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Blog - 2012

[The most recent one is at the bottom.]

Why do people say "big deal" when what they really mean is "no big deal"?
3rd January 2012

I think I get it now.
There's a certain work habit I keep showing that drives me crazy. When I'm doing a translation project: it's my tendency to look at bits I have already written in my translation product again, and again, and again... even though I know it's correct. Actually, if the original version of something I'm translating is in Word format, I just duplicate it and write my English version over the French / German in the duplicate. With that measure, the formatting is practically guaranteed to be correct! But there are times when I've left individual words of the original in the translated product, amid the English words of the translation. And I make an effort to check for typos as I'm writing, check each sentence or paragraph for errors as soon as it has been written, but it doesn't always work.
Having thought more deeply (if only to curb these kinds of quality lapses) I remember once reading in a job hunting guide that it stated that a common question was, "Why haven't you found a job yet?" This is an example of how I consider that, sometimes, the view you take of a written message really does reveal who you are to a certain extent. When I first saw that question I thought of being in a job interview with an overbearing and stern interviewer, the kind of person who's quick to be suspicious of me being inadequate but when they do it they jump in at the deep end without knowing the full story. But today I think it's possible that someone could read the same question and think of being in a job interview with an interviewer who's more friendly and curious i.e. "Why HAVEN'T you got a job yet?" - maybe they mean to imply despite your experience or qualifications or whatever. But my point is than when I write a translation of something, I don't want the reader to react to anything in it in a way that's "bad", or a way that I (or they!) wouldn't understand and it may well be that they wouldn't be able to explain it all to me coherently enough.
I suppose "that's life".
6th January 2012

I fear I've lost a lot of work.
It all started some time ago when someone from an Irish translation company got in touch with me asking me if I could translate 30,000 words by 12th January - an unalterable "final" deadline. I explained to him that, given my situation, I was only prepared to do a maximum of 12,000 and I think I made that clear to him during our phone conversations (he always rang me up, never the other way round). But, looking back, I think he expected me to state it to him in writing (by email) so that he would have copper-bottomed proof that I had pledged to do 12,000 words by the final deadline of 12th January. But looking back on my email correspondence with him, it seems I did write such an email but I didn't actually send it to him for some reason; it got saved in my drafts list.
I'm very angry because, given that he said that 12th January was the unalterable, final deadline, I'd have thought he would have sent me the 12,000 words' worth of work he'd have wanted me to look at ASAP (in an email saying like, "following our phone conversation in which you said were ready to do 12,000 words by 12th January..."), because when a project has a deadline you know is unchangeable you should feel under more pressure to assign it all ASAP. What makes it worse is that he sent me an introductory 500-1,000 words' worth of it to begin with and he has not responded to my emails even though I have attached within them my translations of the same.
8th January 2012

Unemployment is going up in Britain - in particular youth unemployment. In my experience, when you talk about unemployment in Britain today it's only a matter of time before someone talks about how more and more jobs are being taken by immigrants (often people from Eastern Europe) - compare this to all the benefit scroungers we have in the country, such as chavs.
The UK riots of August 2011 were perpetrated by criminal youths. There are people who claimed that they wouldn't have done it if they had jobs, but the truth is that they're just not interested in work; and it's because of the benefits culture that we've become all too familiar with.

As the man in this video says, while Eastern European immigrants are very well educated, there are plenty of "hoodie" yobs in the UK who don't even speak intelligible English, innit.
Anyway, I wanted to bring this up and relate my interests as a linguist to it. What ARE the chances of meeting a hoodie yob as mentioned above who speaks their own idea of English rather than standard English because "it's easier"?
17th January 2012

Britain's soft justice system again:
Call me pedantic, but I don't like the idea of it being referred to as "joke justice", because it's no laughing matter. Jokes are supposed to be funny, justice systems are not.
19th January 2012

If translating has taught me anything, it's that ideas are not the same as convictions!
17th February 2012

It's probably not possible to try too hard not to make errors when translating, but one project I did today has actually boosted my confidence in this respect.
The language pair was German to English, the subject matter marketing material for a German construction company, and there was some terminology for which highly prescriptive translations were expected. Like "Maßgenauigkeit". I was originally thinking "accurate measurements", which surely depend on a professional approach, but eventually I agreed on "dimensional accuracy". I will today remember "dimensional accuracy" as applying to completed structures whose measurements are "accurate" i.e. close to those that are specified; it's different from "accurate measurements", which merely means obtaining accurate measurements of something using rulers or whatever (and noting down the correct information).
Other solutions I was proud of include "Betriebserweiterung". With the "Betrieb" bit, I originally thought "company expansion" but soon arrived at "expansion of operations" (as opposed to the mere professional entity that is the company). With "Eckige Bauwerke" I decided on "right-angle buildings" (rather then "square" or "rectangular" buildings - that's somewhat less credible). And I remember thinking of translating "Umsatzgrenze" as "revenue threshold" rather than anything like "revenue limit" - I just didn't buy the whole idea of a maximum revenue limit in connection with what I was writing about.
I was proud of myself for this project.
29th February 2012

Sometimes I get worried that my dedication to accuracy in my translation work makes me just a little crazy, but then I think I do it for good reasons.
Compare the following:
- "They knew that if they were caught, they wouldn't be properly punished."
- "They knew damn well that if they were caught, they wouldn't be properly punished."
The difference between the two statements above is, of course,the presence of the expression "damn well" in the latter. I just wonder: if my native tongue were something other than English and I was translating these statements into my native tongue, for the latter would I necessarily be writing the exact same thing as for the former only with an additional phrase representing the "damn well" bit?
Then there's the consideration of the actual voice that statements are made in. For example, what if you actually read the former of the two statements above somewhere and failed to notice that there should be an emphasis on the word "knew" i.e. "They KNEW that if they were caught, they wouldn't be properly punished." If that's the case, then it would surely make more sense to view it just as you would the latter.
9th March 2012

I continue to do well enough in my career as a translator, but not without having to deal with a compulsive worry about misunderstanding or omitting things, or explaining something in a way that misleads - I actually wonder if these are fitting symptoms of OCD.
I did a contract project (French to English) over the weekend, and this is some of what I wrote in my translation: "If, on the day that the Tenant returns the keys, there remains in the premises any furniture, furnishings, amenities or equipment, they shall be presumed to be of no value and abandoned by the Tenant; with this, the Lessor can freely avail himself of them as he sees fit, with the Lessee being entitled to no recourse in connection with the same."
I really don't call that reflective of my best work by far. I sort of feel as if that's the sort of thing that someone whose mother tongue is not English would write (strictly an educated person whose mother tongue is not English). The kind of person who writes things in English that are actually easy to follow even if the English-mother-tongue person reading it is not particularly bright, even if individual uncommon words do appear with notable frequency and that sort of thing. I strongly believe that most people would not write "with this" in their translation of a contract if they could help it.
19th March 2012

I’ve known for ages that awareness of terminology is always a prominent issue in professional translating. Some clients can be very prescriptive about the words they want to see in their translated material. And it’s not necessarily always about what you would call “jargon”.
“Modem” is a good example of a jargon word – it’s related to IT and only IT, and everyone knows it (but that’s not to say that everyone who has heard of it has a clear idea of what it is, by a long shot! …by my reckoning, at least). But with one recent professional translation project I did, which had business as its subject matter, I appreciated that “supplier” and “provider” were explicitly among the “words of choice”.
I don’t call these two words “jargon” because “supply” and “provider” are commonly used words in English in connection with all kinds of topics. In the above-mentioned translation project, “provider” was to be understood as one who provides business services online; more specifically, on a website similar to Odesk.com. It’s just that I'm prepared to forgive someone for ending up thinking of a “provider” as someone who supplies work to be done on a site like Odesk.com. It got me thinking: from my personal experience, when one talks about a “supplier” in business matters they usually strictly mean one who supplies stock to a company which sells goods.
And there are other words which look common but are actually to be understood as "terminology" fare sometimes. In another recent project (German to English) I have seen "interne Abhängigkeiten" included in the outlining of technical specifications. Would it be accurate to translate this as "internal dependencies"? Well, I suppose, but I'm so sure that it's no so much "dependencies" as "factors" in this context; after all, the sensible use one of makes of, say, an object, will depend on its factors - such as its size, or whether or not its resistant to this, that or the other. Wouldn't you say?
3rd April 2012

For me, the most frustrating thing about being a translator is the prospect of people accusing you of poor work / mistakes where the root cause of it is not so much laziness as it is a) being misled or b) when you know you have taken the time to understand the correct message but can't think how to put forward a totally lucid translation of it and what you do manage to formulate still ends up confusing the reader somewhat. And most of us know what it's like to be misled, and probably also what it's like when you know exactly what you want to say but don't really know how to put it. For example, is there actually a ready translation of the common English word "whatever" (on its own) in French and German (when it is not in any kind of sentence)?
There was once a translation project (German to English) I did in which I kept seeing the word "Auftraggeberin". From my education in foreign languages, I've been conditioned to view this solely as a female equivalent of "Auftraggeber", meaning "client". But, in certain online sources, the same word is also translated into English as "orderer" or "commissioner"... I guess the most fitting word depends on the service / activity in question. Google Translate even translates it as "Procurement Office" or “Contracting Authority”.

In another project I did in the same week, also German to English, the original document was about food processing and packaging technology, more specifically about German food and processing and packaging technology and the market for it across the world. There was a bit where it pointed out that sometimes adaptations to it need to be made if it's going to be installed in a country other than Germany; if you don't live in Germany but you want a food processing or packaging machine installed somewhere where you are, you might have a hard time determining whether or not it would be possible to have a German one installed (NB the document says that German food processing and packaging technology is among the best in the world). Anyway, there was a bit in the original where there was a subheading which went, "Mehr Nutzen für die Weltbevölkerung". Given what I'd just read about the presence of this German technology in the world, my first thought was definitely like, "More use by the world population" i.e. “how we ensure a higher level of use of these machines all over the world.” But I had been thrown by the word "Nutzen" – having understood the text that followed this subheading, I realised that the text of this subheading actually meant, "More benefits for the world's population". So I changed it to that.
27th April 2012

It is said that nothing speaks louder than money, but it seems to me that even cheap talk is prone to being met with increased acceptance sometimes - just look at the popularity of the Jeremy Kyle show. Either way, it can be very re-assuring to have someone as dedicated to getting your message across as you could hope for.
As a professional translator I keep in touch with a global community of translators online - a measure which helps to plug gaps in understanding and missed points and ensure quality. My use of reputable dictionaries and glossaries also helps in these respects.
I have now posted my most important blog yet - one which is not just about translation but about business in general http://myappreciationfordirectioninbusiness.blogsp...
I've also posted an open question on LinkedIn about default fee structures used by translators.
3rd May 2012

I've recently been doing a French to English translation project which contained the word "estival" in the original, and it made me think that was curious how long it took me to learn that this word was connected to "été" in French. Then again, if you're a foreigner studying English there's a good chance that you might not immediately establish the connection between "good" and "better".
18th May 2012

Alphatrad is a translation agency in France for whom I've done quite a lot of work recently. But they have a payment policy which I still haven't properly appreciated yet.
They expect me to quote the number of words I intend to charge as soon as I submit the project to them. Now of course it is easy to do an automatic word count with a Word document, but I can't do it with Excel or Powerpoint files; I have to count those words manually! And sometimes there is text that I don't know whether to charge for or not, such as dates and contact details separated from the main body of text... and whole chunks of repeated material.
18th May 2012

On Wednesday I'll be attending the first of Chris Cardell's twelve "Ultimate Marketing" webinars. Isn't that exciting? And I've never even been on a webinar before. I hope my computer won't pack up in the middle of it! The price was high (£1180 plus VAT) but I bought this because I was never happy with how much (or rather, little) I knew about Pay Per Click and website visitor tracking. And I don't want to feel too dependent on translation agencies (even if I have worked for translation agencies all over the world). In this program I will get the chance to have discussions with other business owners and even get the chance to have my questions answered by Cardell himself.
21st May 2012

Well, I had my first “Ultimate Marketing” webinar yesterday, live from Chris Cardell himself. He even took the time to welcome everyone (supposedly) attending – yes, he specifically mentioned my name and the name of my business. For all the money he makes, he’s very earnest and equanimous with those “lower down”… I like that. It’s possible that I like him more than Simon Cowell. But enough of that.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, he went on and on about the importance of implementation and being true to your financial and personal goals in life. Aside from the “gun to the head” approach he was vocal about the importance of following up with potential clients. What he means by this is making the first move in starting a relationship with potential clients by sending them something free, like a report or testimonials. But I wonder just how much scope there is for that. If I sent follow-up material to potential clients, I wouldn’t want it to be:
• Boring: i.e. going on and on about who I am and what I do, maybe revealing a little about my latest business aims, while knowing that there’s only so much of it that they’d be prepared to absorb “without really trying.” They have busy lives too, you know. Especially if they’re not familiar with my industry and probably never will be. But therein lies a good reason for following up, really: they’d rather hear about my industry and developments in it from people who are actually in it, the information sent to them wherever possible; as opposed to them relying on hearsay or wondering where to begin finding the places where people in my industry talk about their work amongst themselves (like the forums on ProZ and TranslatorsCafe, and maybe LinkedIn, in my case) – and in layman’s terms, in some cases.
• Measly: If someone expresses an interest in your company but they don’t actually buy anything, it’s all very well to get back in touch with them, but I would want to do my utmost to prevent it amounting to nothing more than the message, “So, I know you’ve looked at me, but have you decided to go ahead and do business with me yet?” Especially if I did it multiple times! How annoying would that be?
• Too self-congratulatory: As Chris Cardell said, “people buy benefits, not features” i.e. focus on what you’re offering and how it can benefit your customers. However good the reasons to be proud of your work and your products / services may be, it’s unwise to ramble on and on about it: if it won’t impact your clients’ lives in any way they will lose patience eventually. Being too self-congratulatory in follow-up material does not necessarily mean saying anything liable to condescend your competition. Which brings me to my fourth point…
• Saying anything that would encourage or give succour to your competition, such as give them ideas, if your follow-up material ended up in their hands. After all, why risk someone else stealing your business?
Maybe I should examine my junk mail more closely lol. But what I’m really looking forward to is mastering Internet marketing proper. Apparently, my Touch Local / Scoot account is doing well – not that I’ve actually seen the results for myself (yet). It seems that when online marketers talk about linking being important, they do not always mean linking with other people i.e. networking. Just placing links on your online profiles to other online profiles helps, apparently. That’s what Lisa of Touch Local told me.
24th May 2012

Ever since I attended Chris Cardell’s “Ultimate Marketing” webinar on pricing this week (see also my latest comment in my personal Facebook wall), I’ve been meaning to look at revising my prices. But it’s not just increasing or decreasing, really. Should I carry on charging per word in the source material by default? I can certainly understand people doing automatic counts wherever possible. But when I charge a project per word in the source material, I’m effectively saying that my rate for the translation of small and common words and short sentences is the same as that for my translation of long words (which may be specialist in nature) and lengthy, complex sentences. And I accept that in my various translation projects I’ve come across many words to be translated that are not really words to be translated at all; like phone numbers, or email addresses. Not that I ever was that surprised to see other translators with different default fee bases from my own (per page, per line, even per character). The Germans even commonly charge per line, by which they mean 55 characters (I think it’s with spaces), according to a certain “DIN” norm. Watch this space…
14th June 2012

Sometimes it can be surprisingly fun and engaging to read what people say about your translation work in that it has supposedly erred in places.
Every so often after I submit a translation task, the client / agency eventually gets back in touch asking me to have another look at something; as far as they’re concerned, they’re not 100% happy with what I did for them from the word go. I’ve gotten used to it, and I can usually accept it with grace. I don’t believe that the knee-jerk reaction of virulently defending my work is a good way to go. But for one project I once did recently (names and trademarks undisclosed here), I did specifically announce that I was defending my work.
After I submitted my original translation of the project in question, I received an email that went like this:
“Hi George
I received a negative fedback from the client about this translation.
please see below his words and attached the corrected file bu their revisor with trackchanges.
please comment on the changes they did.
looking forward to hearing from you,
Denise [not her real name]”
When I looked at the file, I found it hard to believe that just about everything had been altered (recorded with track changes) in a project that had only 687 words in the original. But I was prepared to stand up for what I did do – my response email contained these words:
“I can see that the client would have me believe that he's apt at rewriting English translations of things in such a way that they don't look like translations, and on some level, he is. But is it really appropriate to call this "negative" feedback? I was proud of that work, even if I'm not surprised to see a few things re-worded here and there. Now, I don't want to spend ages arguing over all the individual changes. But I defend my own work.”
What follows is a list of some the things I wrote in my original translation of the project accompanied by what the client suggested as their corrections, with my own response to the latter. I included it in my email to “Denise.”
My version: "Roof, antique floors and windows have also been restored, or, if necessary, rebuilt in such a way that they retain the original features."
Their version: "The roofs, old floors and windows have been restored, or where necessary reproduced in a way that maintains, unchanged, their original features."
The roofs, antique floors and windows maintain their original features as a result of this particular way. The particular way doesn't retain their individual features as such.
My version: "Currently, two homes are being sold."
Their version: "Two apartments still available."
He can call them what he likes, but it shouldn't come as a surprise that the client knows more about the fine aspects of his work then I do.
My version: "Dr. XXX aims to build houses and flats..."
Their version: "Dr. XXX builds houses and apartments..."
You can't just build houses and apartments "just like that." And think of all the things that can get in the way of that sort of thing. Like force majeure fare.
My version: "Highlights the special consideration attributed to environmental issues"
Their version: "Demonstrate the particular attention that has been paid to "environmental issues"
I think my version better implies that the attention paid to environmental issues still continues, as opposed to "has been paid." And isn't a demonstration always a matter of someone deliberately resolving to do something at their own accord?
I won’t hide how I finished off my response email:
“…I do agree with him on certain things. I should have written "the most beautiful house in Engadine" rather than "prettiest". And "eye-catcher" is probably too casual here, so go ahead and say that the building in question "stands out". The client has shown some qualities of a decent translator here.”
And how did “Denise” react? Well, she was contented enough to write, “thank you for your feedback, I will send your comment to my client.”, so I guess I handled the whole thing pretty well.
25th June 2012

Just a bit I forgot to add for my latest comment in “George Trail Translator.”
…Call it a broad sweeping overgeneralisation, but what do translation customers tend to do once they receive their document? Do they read it before formally accepting (trusting) it, and applying it if appropriate? Or do they just assume it’s OK to begin with (which I wouldn’t recommend)? Indeed, if they sent the translation project to a translation agency to get it done, rather than directly to a self-employed translator like myself, maybe the chance of the latter happening is a fair one, as they probably think that any faults will have been sorted out by then?
That’s why I’m posting this in my personal Facebook account as well as my business one. I think that it would probably be re-assuring if they were willing to express their opinions on this sort of thing in the forums of online community sites dedicated to translation, like ProZ and TranslatorsCafe. If you or anyone you know tends to be a translation client, let them know of sites like ProZ and TranslatorsCafe.
27th June 2012

My business IPhone app http://app.cat/georgetrailtranslator
2nd July 2012

I want to spend a greater portion of my business marketing efforts building relationships with people, in particular those who have shown an interest in me. The people who have viewed my account on Viadeo include an R&D Director, a lawyer and a recruitment consultant. I don't think getting in touch with people who matter will be as abstruse and finding the online marketing packages most suited for me (and of course, they usually cost hundreds of pounds!).
24th July 2012

I've finished writing and going over the article I wrote about my translation work quality policy - 3500 words long - which I am ready to refer people to whenever they find some reason to claim that my work is deficient. My translation quality policy is a very stringent one and nothing can convince me otherwise.
But I want to get it translated into French and German. I could do this myself but I'm not a native speaker of these languages. I could pay some native speakers to do it but I think that's revealing more than necessary i.e. too much about my business practices. What should I do?
31st July 2012

A good translator is comfortable conveying the meaning of long sentences accurately even if they see anything new in them, be these words that they've never known before or individual meanings attached to specific words. As long as they can think for themselves and research independently, they're good.
But a great translator is comfortable writing translated material as if the original material were their own. Indeed, it is said that the best translations don't look like translations - a big paradox.
6th August 2012

How far does poor literacy really go?
People who write "I should of" are viewed as stupid, and for good reason. You get the impression that that is a mistake that only a (very thick) native English speaker would make; a foreigner would never write it. But I've never known anyone actually openly state that they truly think that "I should of" is proper English. Do you really think that they would teach their children that "I should of" is proper English? Surely it wouldn't be that long before someone pointed out, following proper consideration of the three words as individual words, that "I should of" isn't proper English at all and that what you should say is "I should have"?
29th August 2012

My image: “My linguistic talents… My understanding… Your message.”
4th September 2012

I came back from my holiday in Portugal the day before yesterday. I enjoyed it, even if the sun made things a bit bright for me sometimes. And I don't speak Portuguese – all I know is "faz favore" (please) and "obrigado" (thank you). No longer do I have to worry about trying to make myself understood in pidgen talk; saying things that MIGHT be half-Portuguese. Or half-Spanish, or half-Italian.
But all anecdotes aside, I now focus on getting back to work. Now with four years of being a self-employed translator under my belt, I hardly need anyone to remind me that faith in my linguistic talent alone – however wide and accomplished it may be – is very unwise in this line of work. Just like when you go to visit another country and accept the need to grasp the local culture, when doing translation (especially for a living) there's a chance failure to identify and put aside your pre-conceptions will be embarrassing at best, and perilous at worst.
How to discuss this? I hope that there are parallels evident in the examples that follow. At one point during my holiday, when I was having dinner with the rest of my family one night, my mum posed this riddle: "If a couple have two children and one is a boy, what is the chance of the other being a boy?" I initially said 50% – what has the gender of the first child got to do with it, anyway? Well, not necessarily, apparently. Take the fact that the "first" child is indicated as a boy while the gender of the "second" child is unknown. I eventually saw that one is supposed to understand that to point out that one of them is indeed a boy is not necessarily to refer the gender of the "first" child. With this, if the one that is stated is a boy in the question is actually the "second" one, then it follows that the answer to the question is actually 100%. Given that I have always hated being "fooled" like that, maybe I WAS born to be a professional translator.
The other thing is that when I went out to buy something yesterday, I drove up to Farnborough; the road was clear my side, but there was traffic accumulating on the other side of the road, and I just thought to myself, "That's the rush hour for you." Really? I say that because many people have nine-to-five jobs, but the clock on my car said "16:33"; nearly half an hour before 5pm. Even if this wasn't the rush hour as such, then it was quite likely to be a result of many people trying to go home early in an effort to avoid it – even if, in this case, so many were trying to do it that it ended in this cruel irony. Rush hour ramifications, if you will. (Many will agree that that sort of thing happens all the time.) But part of my imagination made me think of me saying that more or less out loud to myself without thinking about it, with some kid next to me (probably myself when I was much younger) overhearing it and remaining silent, while never the knowing the difference and ending up confused about what is meant by the “rush hour” simply because I never thought of explaining it. And that’s only because the kid remained silent.
When I got to the shop in Farnborough that I was heading to (Maplin), I went in and stated what I was looking for: a USB cable with two male ends. When they showed me that they still had a double male end bit for £7.99, I couldn't help but thinking, "Lucky me”, as there was only one left. Now, being perhaps a little too kind in nature, it wasn't long after I bought it that I wondered if I really should be defining the whole thing as "lucky". If someone else came in later asking for what I did, they would be "unlucky", but only because I was "lucky". When I was very young – naive and ignorant, but otherwise a "good boy" to hear my mother put it – my definition of "lucky" would surely have been something like, "When you have something that is better than you expected." Whether or not people reading this agree that I am calling for a redefinition of the word "lucky", I would suggest, at the risk of self-aggrandizement, that attitudes like this are worth encouraging as far as the pursuit of entrepreneurial success is concerned.
Parappa the Rapper may have taught me to be believe in myself, but I don’t think anyone has encouraged me to question my own personal convictions readily to the extent that Chris Cardell has. I can already hear readers of this thinking, “This guy learned from the best.”
6th October 2012

As a self-employed entrepreneur, I think it’s a good idea for me to address the prospect of customers and potential customers wondering how I deal with my own limitations (whether they realise it or not). As a translator, for me this would mean not just time and resources constraints but the whole scope of “getting it right” for the words that I use in my translation of things, including more abstruse things like terminology and research issues.
Have you ever found yourself thinking that someone else is or might be thinking “poor him / her”, meaning you, but in a way that is as much marked by humour as it is marked by sympathy? Forrest Gump probably never did, as far as he went in spite of himself, he would probably enjoy reading faux pas statements as much as the rest of us – I’m not just talking about bad translations but comments which, for what they reflect or suggest, are comments that you just couldn’t make up.
Like a lot of people, I’ve seen plenty of bad translations, and some appeal to me more than others. Like the hotel in Athens with a sign that said, “Visitors are expected to complain at the office between the hours of [one time] and [another time] daily.” Or the place in Norway with the sign that said, “Ladies are requested not to have children in the bar.” And then there’s film subtitles. “Beat him out of recognizable shape!” “I’ll fire aimlessly if you don’t come out!” “Miss, shall we make it?” And so on.
Some bad translations are more puzzling than others. Like the hotel in China with a sign in English that said, “It is forbidden to play the recorder in the guest rooms.” Do they really mean “recorder”? If so, why? Weird subtitles I have seen include the following: “Suck the coffin mushroom now.” “And these are toes chopped down by spacemen.” “Stick back your heads.” I could go on, but I’m supposed to be a busy man, right? I once thought of categorising mistranslations that I’ve seen, but then decided that it would be a waste of time.
Anyway, back to the feeling I mentioned in paragraph 2. Maybe you’ve had that feeling when you’re not convinced that other people understand what you’re saying… maybe you’ve had it when you think that people “sort of” understand what you’re saying. I’m thinking of a time when I was having a Skype discussion with a woman representing a Romanian translation agency I’d done work for beforehand. When she started the conversation she said, “Hello George. Am I disturbing?” Poor her. But I knew she meant interrupting me in my work, and I didn’t have to think about it before I realised it. These days, whenever I feel discouraged as a result of some sort of idea of things being not quite what they seem, I think of Frank Sinatra. “That’s life…”
OK, end of comment. Having said all that, I’m ready to start my next translation job. Believe me.
8th October 2012

I was at Chris Cardell’s latest entrepreneur event in London on the 19th and the 20th. And I have to say that I really did enjoy it and find it helpful. Besides the fact that Chris told us all his story – which he claims he has never been done before, and even on this occasion he didn’t let it be caught on camera – he encouraged us all to develop ideas better than I expected. And of course, there was also Richard Denny there on the second day, whose speech had us laughing several times. (Richard is very fond of being dramatic – I’m sure he would be great on a theatrical stage.)
Chris says that “Wealth is a choice.” While lots of people indeed dream of being rich, he claims that British culture today conditions us to be ashamed to be rich in this economy; that others are quick to stigmatise us if we do become rich. I definitely appreciate his earnestness. The event took place at the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre in London and it was interesting that that anti-austerity parade on Saturday marched by almost right outside the building!
In a nutshell, Chris delivered (again). With what I gained from him in this event, I can just about agree that I am ready to attempt to become wealthy in the New Economy. Even today, part of me feels that there are certain aspects of serving customers that Chris will not only always be better than me at, but vastly to immeasurably so. For the time being though, I believe that our culture encourages us to believe that there’s always someone with a ready solution to any problem or predicament, even if we would totally despise them; but that’s not the case.
22nd October 2012

Seth Lakeman has a song called "Send Yourself Away".

You know what that makes me think of? It's like someone whose mother tongue is not English is trying to say in English, "Get lost!" - it's like what you can expect in bad yet ever comical subtitles.

2nd November 2012

I’m going to say something which may sound counter-intuitive by the standards of common business values: I want your help to help me to do my job properly. Even though I don’t know who you are and likely never will (through no fault of my own, of course – cue possible laughter, no doubt). Or do I deserve appreciation for my honesty?

Either way, I have a point to make, and that point is my claim that many an everyday Joe Bloggs has shown linguistic inventiveness, without necessarily having resolved to do so beforehand. You certainly don’t need to be a language professional like me to do it. I think of a certain newspaper article that must now be about ten years old, give or take, that listed certain “fashionable” “real English” expressions. When I use the word “fashionable”, you probably think I’m talking about slang or swear words, or common expressions pertaining to things which, while they continue to garner the interest of plenty of people, frequently cause embarrassment or worse (like the, shall we say, less traditionally accepted attitudes to sex in our society), but I’m not. In a way they are lauded purely as expressions of convenience – which come to think of it, doesn’t make them different from any other expression – the only difference is that they’re expressions of convenience that you’re just more likely to remember keenly than other ones, and it’s probably because chances are that you’d learn them at school (at least from a teacher, as part of a classroom lesson), or from a trusted academic dictionary, rather than anywhere else are virtually zero. Like “sheeple”: a mixture between “sheep” and “people”, which means a group of people who don’t think for themselves and always follow the crowd. Or eating “al desco”: derived from “al fresco”, it means eating at your desk, like a lunch break. I’ve invented words like this too. Indeed, in an earlier comment on here I described “dack” as meaning a load of personal possessions / stuff which you’ve had for ages – weeks, months or even years – but even after all this time you’ve never sampled it properly. A DVD can be dack if you’ve had it for so, so long but never seen it. A book can be dack if you’ve had it for so, so long but never read it. And so on, and so forth.
Maybe there have been occasions in your life when you weren’t sure how something should be named / described / referenced but you nevertheless ardently wished you could think of something for the specific reason that it really is to do with something that is commonplace, or it reflects something specific about someone or something. Just recently I myself invented the term “squain” (an adjective) which means like, “things which, while they can be likeable or amusing and there’s nothing wrong with them, are things that you just wouldn’t do in, say, a fancy restaurant, or if you wanted to impress someone you regarded as being of higher status than yourself.” I’m talking about things which have no substance or “seriousness weight” whatsoever, like the song “Friday”, and look at how many people have laughed at that song, whatever their reputation for being kind or nice. (Sorry Rebecca, but at the end of the day, that song was never going to be worth all the excitement you surely enjoyed during its recording and marketing. Did you get out much during those days? I doubt it.) The pastime of backmasking (playing songs in reverse with the display of subtitles of the words which you think it most sounds like – and you may hear some VERY weird things sometimes) is popular on Youtube: there are many people who find it amusing for reasons which I have accepted as obvious. But backmasking is definitely a squain thing in my eyes. As is beatboxing (like Beardyman). I used to be proud that I could think of more than twenty six-letter words whose letters are in alphabetical order (repeated letters allowed). Is that clever? ...Today, I think of even that as somewhat squain. Long ago I once saw an advert in which someone jumped really high in the air off the ground and, whilst they were in the air, it looked like a car drove under them really fast, and then the person landed on their feet again; to me, that is but one reminder of many that squain things are not uncommon in the media. Talking of the media, to me there are two kinds of people in this world: those who find the well-known show “You’ve Been Framed” funny, and those who find it embarrassing or annoying. Without showing empathy to either, I state here that by now you’ve probably called “You’ve Been Framed” videos squain, just as I do.
At this point you may find it interesting to know that I remember once making the claim that there comes a point in your life when you’re no longer amused by videos of dancing parrots on Youtube.
Anyway, I believe that, if you know better, you won’t do squain things if trying to pull someone. There have been plenty of job interview / application “horror stories” which are called that because the “horror” was something someone found unbelievably squain, especially in the realm of the world of work. Some job interview / application “horror stories” will leave you outraged, and some will make you want to cry, but some will make you want to laugh or are just plain weird even if they are called “horror stories” – here’s a link to a bumper collection of the sort of thing that I am talking about http://www.resumania.com/ResumaniaArchive .
I suppose squain can indeed be “good” or “bad”.
So what do people think of those who do that which is squain? I think of a politically incorrect joke in which the police at Croydon police station are playing hide and seek around the station – it’s a training exercise, which they’ve been made to perform ever since their failure to find Tia Sharp. If I happened to see police officers playing hide and seek around my local police station… well, you can say what you want how I should probably be disturbed, but I think I would label that as squain behaviour. So my personal conclusion is that people who allow themselves to be caught engaging in squain behaviour run the risk of losing credibility and others’ trust in them if they’re not careful (that said, I do wish Rebecca Black well). In short, people may start to stop taking them seriously (probably even if they are allegedly just like they are). And that is my example in the point I am trying to make.
Not that I’ve overlooked the possibility that certain things that I would today call squain may well have already been described as something else by other people – maybe “silly” or “daft” – and long before I invented the word “squain”. But I do insist that the true origins of the word “squain” are unlikely to be the same as those of “silly” or “daft”. My ultimate point here is that this kind of “fashionable” language is language that most people keenly remember because it “really does” relate to common everyday phenomena and plays a role in helping people to identify with such phenomena, or because it “really is” indicative of something specific about something else. And it is this kind of language for which I would love to find a comprehensive site that lists equivalent expressions in other languages (refer to the point in the original paragraph of this article). It’s just easy to anyone find a source online that teaches you slang or swear expressions in another language, wouldn’t you say? But what is the French or German for “sheeple” (or should that be: “In the likely event that there is not a term for ‘sheeple’ in French or English, what should it be?”)? Or is this just wishful thinking on my part?
Maybe some readers of this comment have been quick to think of certain words in other languages (meaning squain or anything else) for which there is no straightforward translation; “Schadenfreude” in German is probably the most well-known example of this. Go ahead and compare these two kinds of words at your leisure, and say to me what you want about them.
14th November 2012

Another language / linguistics-related question from one who is a professional translator. One of my most recent projects was an automobile questionnaire thing. One of the English translated sentences I wrote was, "Here you can see a series of statements which describe the specific features and functions recognised with the model names of certain cars".
Now, everything up to the word "functions" is enough to constitute a grammatically complete sentence in English, but I would say that it makes no sense in separation. What I mean here is that there is no way of knowing what everything up to the word "functions" is getting at if you don't know what it is supposed to refer to to begin with; this would only be the case if you had identified the subject matter under discussion up to that point. What are sentences like this called?
15th November 2012

In THIS comment I focus less on what I have to say in connection with language and translation and more on what other people have to say about it; I respond to a few things here.
1) Someone once said:
"Translation involves effectively communicating the content – the message – of a source text through the medium of another language, in a manner appropriate to the type of text, target group and cultural context." (they add, "Do not be afraid to break free from the source text.")
My response: Wouldn't it be better to say "'in' the medium of another language"?
2) On the website of traducteurs.com you can read:
"Communiquer dans une langue qui n'est pas la sienne ne s'improvise pas : traduire est une affaire de professionnels."
My response: Literally translated, this is like: "To communicate in a language that is not one's own, does not 'improvise itself'..." How astute am I to reword this thus?: "Communcating in a language other than one's own is not a matter of improvisation..." or "Communicating in a language other than one's own is not born of improvisation." I don't know.
3) Apparently, one of Charles Darwin's quotes is:
"Language is an art, like brewing or baking… it is certainly not a true instinct, for every language has to be learnt."
I've never guessed that Charles Darwin was a linguist at heart, but it does seem to me that COMMUNICATION is a born of instinct (or quasi-instinct. Either way, maybe it's the case that one cannot always tell the difference, but I know that Charles Darwin could if this quote of his is anything to go by. Language is an art, and like all art it is very diverse; it's no wonder that misunderstandings and unwitting misrepresentations are so common, really.
16th November 2012

At some point in your life you may have heard someone say, or read somewhere, or even agreed amongst yourself, that “Sometimes ‘good enough’ is not good enough.” I definitely find that this applies in translation. Sometimes I’ve done a translation job for someone and later they got back to me saying that the quality was lacking somewhere – I insist that this is rare. Besides, when I undertake a translation project and send the translation over, I never submit the invoice straight away anyway, just in case something needs to be sorted out. And “sorting out” is usually a matter of “clarification” or “necessary discussion” of certain things that I have written rather than dealing with genuine mistakes i.e. things that I really should be ashamed of (which may or may not include typos).
Bearing in mind that I know very well that not everyone speaks the same way by far, and that choices of expressions are generally no less likely to have a subjective basis than an objective one: do you know what “lost in translation” really means? I have to make it clear that it seems that most people think of it only as sentences in a given language (usually their mother tongue) which they instantly agree are confusing and / or which make them think of something strange (or embarrassing, or even offensive) which is clearly not the intended message, but they know perfectly well that they were written by someone who is not a native speaker of the language. I look at it and seek to define it at more subtle levels. Every once in a while one becomes familiar with an article whose level of language reflects that it clearly was written by someone determined to do a “good” job (compared to a “passable” one) but which still fails in some respect; and to me this is a benchmark for defining the concept of “lost in translation” at these more subtle levels.
These days, when you look at how well connected the human race REALLY is, it’s easy for us to say that translation is definitely not just about replacing words with words (and know just how true it is even if you couldn’t elaborate / be any less vague about it at all). After all, everyone does it now. Whatever the case, sticking to the point is paramount if you want to be sure of doing good translation work. It could mean the difference between the recipient of the message being misled or not misled. I’ve recently been watching old episodes of Family Fortunes on Youtube; in one episode, one of the questions was, “[We asked 100 people to] name one of the disadvantages of owning a pet.” The answers in the survey included “being tied to the house”, “smells” and a few others. But there was one guy in one of the families who, when Les Dennis approached him for a possible answer to this question, said, “cleaning it out.” Right – “cleaning out the cage”, I guess. But when Les as the host announced, “cleaning it out?” and pointed to the answers board, that family lost a life and the audience laughed. Cleaning out the cage is certainly something you should do if you have a pet that is something like a gerbil, or a parrot or any other bird, or a snake. But how does one “clean out” a cat or a dog? “Cleaning (washing) a pet” would have made much more sense. But my point here is that the guy who gave the answer “cleaning it out” failed to stick to the point in that he failed to stick to the question, which was “name one of the disadvantages of owning a pet” and his answer effectively excluded certain types of pet. In translation work – certainly professional translation work – everything that you produce should not merely be “correct on surface level” in that it obeys all the rules of the target language and all that; everything you write should actually “fit in”, have a genuine place in the text considering its subject matter and intentions.
I think that, when I was learning how to do translation properly, I started by making sure that I always wrote sentences that were grammatically complete and correct (including checking for spelling and punctuation mistakes and obvious grammatical errors, of course). Then my writing started becoming more laconic as my writing style started turning from being fair to being what could justifiably be defined as of a clearly higher level.
At the end of the day, whatever I see written / hear spoken in English, I just know that I can read / hear it and say, “That looks / sounds like something I would (or could) write / say” or, “That does not look / sound like something I would (or could) write / say”, and so could anyone else. There are some styles of English that I would feel I could recreate at least reasonably easily, and some which I wouldn’t.
Take the kind of English that is used by less educated native English speakers, but who are not so uneducated that they write cringeworthy things like “I should of” or writing what’s supposed to be the abbreviation of “you are” as “your”. You can expect them to use things like quotation marks properly, but they are less familiar with more subtle things, like the comma splice. Now take the kind of English that is used by more educated foreign speakers who may make more spelling mistakes than native English speakers or say things like “I have gone” where a native speaker would say “I went” (this are but two examples) but they really do have a respectable command of it – they don’t usually write semi-incomprehensible gibberish like the things below. I believe that there is a difference.
Instructions with a Chinese toy:
“Avoid disturbing the other while enjoying this item.”
On a Soviet ship in the Black Sea:
“Helpsavering apparata in emerging behold many whistles! Associate the stringing apparata about the bosoms and meet behind. Flee then to the indifferent livesavering shippen obediencing the instructs of the vessel chef.”
At a hotel in Florence:
“Fire! It is what we can be doing, we hope. No fear. Not ourselves. Say quickly to all people coming up and down, everywhere, a prayer always is a clerk. He is assured of safety by expert men who are in the bar for telephone for the fighters of the fire come out.”
Ad for Japanese noodle bar:
“The noodles of a phantom with the resistance to the teeth of boast our shop. The exquisite rainy season which repeated trial and error was completed. Colourful red pepper of Asia. Domestic careful selection pork with little fat of female liking is used. It has healthy vegetables with salad feeling fully.”
I’ve known many foreigners whose command of English would never lead them to write anything like the things above. I’ve read plenty of comments written in English in the forums on the online translation portal ProZ which even I wouldn’t have guessed were not written by English native speakers. But I want to provide some examples of “the kind of English that is used by more educated foreign speakers…” as described above.
The first is a film subtitle which reads, “I am damn unsatisfied to be killed in this way.” I would re-write this as something like, “I hate having to be killed like this.” Wouldn’t you?
Earlier this year, someone who I think was from Sweden posted a translation job ad on ProZ.com, which was written in English. And one thing they said in it was, “If you are sure of your availability…”. I was able to confirm that what they meant was, “If you want to be a part of this project and can be sure of the days / hours when you will be available in the near future…” But it just seems to me that most native English speakers who read “If you are sure of your availability…” will “take it” as, “If you can be sure that you will be available and actually present when we contact you, and not prone to external things likely to be sources of distraction, should you express an interest in this project...”
These examples are taken from the manual of a computer game (Commandos 2: Men of Courage), in the character profiles section. I write what I read in the manual followed by how I would have written it as a native speaker of English.
What I read in the manual: “He can enter buildings through windows, and holes, once inside, opening doors with his tools and the keys that he has stolen from the Germans he found on his way.”
My re-write: “He can enter buildings through windows or holes and, once inside, open doors with his tools and keys stolen from Germans that he encounters on his way.”
What I read in the manual: “The materials he carries in his backpack are always delicate but heavy, this forces him to move slowly and can stop him from entering water in order to protect the sensitive products in his backpack.”
My re-write: “The materials he carries in his backpack are delicate but heavy and this means that he cannot move so quickly; in the interest of protecting the sensitive products in his backpack, he can’t enter water either.”
What I read in the manual: “He was sentenced by a military jury to 14 years hard labour after knocking out an official, superior in rank.”
My re-write: “He was sentenced by a military to 14 years’ hard labour after knocking out an officer of higher rank.”
6th December 2012

Like all entrepreneurs, I could go on and on about the importance of positive thinking in the pursuit of any kind of success I could feel proud of. Of course, it’s one thing to fight for customers; it’s something else entirely to fight for reputation and morale, especially when it’s a matter of restoring it when things have gone bad. Having said that, it’s not like my product / service is a cheap commodity. I don’t care how much money the Coca Cola crew throw around – at the end of the day, the average Joe thinks nothing of going into some corner shop to buy a can of it, swigging it down and tossing the empty can into the nearest bin. That’s not to say that I think that Coca Cola is a rubbish product, but I dare say that translating for a living is totally different. Quite apart from the fact that translating is never seen as “sexy” or glamorous (as much appeal as the concept of speaking another language has to some people), there are plenty of people from all walks of life who know damn well that it’s not as easy as it looks, by which they mean that it is not just about replacing words with words (woe betide anyone who puts blind faith in machine translators all the time). The average foreign language course available in places like WHSmith only teaches basic, common phrases for use in a hotel, at a restaurant etc. when you go to the country – and one might soon view them as too rigid when actually trying to make use of them. Being able to “get by” in a foreign language is not enough where professional translation is concerned and it never will be; it should be obvious that only “truly literate” people – I suggest you take some time to define “truly literate” for yourself – even consider choosing to make a living from translating, innit.
I’ve wondered if there’s an expression for a phrase which, when people use it, is but a phrase that’s borrowed from a film or something. When saying something, people may just decide to use such a phrase to help get their point across, but given that it’s recycled they just might be trying to make their particular point with less conviction than would be the case than if they decided on using their own words. Maybe you know someone who you agree “lives by movie quotes” and you think they’re a fool / wonder how they function in life? Well there you go! So what’s this got to do with my professional morale? The answer is simple enough. I do not fill my translation with such recycled expressions (clichés?) – I find that to do so would encourage the idea that I don’t know what I’m talking about.
The sooner an agreed label among the masses for such expressions comes into existence, the better. Maybe someone could write to me and let me know if they find one featured in urbandictionary.com?
12th December 2012

Yesterday I sent a mass email to customers saying Merry Christmas. I hope I did it right.
What do I mean by that? Well, the actual content of the message was the words, "HAPPY CHRISTMAS (in the subject line); George Trail wishes you a merry Christmas and a happy new year", with a digital photo of the Christmas tree in my house (attached). I translated these words into French or German for those based in France, Germany, Austria or Switzerland as appropriate. It's "George Trail vous souhaite Joyeux Noël et Bonne Nouvelle Année" in French and "George Trail wünscht Ihnen Frohes Weihanchten und ein gutes neues Jahr" in German. But I don't know whether I should have used "tu" and "du" or "vous" and "Sie".
21st December 2012

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