 West 34Th St
Houston, TX 77092,
united States


Attention: Beneficiary,

This is to alert you that we received your fund worth the sum $ 27,000,000.00 from the Central Bank of Nigeria Africa. We are informing you to send your information and banking details where you desire to receive the fund. The Information’s we need is such as the following:

1 Your Full Name:
2. Your Current Address:
4. Your telephone numbers
5. Banking details
6. Scan copy of your valid ID card

Without your id card your fund can not be transfer into your bank account. Your Id card is very vital.

Waiting for your urgent respond. Thanks for the patronage

Bank of America
President Brian Moynihan (CEO)”

I’m sorry, I just had to insert it here. They tend to be amusing, and not just because of the often poor English (“Waiting for your urgent respond.”?). And the only thing that really matters is the bait: the claim regarding a massive sum of money – how hopeful do you think these guys really are about fabricating a halfway decent clear background story out of the blue that people will actually believe? In this case, $27,000,000 is simply a huge sum of money, even to the Dragons in Dragons’ Den when you think about it. Most people don’t earn anywhere near even a quarter that much in their whole life, and this is a case of someone (a stranger, no less) claiming that they’re ready to send someone THAT much without a word of discussion or deliberation with you, the intended recipient (sic), pending. I know enough about the Nigerian scam that they often claim that there’s a deceased distant relative of yours who’s left you a ridiculously high amount of money in their will, but this email makes no mention of who this relative is in your case (but that’s only to be expected, of course). The email addresses at the top are clearly not even American even though the email purports to be from the Bank of America. It’s sad yet funny, but I’ve said enough (and I don’t want to encourage people to attempt scams by pointing out the reasons why this particular email is a big scam failure).

Sometimes I wonder how often people who fall victim to scams like this don’t and never do realise that they have actually been scammed – such is my “outside the box cleverness” (I hope). But this blog isn’t about scams. It’s about translation theory and practice, and ultimately the provision of reasons why I really am a best choice as a professional translator for hire, just like all the other blogs on here. Which brings me to the idea of my clients’ demand for quality. If there’s anything I care about doing with “quality” – much as that tends to be a vague and abstract concept – it’s my translation work. And I do this even if my customers “don’t really expect quality”, much less have a focus on what “translation quality” actually is and means, and how to ensure it; the very topic of this particular blog. I would agree that Chavs aren’t bothered about “quality” in the products and services they buy with their money: it is well-known that a lot of them wear tracksuits from JD Sports, drink cheap cider (probably from Lidl) and simply don’t have the taste even to be interested in eating anything other than tinned food, microwave meals and pot noodles. But I’m not too ignorant to realise that I owe it to my customers to produce quality translation work whether they peruse what I do or not – it always makes me proud when I get a zing of confidence in what I write as a translation of a given sentence or phrase – especially when I agree that the confidence would actually be there in the customers themselves if and when they read it; but what they do with what I write for them is their business, not mine.

Does this concept parallel this subject matter? I think it does. When I’m driving my car, I’m often made to slow down and stop, not go any further, purely as a result of a car that happens to be in front of me. Of course I recognise an automobile when I see one, but when I slow down and stop like this I don’t stop and see the automobile as an automobile; it just drives me to slow down and stop – without even looking at my brake / handbrake – as though I were programmed. Even though I drive well enough, given that I have succumbed to the tendency to dismiss the vehicle in front of me as anything but the thing which happens to be there which forces me to stop and slow down, it’s not like I’m truly AWARE. I only “see” it for what I want to see it as – what it means (just for a moment) in my own life – and I dismiss it just as quickly.

I think a lot of people are familiar with the idea of a scenario involving tricky translation / interpretation, and ardently wishing they had a “real translator”, like me, on hand to clarify things, make them less confusing, whether or not anyone says as such. It’s especially likely that the plot will be lost if many people try to make their own points or suggestions at once. One of my favourite scenes in the film Corky Romano is the translator scene, where the character Corky (played by Chris Kattan), while pretending to work for the FBI, is expected to act as an interpreter between a Vietnamese man and a Thai man even though he doesn’t speak either language, a fact which he conceals from everyone else at the FBI https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pk_QnSwlbgk (I know it sounds silly, but you have to watch the film to understand it.) Anyway, you have to understand that Corky has no idea that the syllables he utters do actually comprise words in these foreign languages which the foreign men recognise – at least, the Vietnamese man does – even if they don’t make sense in any way, for reasons which definitely don’t need an explanation. Everyone in the scene soon ends up very confused and frustrated, for obvious reasons – even though it’s not exactly the same between any two of these people (except between the guys in the suits who are standing) – like, they will all have something to say which is indisputably true to us, the audience to whom subtitles are readily available, that none of the others will for the simple reason that it was not logically possible that they COULD have understood it – I don’t think it’s possible to explain truthfully the events that happen in this scene to anyone involved in it, or say anything that will make sense in the sense of clarifying anything or restoring confidence in connection with it, without having to go back to the beginning, right when the Vietnamese man said “Are you ready to begin?” And no, I don’t speak Vietnamese or Thai myself, but even if I could… I admit that there wasn’t much intelligent thought in the scripting of that movie scene, but still, it’s hilarious.

But when I am translating, I just can’t make my judgements, and my decisions, based on “From what I’ve seen…” or “Something tells me that…” And while I am very strict about being thorough in my work in that I “mark off” words in the original version of sentences as I am writing correct English versions of them which I and others can be confident about / comfortable with, maybe, even now, my biggest lesson in translation is yet to be learned.

12th November 2016


This is not an easy thing for me to accept in my job: people telling me that the French and German that I use in my business marketing (specifically aimed at native speakers of those languages) is a bit iffy despite the fact that I speak these languages at degree level. Don’t get me wrong, though: while I am fluent in French and German, I’m sure I still say the odd expression in those languages which, while grammatically correct and all (at least in theory), would just strike native speakers as odd and awkward at first glance, and maybe it strains them just a little bit to follow it; but it’s not hard to see what I’m really implying in such an expression, and it should be evident from it that intelligence-related standards have not been compromised.

It’s just my natural idiolect in these foreign languages. I mean, I may not speak purely “French people’s French” or “German people’s German” but I insist that I speak… just good, fluent French and German. I mean, sometimes we just end up saying peculiar expressions in our own languages anyway, isn’t that right? Expressions which are quite confident and educated-sounding but maybe, just maybe, it’s still necessary for the listener to replay it in their heads once or twice to “get it” unaided. And it’s not like I’ve never EVER touched on “French people’s French” or “German people’s German” in actual practice. You see, I can still remember being taught various French expressions for “because” during my Year Abroad at the University of Poitiers when I was at university – it was accompanied by explanations of the proper contexts in which they are used. While “parce que” is the “standard”, all-purpose French expression for “because” I was taught at school, I had also heard of other ones a long time before I went to Poitiers. Well, apparently, according to a French university lecturer, in a French university, “car” is used ostensibly when you’re asserting or corroborating an argument on either side in an actual for / against debate, whereas “puisque” is supposed to carry an indication of “for we all know / everyone knows that…”. Like when people say “innit though?” And that’s just one example.

Whatever native French and German speakers say, I speak these languages well; I wrote this blog in defence of this claim.

You know, I haven’t forgotten this other blog I wrote on here (dated 2nd July 2013) about that boy in the Greenpeace advert who makes a speech in support of the charity Greenpeace in both English and French in separate videos – it’s the same boy. In this blog I wrote my own French version of the English version and invited people to compare it with the French version that Greenpeace actually posted to the public.

The exercise that I did as part of the writing of this blog is different. Rather than translate anything from English into French, I resolved to translate something from French into English – even though, technically speaking, there is what passes for an English translation already there; it’s just that the English version existed first and I have translated the French translation back into English (and if it might seem a bit literal in places… again, bear in mind that it was the English version that existed first). What I did: I dug up a duplicated video on Youtube of one of Pat Condell’s older videos – The Myth Of Islamophobia – one with French subtitles (click on the CC button to the right of the volume control to view them). It is these subtitles that I translated into English. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CpjSiKsuKPE&index=16&list=PL8FF4F101A4455FA2 For this is true “French people’s French” – if there’s anything true about it that should be recognised, it’s that not only is it fully compliant with the rules of French grammar and syntax and whatnot; no-one could argue that it is in any way “literally” translated, not even slightly. Not least because, as these are French subtitles and they can be understood as a correct French translation which is a shorter version of what a French person might have originally put (on paper), but it’s no less eloquent… in truth, one could sensibly claim that it’s all the more eloquent given its reduced length, as I do. I find it impossible to believe that whoever wrote those French subtitles did not have French as their mother tongue; I really, really do.

So I translated the French subtitles of this video into English, as follows. Compare what follows with the English words that you actually hear Pat say; and try to understand how it is evidence of me pondering different idiolects at a very thorough and subtle level. Maybe, just maybe, with a bit more thought, I would actually have written it more like someone like Pat says it.

Title of the video: “Islamophobe, Shariaphobe and proud to be it [proud to be so] / Islamophobia and Muslims”

Translated subtitles: I receive loads of emails which say to me that I hate Muslims. Nothing is more false [or “more wrong” – OK, maybe that was a bit literally translated to be honest – certainly compared with “Nothing could be further from the truth”.] It’s as false as the official motive for the war in Iraq! That is to say, if it’s false… [I agree that I would never say that in English.] These emails illustrate (yet again) that we only see what we want to see, instead of seeing reality such as it is. And it’s that which makes the so-called Holy Scriptures so dangerous. Let it be very clear! As long as Muslims are content to perform their ritual prayers without impinging on the lives of others, Islam does not bother me. No religion which has the decency to leave people alone bothers me. The Islam that I rebel against is very different: this repressive, violent intolerant Islam [NB I translated “cet” literally as “this”, as if Pat were knowingly trying to draw attention to a particular kind of Islam which he seems to be suggesting that many people know about and which is prominent] which considers human rights an insult to God. This Islam that wants the death of homosexuals, those who commit adultery and anyone who allows themselves to have a private life. I don’t hate anyone. Hating is wretched; good only for yellow-bellies who swagger. When someone hates something, they are necessarily afraid of it; like a wimp. Additionally, we always attract what we dislike and what makes us afraid, because if one focuses too much on something, one will necessarily encounter it. Extremist Muslims hate America? America is concerning itself with them / their agenda! We Brits are afraid of intolerance? Guess what’s arriving our way… This week in Pakistan, people burned an effigy of the Queen in the street. Why? Because she knighted – and followed by what? [think of this as “and for what?”] – an author better known for the controversy he arouses than for his talents as a writer. He won’t necessarily have to walk around in armour, except maybe if he goes to Pakistan, where it’s officially considered an insult to Islam. What isn’t an insult to Islam in our day? I find it hard to take this story seriously. Indeed, Pakistan is a country whose attitude toward women is in itself a shame for humanity. The real insult to Islam is that, in Pakistan, a woman can be killed if she is “guilty” of having been raped. In Pakistan, being born a woman is the worst thing that can come your way [or rather: “happen to you.”]. In this country, every year, thousands of women are assassinated by their own family. Curiously, no-one feels offended, and no-one demands excuses. No response from the part of Muslims, just an incredible silence. The Human Rights League states the figure of 80% of women beaten regularly beaten by their husbands in Pakistan. [OK – just for the record, off the top, I personally would have translated “La ligue des droits de l’homme avance le chiffre de 80% de femmes battues régulièrement par leurs maris au Pakistan.” As “The Human Rights League states that the number of women in Pakistan who are regularly beaten by their husbands is 80%.” – revised: “The Human Rights League states that 80% of women in Pakistan are regularly beaten by their husbands.”] Please, show a bit of morality; stop saying that your culture is the only thing responsible! [Yet] it has to be said that it’s these people who accuse the British government of Islamophobia. In any case, this must hurt all these “blessed yes-men” [for lack of better expression, and yes, there is sarcasm intended] who govern us; those who have already made so many concessions to Islamists – going as far as legitimising groups of crazies such as the Muslim Council of Britain which has just issued a series of Islamic prescriptions to be imposed on all British schoolchildren. They appropriate official airs [i.e. “they make themselves look and sound official”] but they’re just a group of fanatics who want to transform Britain into an Islamist Republic. They will never admit it officially (no more than the British National Party will admit that they want to send the blacks back to their countries and gas all the Jews). But everyone knows that that is what their real objectives are. They love accusing us of being Islamophobes. A fine invention, this word; and what a lie! What is a phobia? A phobia is a fear with no reason attached to it. It is true that many people fear the growth of Islam. But what could be more normal? The facts are there: everywhere where Islam is imposed, repression rages, torture takes place, human rights disappear, and freedom of expression does not exist. And this famous Muslim Council of Britain wants nothing other than to make our country a Muslim country. And I would surely be arrested and tortured for having made this video. I am not particularly in favour of encouraging such a system. It’s not a phobia, it’s just a question of common sense. The real phobia is to be found in Islam itself, and in all religions. Because they all have unreasoned fear of rational thinking, which would sound the [death] knell of their deliriums. And that’s why religions like rationality as much as vampires like the sun. That’s where the real fear is, and that’s where the real hate is. Peace, especially to those who assert themselves as being of the religion of peace.

17th November 2016


It is time for me to post my latest translation business blog. So far, I’ve said the title… so what is it really all about? What am I really going to say?

I guess I’m going out on a limb here. Try to understand: I’m actually (consciously) wondering how many times in the history of professional translation bad translations (whether real or imagined) have been blamed on “bad things” (when the meaning of said “bad things” is largely vague; and the claim is likely only being suggested by someone having a hopeless unfounded guess) which may be anything from subtle misunderstandings on the part of the translator to a clumsy, awkward phrase written by the translator which was taken the wrong way by the client even if it did “work” at conveying the correct message in theory, and I make no secret of it; or else I would never have been able to say exactly that, would I?

It seems that one thing I have always been aware of ever since I became a self-employed professional translator – even if I have never been able to put it into such words until just now, and I’ve been doing it for eight years now – is that there are many industries / sectors where, when the customer buys something, if they have a problem with it at a later time, even if they feel the urge to openly complain to the seller about it, it’s all too easy for the seller to say that they should have considered the actual matter in question / borne it in mind to begin with. In other words, they should have been prepared to accept responsibility for what they have bought, or else not have bought it at all. Caveat emptor – that’s what it’s called. And, say what you will, but I just have to say that I appreciate, now, that deep down I’ve always known that if customers of mine (as a self-employed translator) ever had anything “not so welcome” to say about what I did for them, I would NOT be able to invoke caveat emptor, and that’s only because they are not able to judge what I actually (claim to) offer them in advance of me “doing anything for them” i.e. a professional translation service worth the name. Logically, they could only claim that they had anything to say about it after my work for them was completed.

I deliberately put this bit in a separate paragraph, specifically because I hope that people will read it “unusually attentively”. I am really, really, REALLY on my guard against writing things in my work as a professional translator that would hint at something that just isn’t real, however intelligent or insightful it may seem on the surface. To put it another way: I simply want to do all I can do to avert the creation of distorted reality through my or anyone else’s mind when I translate for people, without compromise. To clarify: that does not just mean be on my guard against inadvertently encouraging people to buy into / believe anything about known ideas which, however easy it may be for some people to “vindicate” them while being none the wiser, are SIMPLY NOT TRUE because they stemmed from emotion, belief or hope rather than facts which don’t need to be substantiated any more than they already are. People can end up with new distorted ideas about reality from, say, a rumour, which are not necessarily potentially pernicious (depending more than anything else on the level of intelligence of both the person(s) the rumour revolves around, and those who share in it and instantly become capable of reinforcing and spreading it when they do). As it is, I can still remember that old Jim Carrey film The Truman Show, where the people in the film actually knowingly aim to have the eponymous character develop an irrational fear of travelling by sea – and succeed! (How cruel is that!?) This is something which religious scholars should be able to identify with – and I’m not here to discuss religion and argue which religious traditions, or religions, are “true” or “false”; that’s not with this blog is all about. I simply think that I owe what is mentioned above to my clients, that’s all I’m saying – certainly if I’m translating challenging material. And after all, no truer words were spoken than “History is not what happened in the past; history is what we think happened in the past.” That said…

The girl in this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q8pNh6LqFh8 is Pupinia Stewart – and this is not the only video she has ever posted where she says completely absurd and stupid things which I – without wishing to upset anyone – find amusing. And yes, there are the response videos – videos people have posted where they watch this video for the first time and their very response to it is caught on camera and made public, obviously with their own consent (if not Pupinia’s as well), which is fine. And they say so many things along the lines of “Oh my God, how can anyone say anything that stupid?” or “WHAAAAAAT?” I don’t blame them. Anyway, I have actually sent a link to this video to my parents in the past, and my dear old mum suggested said that she’s more intelligent than she lets on… and, from what I’ve seen, she’s right. Go to Pupinia Stewart’s page on Wikitubia and it is pointed out quite openly that a lot of people falsely believe that her videos reflect her true intelligence – some say she’s a troll, while some say she’s a comedy genius. Fair enough. But, getting back to the topic at hand, I thought of “Pupinia Syndrome”, where a person does things that they know are not on par with their actual level of intelligence but they do it anyway in the belief that it will appeal to people and make them more liked by them (well, that’s comedy for you) – probably because they are reluctant to let their real level of intelligence, their real selves, show in what they only wish they could do… if only it wasn’t so vehemently shunned by their peers. It’s not like I don’t believe that “Pupinia Syndrome” could actually be applied as a label to certain things for the right, noble reasons; however, if the concept of “Pupinia Syndrome” could be enough to encourage people to think things about her that, while very far from being injurious in intent, simply aren’t true… then maybe – just maybe – I really should be apologising to her in advance. Pupinia, I’m sorry. I like your videos, I promise.

Now, while “Pupinia Syndrome” is probably to be understood as a false concept, it’s ever so easy for me to hold it as a “valid” one which plays a role in the real world anyway. If you don’t understand what I am saying… the point above is to be regarded as an example of distorted reality, which can come about when translation is done wrongly. THE… POINT… A… BOVE… IS… TO… BE… RE… GAR… DED… AS… AN… EX… AM… PLE… OF… DIS… TOR… TED… RE… A… LI… TY… WHICH… CAN… COME… A… BOUT… WHEN… TRANS… LA… TION… IS… DONE… WRONG… LY.


11th December 2016


The next time you’re in the first stages of studying a foreign language, remember to bear in mind that there are so many other ways you could say all the basics, like greetings, “I would like”, and “Where is… ?”, other than the rigid phrases you’re first taught for them for the perfectly understandable reason that you simply don’t speak the language – yet. Of course, learning the grammar and a respectable vocabulary in another language takes some time: I mean, when I was at school studying French and German: when they taught me, say, how to use this tense or that tense, they knew well enough to have me to practice exercises of it with them (like filling in sentences with missing words that had to be properly spelled etc.)… and it’s not like it was simply limited to a single session. Generally I was expected to do it quite a few times on multiple days; to say nothing of the fact that I was expected to demonstrate use of it in creative work such as essay writing, the nature of which tasks hadn’t been announced to me beforehand (it’s not like I ever got to see a copy of the syllabus). You could say that I don’t like to limit myself in the study of foreign languages.

Oh, those were the days. In the modern day, of course, I don’t (well, rarely) have the option of just leaning on my teacher – or anyone else – for support if I’m anything less than 100% sure about the best way to put something / do something when I do my work that involves foreign language work. (And anyway, would it necessarily be better if the teacher were a native speaker of the foreign language, or one whose native tongue is your own? At the end of the day… well, it simply depends on the issue / complication / problem at hand when you really, really think about it.) What I’m trying to say is that remaining on the ball quality-wise when it comes to translation isn’t about just understanding and following straightforward practices which will stay the same – ones which one could suggest everyone comes to terms with eventually, with or without being notified of them by someone else; like proper spelling and correct word order. But it can be so difficult to avoid writing things which, however convincing and intelligent they may look on the surface, make the reader wince because they use one or more words taken out of context. To me, a professional translator, being “lost in translation” isn’t just about the simple idea of broken language and dealing with it (like pidgin); whether it’s employing it or – if you’re reading it – for all its obvious faults, seeing what was intended to be communicated by it.

Even if you’re translating something into your mother tongue, you can uneagerly end up writing awkward expressions in your own language if you’ve got a word in the original whose true meaning eludes you but you had good reasons behind your incorrect translation of it anyway. Or maybe you don’t know the correct terminology, which can frustrate the reader and easily leave them asking questions / having doubts. I hate thinking that I could be doing anything like that.

Revolutionary people are famed and acclaimed because they think more than what they’re “supposed to think”. I understand that people can easily find themselves asking “What am I supposed to think?” when they wish they were more confident about something, but this needs clarification. You may think that, by “supposed to think”, I mean that if someone is seen to be thinking anything other than what is not covered by the same they can expect to be punished / persecuted for it, most likely unjustly – that’s “supposed to think prescriptively”. But no, I mean “supposed to think descriptively”: like, they may raise eyebrows by showing that they think anything other than what they’re supposed to think, but they’re not breaking any rules by doing so (whether or not they are, on the contrary, actually encouraged to do so).

These things are often better exemplified. Take this song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MzRWkf0lIz4 First, you are encouraged to believe that the last word of every fourth line is a rude word (actually, this fact is all the more true given the illustrations that play in this video as the song plays). But the content of the “story”, the subject matter of the song, is clearly a piece of totally insincere nonsense which was only thrown together for the purpose of what this song is about: random assumptions involving rude words; it doesn’t make sense, but strictly speaking it’s not like it was meant to. But suppose you got someone who was invited to watch this song for the first time – they had never seen it before – who was actually told beforehand that there is no (strictly speaking, as it were) rude content in the song (apart from the beeped-out word at the end). Like, they were actively encouraged to predict what the words at the end of each fourth line really are – they don’t rhyme. Seeking a “reasoned” guess would be utterly in vain – and, I suppose, pointless. There’s no hope of actually arriving at one. Besides, how many people could actually listen to this song once and not have trouble retelling the events that take place in it from start to finish (doing their best to put aside the irreverent humour element, of course)? Getting back to the topic at hand: who’s to say that there isn’t (at least sometimes) no hope of a “reasoned” guess when you’re tackling a difficult bit in a translation job, where you’re afraid about not knowing whether or not the guidance you’re following in the reasoning efforts that you are actually employing is serving you well rather than proving misleading.

Translation cannot be so easily regarded as a science in technical terms. When you’re doing a scientific experiment, for example, one can so easily discuss the steps of the method in straightforward terms that are absolute terms which have a formal touch (whether or not there is terminology / jargon to be taken into account). But in translation, relying on someone else’s account of the subject matter / content simply doesn’t relieve you of having to use your own judgement, intellect and initiative for the sake of suggestion and clarification… whether to someone else or to yourself.

It’s not all straightforward, I admit. But it’s not like I don’t realise that sometimes it’s best to resist the apparent urge to assert something in a certain way when you’re doing translation work simply because it sounds genius to you personally but, for more subtle reasons, it is just not loyal to the intended message of the original. You could say that it’s like the “fast thinking” that characterises the well-known Moses delusion, but it’s much harder to explain.

I want to label this is a sagacious blog, but… maybe I have been doing this job for too long?

Only time will tell. For now, I wish myself and my clients a Merry Christmas.

24th December 2016

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