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Blog - 2014

[The most recent one is at the bottom.]


TRANSLATION AND THE WONDER OF SELF-CORROBORATIVE TEXT
I’m very sure that most of us have read any number of fatuous comments online – especially on social media sites – that are little more than anything along the lines of, “This song is so cool / wack!” or “This idea is so funny!” or “I did this today, and I thought it was really [insert any single adjective here].” Sure, we’ve all heard of the right to free speech – and maybe there are times when those who make such comments do so with a level of sincerity which they know is particularly high – but when you think about it, whenever someone makes such a statement, it is pretty much always going to be a whole lot more informative to them and them only, than to anyone else, at any point in the future. I am quick to dismiss such comments as soon as I read them (and would suggest that most people are). Is it worth me asking why they are so common? When such a comment is read by anyone other than its author by chance, they can only guess as to what is really lying behind the words that they read – these words do not speak for themselves; they are not self-corroborative. I will discuss this idea in what follows.
I think we would all agree that self-corroborative statements are rare among people who are a bit slow when they speak: people who, for example, are, like, prone to, like, saying, like, “like”, like, several times per, like, sentence; and this, like, makes it, like, hard to like, follow what they’re, like, saying. Maybe that’s exaggerated. Either way, I view it as hard to dispute that comments like that are anything but that which is known as laconic speech, something which the Spartans placed a lot of importance on. And laconic speech tends to be self-corroborative in my opinion.
Of course, this is another business comment of mine, and for that reason I want to relate the whole idea of self-corroborative text to translation at some point. When I say I care about producing “good” translations, this means translations that are clear and accurate, and which people can feel confident about as they read them. Need I say more? (You tell me.) With that said: I think of the alleged “art of explanation” (see my comment dated 19th July 2013) as something that I connect with the idea of self-corroborative text. Ditto for that time I suggested that one of the reasons why Rebecca Black’s song Friday is so unpopular is how plain inane and hopelessly abstract it is, including the suggestion of how it depends on its video to explain what it is about (see my comment dated 5th June 2013). But, to talk translation: people respond to examples of bad translations in different ways. Some are enough to appal anyone depending on the situation, while others amuse people even if it wouldn’t be fair to call them chaotically inaccurate (in one or more ways). And, some bad translations, while linguistically sound and everything, may ultimately prove inadequate if they fail to furnish the reader with enough “guidance” as to their subject matter – if they only really exist merely as collections of words which definitely exist to say one thing and one thing only but which just leave too much to the imagination of the reader.

I was pleased that I could remember the name of this guy, who was, paradoxically, frustrating and endearing and amusing all at once before his actual performance. If I’m not mistaken, someone once said that they reminded him or her of Forrest Gump. To tell you the truth, it was the fact that I found myself thinking of this guy at some point very recently that eventually encouraged me to write this entire comment. After all, a situation, incident, opinion or anything else is what it is / will be – but it won’t be entirely responsible for individuals’ reports of, responses to and memories about it (indeed, “History is not what happened in the past. History is what we think happened in the past.”). That is something I insist. Such is the wonder of self-corroborative text.

All things considered, it does seem to me that people who are to some degree adept at using self-corroborative / laconic communication would be more confident at translating than those who are not. Can you remember a time when you were trying to explain something to someone else and it was hard enough that you wish you had a pencil and paper on hand to help you do it but didn’t? I don’t think that such a scenario is that uncommon. There is an extent to how far confidence is not necessary for mustering good translation. For example, good translators know that there are times when the most reliable (and, sometimes, ironically, the easiest) thing to do when translating a given sentence or phrase is to use a whole new grammatical construction and / or some completely different lexical items in their reproduction of what they have understood is the intended message contained in the source language, in the new language. In short, this kind of confidence depends on inventiveness and flexible thinking for its survival. Especially when you consider such issues as the fact that there are some words in a given language whose meanings can vary in another. …I may be the one writing all this stuff but one thing has not changed: any barriers between me and attaining the status of “perfect translator” are as likely to be consequential of my own knowledge gaps as anything else. Of course, I am well aware of all these would-be entrepreneur translators on online forums like ProZ who are notorious for producing poor quality translations – on the ProZ discussion board, people keep lamenting about how it is obvious that these people put too much faith machine translators to do their work, with inferior translation product as a consequence (having said that, sometimes these people falsely represent genuine translation agencies, presumably for the sake of enhancing their credibility, which is not a good thing). Needless to say, whatever machine translators are good for, there’s no merit to be found in the so-called confidence that these would-be entrepreneur translators enjoy thanks purely to the existence of these machine translators that are so easily and readily available to them.
If I had to attempt a definition of self-corroborative text, it would be: the kind of text which can in and of itself be interpreted as directly relevant to some given subject in particular while making a particular point which has at least some element of unquestionable certainty in it; no “add-ons” (by the speaker or the listener) are required in order to specifically clarify the same. Maybe it would be fitting to describe it thus: text which, in and of itself, has something about it which, in some way, definitely reflects something a priori even if it would also indicate something a posteriori.
This is the point where I evaluate. Taking stuff for granted is something we are all familiar with, and for pretty much the same reason: no-one likes to feel that they are / should be concerned about something to excess, especially when it is known for certain (or close enough) what the outcome of the thing will be or would be. I of course make a point of not taking stuff for granted in my work as a self-employed translator – in the interests of common sense as much as “professionalism”. But there just must have been times when people have taken something for granted while having incorrect ideas about what the thing in question actually is, if that makes sense…
What if I were to suggest that common sense most frequently starts with proper and adept communication? Is that right or wrong?
4th January 2014

LET’S WEIGH THE PRACTICE OF TRANSLATION AGAINST THAT OF FICTION WRITING
In addition to several non-fictional works, many works of fiction have been translated into other languages. I don’t mind stating publicly that I would like to get into translating books at some point. But then, I won’t neglect stating that certain literary and creative writing styles abound. Many modern industries have their own terminologies – I wonder if some people think that the (supposedly) most obvious option market to someone wanting to be a generalist (or should that be “bog standard”?) translator would be the translation of literature. I can’t tell.
Either way, there is one key skill common to translating and fiction writing: making stuff up. Of course, who knows how many people there are who think that they can do either or even both of these things but just can’t. Making stuff up as part of telling a lie doesn’t always require having to justify it with any kind of argument or logic, empirical or absolute. But there is no way you would get away with adopting that kind of approach in translating – as far as translating is concerned, I think of finding appropriate expressions to write in the new language that will pass for valid equivalents of the words in the original material, as “making stuff up”, so to speak – especially when it’s professional translating. After all, haven’t we all heard of the phrase “lost in translation”, and / or read the odd strange or “funny” translation on the odd occasion? In this age of digital communication and immense travel around the world, you have to wonder if these notions are alien to anyone of adult age at all. Either way, it is simply not wise to buy into the first idea that runs into your head and adopt it while supporting it – your decision – with the sole and untested argument that the one reading your translated product (whoever they might be) will “basically get it and therefore accept it”. Why? Purely out of how satisfied they will be – well, should be – that they have a version that they can read? If that is how you think: Get a grip and wake up! Now! Just one example: any name of something may indicate that thing or be an instrument of metonymy. And even if you wanted to write any sort of fiction that is as detached from reality as anything you’ve seen in World of Warcraft, Tom and Jerry, Downfall parodies on Youtube, whatever, you wouldn’t want people to feel hopelessly lost or bemused or frustrated or anything similar purely as a result of how you wrote the damn thing, would you? In my business, translation, literacy is everything, but then so is coherence – the coherence of someone else (who you probably don’t or won’t even know) – huh?
You know, having said that, maybe I should elaborate: one key skill common to translating and fiction writing is making up stuff that other people just can’t. If you have good reason to believe that you have sound creative skills (which include being highly literate) and get a buzz out of finding solutions which are far from straightforward but which really would appear to be the best answers to given problems (and which don’t necessarily involve having to do things like take perilous risks or enforce the co-operation of others), then you might enjoy translating and / or being an author. How many people out there have been known to have done both? Maybe someone can write and let me know?
I can’t and won’t pretend that I am the only one who has ever touched on the finer points that exist between the topic of writing and the topic of translation. As I was writing this comment I Googled “translator author” and on the first page there was a link to something called the Swansea Author-Translator Conference – even though it happened all the way back in 2010, it lasted FOUR DAYS! I mean, it does make you wonder exactly what they talked about on the subject that is the link between authors and translators, doesn’t it? How so much? Meanwhile, there’s some group on Facebook called “Authors & Translators”, which describes itself as “A blog for authors who talk about their translators and translators who talk about their authors, i.e. a blog about literary translation.” And there are plenty of authors and translators with plenty to say on http://authors-translators.blogspot.co.uk/ Could prove interesting to someone like me…
7th January 2014

THERE’S NO REJECTION OF PLATITUDES LIKE A TRANSLATOR’S REJECTION OF PLATITUDES
I’m going to start this comment by saying something I forgot to add in my comment about self-corroborative text. I used to play a certain fantasy gamebook (wizards, elves and all that) in which, depending on the decisions you make when you play it, you might end up somewhere where you come across a document written in “the dwarfish tongue”. One of the characters you can play is a dwarf, who can read it, but if you’re playing as the wizard you can “spend one Magic Point” to translate it into… well, not a language that actually exists, but the language that the wizard character usually reads and uses; and when you agree to spend one Magic Point for this you turn to a certain paragraph in the book where it is then explained to you, the player, in a language you know or else you wouldn’t be playing the gamebook in the first place. Anyway, it didn’t take much for me to accept that some people seem to think that machine translation software can be trusted to “magically” produce fitting translations just like it is done magically in this gamebook in the scenario above, when this is simply not the case. In my comment about self-corroborative text I mentioned that this is something done by people who call themselves translators, and that they are notorious on the likes of the ProZ discussion forums for producing poor translation work. Personally, I feel sad that they do this – and not just because of the suffering of the poor people that they do such “work” for.
However, while I intend to talk about translation / the art thereof in this comment – like I already have done in many other comments, I suppose – it goes beyond merely that. I can promise you that.
I think I long ago proved to everyone that my English is good enough for me to be translating into it for a living. I know quite a few aspects of proper English that most people don’t care about and who ignore them when they hear them being discussed. I’m not talking about common embarrassing mistakes like “I should of” or “Your very funny”. What I mean is I know when to use “fewer” rather than “less”, and know about comma splicing – things like that. However, even if I spoke the Queen’s English and my peers openly agreed that I did, I really don’t think that I could use that as a defensive argument against anyone who would claim that, when I said something in English, I had no idea what I was talking about.
If you know very little about a given subject, it’s hardly unlikely that, when you talk about it, you will do so in an unrelaxed manner, with the frequent use of awkward and vague expressions, until the point where it effectively becomes a habit. That’s exactly what I’m talking about by “a translator’s rejection of platitudes” in the title. And everyone knows that sometimes when a translator is called upon to translate something, they are expected to have an actual knowledge of the subject matter. I must confess that “an actual knowledge of the subject matter” is probably a tough expression to get an easy grip on. After all, there are plenty of subjects with their own terminology and set expressions: legal, technical fields, music, certain games, you name it. But I usually find that, when I translate something, it pays to ruminate, say, the actual intentions of certain people out there (who I likely don’t know and am indifferent toward) that are reflected in the original document, which can only be acknowledged when the original document is… well, read carefully.
Not that long ago, I learned of this young American polyglot called Tim Doner, who speaks many languages in this video
I have much to say about him, and I hope this comment is not going to end up sounding like it has started being only about him. If I want to write a comment specifically about him, I’ll let you know at the beginning; just so you know. He speaks a few languages even I hadn’t heard of. I watched the video twice, but paid special attention to when he was speaking French and German, mainly because those are the only foreign languages I can speak at any sort of respectable level. (But I know I could learn another! )Yes, it’s impressive. I couldn’t tell you whether or not he had it all scripted beforehand, but I could believe that he didn’t i.e. that he made it all up as he went along. I agree that he speaks many of the foreign languages he knows not quite “fluently” but certainly at a conversational level which is notably higher than rudimentary. Myself, I was quick to note that, for example, he uses the “ne… que” construction in the French bit, and the “weder… noch” construction in the German bit. And when he says “I teach myself German” he says it as “Ich bringe mir selbst Deutsch bei”, and I would never have thought of that, preferring to use something decidedly less idiomatic, like “Ich unterrichte mir selbst Deutsch”. But I’m not going to talk about what he can do only in terms of certain aspects of the foreign languages themselves. With Hebrew he says, “I am comfortable when I have to talk to someone or explain something”. With German he says, “This language is very popular in the polyglot community”, which indicates that, to some extent, he definitely does more than sit in his room teaching himself this language or that language with a few materials while just not caring about that language’s actual place and role in society, however talented or committed he may be about learning the language in his own eyes. It is clear that he can comfortably talk about far more than himself and his own life in many of the foreign languages he knows. Well done him. …And that’s my elaboration of “Yes, it’s impressive”, with more than one case in point and discussion thereof, in case it sounded like a “platitude” thing to say. Who saw that coming?
He’s heard of a Yiddish proverb that goes: “A language is a dialect with an army and a navy.” Whatever that means; though to me it merely reminds me that a “language” has a higher status than a dialect, which everyone knows. Also, at one point he says, “Sometimes in my head, Turkish, Arabic and Farsi become one language.” I don’t speak any of those languages, but I imagine that if I asked to him to explain what he meant by that, he would feel very awkward about it even if I spoke all three, and even if he had something like a pencil and paper to help him. Like I said, there’s no rejection of platitudes like a translator’s rejection of platitudes.
Tim says a few things which I consider “platitude-sounding” in his video (“I want to go to Russia because I like travelling and clearly, I need practice”, “I’m learning Pashto because Afghanistan has a special place in the world”), but I don’t want to be too hard on him because sometimes they can be tacitly accepted by anyone – it’s not like I absolutely never say anything like “platitude-sounding” myself.
All in all, though, I go out of my way to avoid this so-called “platitude speech attitude” too much because I think it’s important as far as my work concerned. Do you want to know what I mean by that? Good, because I was going to explain it anyway. For someone writing this in a cosy study with the curtains closed, separated from the world, I would suggest that there are certain professions where people decide against platitudes in communication too much – whether they realise it or not – because, put simply, they would just know that it “just does not help”, even if they could not explain why. Think of that one when you next watch a detective or a teacher at work. Or if you are trying to sell something, or you are in a job interview – the product or service / you could be one of the best “things” in the business but if you’re not specific enough the person you’re talking to will probably get as frustrated trying to listening to and understand you as you will be trying to persuade them how good the “thing” is, and then it all falls apart. And I too prefer to say more than platitude expressions when writing my translations lest they undermine the confidence of the client or potential reader, whether or not they had it in them to say so.
10th January 2014

THE ART OF (MORE HIGHLY ACCOMPLISHED) TRANSLATION: HOW CONTEXTUALLY CORRECT EXPRESSIONS AREN’T ALWAYS ACCEPTED. ARE THERE ANY STANDARD PROCEDURES FOR “FINDING YOURSELF” IN TRANSLATION (AS OPPOSED TO GETTING “LOST IN TRANSLATION”)?
I have to argue that a big part of the art of translation, if it ever existed, is the art of (actually) getting expressions right even if there is good reason to believe that what you would originally say could work for anyone (where anyone does actually mean “anyone”).
You know, I once wrote the following comment in my personal Facebook profile: “The younger you are, the more you remember. The older you are, the more you remember. Which of those statements is true?” It’s easy enough to relate concepts of memory to concepts of imagination – and to relate to both to the act / art of the translation. Even so, as true as it is that a good imagination helps when you are doing translation i.e. trying to do quality translation, like I pledge to do every day as a professional translator, that doesn’t mean that it’s not possible to be misled by nothing but your own imagination and in that way end up a “victim of your own imagination.”
I sent applications to some new translation agencies not too long ago and one of them asked me to do a test that I was so glad to receive. It wasn’t a translation test, but more like editing. I was given nine small quotes and specifically told at the beginning that my task was “to make them make sense in your language so that they do not read like a translation from English”. Here’s one of them now:
“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.”
However easy anyone who’s ever stayed in a hotel may claim that that is to understand… I’ve never said anything like this about a work-related test before but I just genuinely appreciated the opportunity to rewrite these sentences. I rewrote the one above thus:
“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.”
I mean, to me it’s clear that the agency that gave me this test has a very fervent focus on what it takes to produce proper translations at a professional level. This agency is All Correct Language Solutions, based in Russia https://www.facebook.com/allcorrect, and I know that they’re a good agency because they have a 4.9 rating on the ProZ Blue Board. I looked at their Facebook business page and, although I can’t read or speak Russian, I can see that it has a level of content on it that is comparable with the level of content on my own, which is enough to make believe that they can be vocal enough about proper translation to impress me, and look how vocal I’ve been about proper translation.
So yes, not everyone is apt at producing expressions which “really do work” in this way. I’ve probably said this before, but on the ProZ forums I’ve heard of stories about people who would have us all believe that they are professional translators but they simply don’t deserve to be called professional translators: this is because their work is substandard – I’ve heard of stories of someone giving such people translation work to do and then when they get the translation back, they have no qualms about publicly stating: “It was obvious that this was done using Google Translate.” These days I tend to specifically read comments that are like, “It was obvious that this was done using Google Translate” rather than, “It was obvious that this was done using a machine translator. Of course, I have to balance this against the counter-argument (try reading this aloud a single breath for the right effect):
“But Google Translate is a translation tool that was developed by Google, so it must be a reliable translation tool. I mean, if it was developed by Google, it’s got to be good. If it was developed by Google of all people it’s got to be trustworthy. You know you can put your trust in Google Translate because it was developed by Google...” etc. etc.
Not to mention the fact that it is very, very easy to have a machine translation tool have a wide vocabulary (in both the necessary languages, of course) compared to what it takes to have a human translator to acquire the same.
And I would address this by saying that the translations of Google Translate, or indeed any other machine translation tool, however good they may be, too frequently have too many “typical” traits in them, the result of irresolutely rigid and standardised decisions, which are, of course, always automated. I think of that time I talked about “just having stuff translated” “by magic”, in the first paragraph of my last comment on here. What is there to say about these sub-standard translators who are pathetically dependent on Google Translate in this way? It is tempting for me to say that they can only be described as deliberately obtuse. There’s no real translation without some sort of real appreciation of the “art of explanation” (see that comment of mine), which sort of explains in of itself how important it really is. There is no excuse for blind acceptance of what Google Translate produces – but I mean that in a matter-of-fact, logical sense. These would-be translators are basically not willing to accept any responsibility for their work… and wouldn’t know how. And if professional translators like me won’t help to maintain acceptable standards and help to prevent the deterioration of the reputation of the industry, then who will?
But how does one distinguish the one who brazenly doesn’t know what they’re talking about, who doesn’t care if the information in question is correctly conveyed / represented or not, from the one who falsely believes that they do know what they are talking about but has well-founded reasons for believing that they do? Needless to say, there is no way I’m as bad as the former, but there have been times when I’ve sent marketing material written in French and German only to see them get back to me saying that my writing in French in German is “off” – even of insufficient quality – this despite the fact that I studied French and German at university and everyone who knows me knows it. Even if I use expressions in my marketing material written in French and German that are irregular to native speakers, I simply don’t believe that they’re THAT strange, and certainly not semi-literate or markedly informal or inappropriately chatty-sounding or anything like that, do you know what I mean?
Suppose you spoke one language and you wanted a machine translator to translate something in that language into a language that you did not speak, rather than have the machine translator translate something written in a language that you did not speak into a language you did speak. Which is more common? What do you think? Is there actually ever any point trying to do the former if you haven’t taken the time to understand what is meant by the words in the original, the language that you understand? Lots of people have tried to explain something without actually knowing what they’re talking about, and this includes topics with a language, or even a translation theme. I mean, if you look up “Has anyone really been far even as decided to use even go want to do look more like?” on Encyclopaedia Dramatica, look at what they say under “Answer” and “Engrish version”. How else is it possible to explain people putting it through a machine translator to translate it from English into another language and then back, as if it really were somehow possible to explain something without actually knowing what you’re talking about with no means necessary other than automated means?
And that is me talking about the hypothetical topic of finding yourself in translation.
Epilogue: I have seen evidence on ProZ.com that there definitely exists something of a veritable “post-editing machine translation” industry, although this is probably thanks to… you guessed it, didn’t you? Those aforementioned “professional translators” who so woefully lean on translation tools like the backs of reclining massage chairs…
PS There is an annex to this particular comment – one that is about understanding of machine translation tools. For I believe that it is very relevant. Watch this space…
5th March 2014

THE ART OF (MORE HIGHLY ACCOMPLISHED) TRANSLATION: HOW CONTEXTUALLY CORRECT EXPRESSIONS AREN’T ALWAYS ACCEPTED. ARE THERE ANY STANDARD PROCEDURES FOR “FINDING YOURSELF” IN TRANSLATION (AS OPPOSED TO GETTING “LOST IN TRANSLATION”)?
I have to argue that a big part of the art of translation, if it ever existed, is the art of (actually) getting expressions right even if there is good reason to believe that what you would originally say could work for anyone (where anyone does actually mean “anyone”).
You know, I once wrote the following comment in my personal Facebook profile: “The younger you are, the more you remember. The older you are, the more you remember. Which of those statements is true?” It’s easy enough to relate concepts of memory to concepts of imagination – and to relate to both to the act / art of the translation. Even so, as true as it is that a good imagination helps when you are doing translation i.e. trying to do quality translation, like I pledge to do every day as a professional translator, that doesn’t mean that it’s not possible to be misled by nothing but your own imagination and in that way end up a “victim of your own imagination.”
I sent applications to some new translation agencies not too long ago and one of them asked me to do a test that I was so glad to receive. It wasn’t a translation test, but more like editing. I was given nine small quotes and specifically told at the beginning that my task was “to make them make sense in your language so that they do not read like a translation from English”. Here’s one of them now:
“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.”
However easy anyone who’s ever stayed in a hotel may claim that that is to understand… I’ve never said anything like this about a work-related test before but I just genuinely appreciated the opportunity to rewrite these sentences. I rewrote the one above thus:
“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.”
I mean, to me it’s clear that the agency that gave me this test has a very fervent focus on what it takes to produce proper translations at a professional level. This agency is All Correct Language Solutions, based in Russia https://www.facebook.com/allcorrect, and I know that they’re a good agency because they have a 4.9 rating on the ProZ Blue Board. I looked at their Facebook business page and, although I can’t read or speak Russian, I can see that it has a level of content on it that is comparable with the level of content on my own, which is enough to make believe that they can be vocal enough about proper translation to impress me, and look how vocal I’ve been about proper translation.
So yes, not everyone is apt at producing expressions which “really do work” in this way. I’ve probably said this before, but on the ProZ forums I’ve heard of stories about people who would have us all believe that they are professional translators but they simply don’t deserve to be called professional translators: this is because their work is substandard – I’ve heard of stories of someone giving such people translation work to do and then when they get the translation back, they have no qualms about publicly stating: “It was obvious that this was done using Google Translate.” These days I tend to specifically read comments that are like, “It was obvious that this was done using Google Translate” rather than, “It was obvious that this was done using a machine translator. Of course, I have to balance this against the counter-argument (try reading this aloud a single breath for the right effect):
“But Google Translate is a translation tool that was developed by Google, so it must be a reliable translation tool. I mean, if it was developed by Google, it’s got to be good. If it was developed by Google of all people it’s got to be trustworthy. You know you can put your trust in Google Translate because it was developed by Google...” etc. etc.
Not to mention the fact that it is very, very easy to have a machine translation tool have a wide vocabulary (in both the necessary languages, of course) compared to what it takes to have a human translator to acquire the same.
And I would address this by saying that the translations of Google Translate, or indeed any other machine translation tool, however good they may be, too frequently have too many “typical” traits in them, the result of irresolutely rigid and standardised decisions, which are, of course, always automated. I think of that time I talked about “just having stuff translated” “by magic”, in the first paragraph of my last comment on here. What is there to say about these sub-standard translators who are pathetically dependent on Google Translate in this way? It is tempting for me to say that they can only be described as deliberately obtuse. There’s no real translation without some sort of real appreciation of the “art of explanation” (see that comment of mine), which sort of explains in of itself how important it really is. There is no excuse for blind acceptance of what Google Translate produces – but I mean that in a matter-of-fact, logical sense. These would-be translators are basically not willing to accept any responsibility for their work… and wouldn’t know how. And if professional translators like me won’t help to maintain acceptable standards and help to prevent the deterioration of the reputation of the industry, then who will?
But how does one distinguish the one who brazenly doesn’t know what they’re talking about, who doesn’t care if the information in question is correctly conveyed / represented or not, from the one who falsely believes that they do know what they are talking about but has well-founded reasons for believing that they do? Needless to say, there is no way I’m as bad as the former, but there have been times when I’ve sent marketing material written in French and German only to see them get back to me saying that my writing in French in German is “off” – even of insufficient quality – this despite the fact that I studied French and German at university and everyone who knows me knows it. Even if I use expressions in my marketing material written in French and German that are irregular to native speakers, I simply don’t believe that they’re THAT strange, and certainly not semi-literate or markedly informal or inappropriately chatty-sounding or anything like that, do you know what I mean?
Suppose you spoke one language and you wanted a machine translator to translate something in that language into a language that you did not speak, rather than have the machine translator translate something written in a language that you did not speak into a language you did speak. Which is more common? What do you think? Is there actually ever any point trying to do the former if you haven’t taken the time to understand what is meant by the words in the original, the language that you understand? Lots of people have tried to explain something without actually knowing what they’re talking about, and this includes topics with a language, or even a translation theme. I mean, if you look up “Has anyone really been far even as decided to use even go want to do look more like?” on Encyclopaedia Dramatica, look at what they say under “Answer” and “Engrish version”. How else is it possible to explain people putting it through a machine translator to translate it from English into another language and then back, as if it really were somehow possible to explain something without actually knowing what you’re talking about with no means necessary other than automated means?
And that is me talking about the hypothetical topic of finding yourself in translation.
Epilogue: I have seen evidence on ProZ.com that there definitely exists something of a veritable “post-editing machine translation” industry, although this is probably thanks to… you guessed it, didn’t you? Those aforementioned “professional translators” who so woefully lean on translation tools like the backs of reclining massage chairs…
PS There is an annex to this particular comment – one that is about understanding of machine translation tools. For I believe that it is very relevant. Watch this space…
5th March 2014

ISN’T IT GENERALLY AGREED THAT PROFESSIONAL TRANSLATORS UNDERSTAND MACHINE TRANSLATION TOOLS BETTER THAN ANYONE ELSE (“AFTER ALL, THEY SHOULD DO”)?
I sometimes wonder if anyone who has read my previous comments on here has agreed that I am fascinated by how machine translation tools work. Because I am. I think you will enjoy reading this comment if you are one of those people.
One thing I have noticed about Google Translate: take a piece of writing – any phrase or sentence – and put it in the entry box in the Google Translate translation tool, then translate it into any language you want. Now move the cursor over the text of the translation language. When you see that a bit of the text in the translation text has been highlighted in yellow, you will also see that a bit of the text of the source language has also been highlighted in yellow: the particular word(s) that the word(s) highlighted in the translation text is / are a translation of. I’ve never noted any other translation tools do this – but I guess that’s Google for you. I mean, people who work for Google are renowned for being particularly bright, huh? Of course, a word to the wise: even if you’re using Google Translate, don’t accept what the suggested truth of a translation provided by a machine translation tool is unconditionally, however far from loopy it may seem. I guess I’m talking about a kind of a critical attitude that is comparable with that exhibited by anyone who doesn’t believe everything they read or hear in the media; even if what I’m saying here is based purely on academic reasoning rather than social attitudes or, indeed, social competence. But I do wonder if this is something that could help one learn a new language (and in however convoluted a way, and however this might be defined exactly).
One thing I did as part of my writing of this comment was pay someone 20 Euros to translate a short article about Orlando into Greek, which I don’t speak – I don’t even know any of its most grammar rules or anything. This is the text of the original:
“We recommend all couples take the time to visit Orlando. The romance of the tropics strikes a spark all by itself, but there's also a marvelous array of intimate excursions for two. The Kraft Azalea Gardens, for starters, provide a lush backdrop for romantic strolls. Don't miss thousands of late winter azaleas in this gem along Lake Maitland.
For duos who love to dance, Orlando's the perfect nightspot! From salsa clubs to The Roxy, you'll find plenty of dance floor action while you're here. Head for International Drive to find just the right rhythm, and don't forget the seven dance clubs right on the Disney properties!
Here's another idea: candlelit dinners beckon from many of Orlando's restaurants. You can even take an evening trip on the Rivership Romance. This cruise winds for more than three hours along the St. John's River. Enjoy their great cuisine, entertainment and dancing as well as scenic views by moonlight.
One last tip for Orlando romance – check out the city's numerous day spas, including the Disney venues. Many offer luxurious packages for couples; the perfect way to relax with someone special.
There's one more group that's going to love Orlando. Seasoned "senior" vacationers will find plenty to enjoy in Central Florida. Definitely explore the beaches – you'll find some great ones within an hour's drive, including Cocoa Beach, Siesta Key and Clearwater.
And why not enjoy Disney as adults? Imagine getting to choose what you'd like to do, all day long, without having to humor the kids! The shows, including Cirque du Soleil's La Nouba, are just part of the multi-sensory experience.
You'll find plenty of fascinating shops, restaurants and entertainment in Orlando and its suburbs, too. Uptown Altamonte in Altamonte Springs features street entertainers and lots of shopping possibilities. Here's another hint: Old Town in Kissimmee is a great place to take the grand kids. Whether it's fine dining, watching entertainers or outdoor adventure, older travelers can enjoy it all in Orlando.”
And this is the Greek translation of it that I received for my 20 Euros:
“Πιστε?ουμε ?τι ?λα τα ζευγ?ρια πρ?πει να βρουν χρ?νο να επισκεφτο?ν το Ορλ?ντο. Ο ρομαντισμ?ς του τροπικο? τοπ?ου απ? μ?νος του ε?ναι αρκετ?ς για να αν?ψει τη σπ?θα αλλ? υπ?ρχει και μια θαυμ?σια σειρ? οικε?ων εκδρομ?ν για δ?ο. Οι κ?ποι Kraft Azalea Gardens προσφ?ρουν ?να ονειρεμ?νο σκηνικ? για ρομαντικο?ς περιπ?τους. Μη χ?σετε τις χιλι?δες αζαλ?ες στα τ?λη του χειμ?να σε αυτ? το στολ?δι κατ? μ?κος της λ?μνης Μ?ιτλαντ.
Για τα ζευγ?ρια που λατρε?ουν το χορ?, στο Ορλ?ντο υπ?ρχουν τα πιο τ?λεια νυχτεριν? κλαμπ! Απ? σ?λσα κλαμπ μ?χρι το νυχτεριν? κ?ντρο Roxy, θα ?χετε πολλ?ς επιλογ?ς για ξεφ?ντωμα σε π?στες χορο? κατ? την παραμον? σας εδ?. Επισκεφτε?τε το κλαμπ International Drive για να βρε?τε το ρυθμ? σας και μην παραλε?ψετε τα επτ? ντ?σκο κλαμπ στις εγκαταστ?σεις της Ντ?σνε?!
Μια ακ?μη ?μορφη ιδ?α ε?ναι η εμπειρ?α εν?ς δε?πνου υπ? το φως των κερι?ν την οπο?α θα ?χετε την ευκαιρ?α να βι?σετε στα πολλ? εστιατ?ρια του Ορλ?ντο. Μπορε?τε ακ?μη και να π?τε μια βραδιν? εκδρομ? με το Rivership Romance. Η κρουαζι?ρα αυτ? διαρκε? π?νω απ? τρεις ?ρες κατ? μ?κος του ποταμο? Σαιντ Τζον. Απολα?στε την υπ?ροχη κουζ?να, την ψυχαγωγ?α και το χορ? αλλ? και τη μαγευτικ? θ?α κ?τω απ? το φως του φεγγαριο?.
Μια τελευτα?α πρ?ταση για ρομαντικ?ς στιγμ?ς στο Ορλ?ντο – επισκεφτε?τε τα αμ?τρητα spa της π?λης, περιλαμβ?νοντας τους χ?ρους spa της Ντ?σνε?. Πολλ? προσφ?ρουν πολυτελ? πακ?τα για ζευγ?ρια. Ε?ναι ο τ?λειος τρ?πος να χαλαρ?σετε μαζ? με ?να ξεχωριστ? ?τομο.
Υπ?ρχει και μια ?λλη κατηγορ?α ταξιδιωτ?ν που θα λατρ?ψει το Ορλ?ντο. Οι ?μπειροι «βετερ?νοι» ταξιδι?τες θα ?χετε στη δι?θεσ? σας αμ?τρητες απολαυστικ?ς δραστηρι?τητες στην Κεντρικ? Φλ?ριντα. Πρ?πει οπωσδ?ποτε να επισκεφτε?τε τις παραλ?ες – θα βρε?τε αρκετ?ς υπ?ροχες παραλ?ες σε απ?σταση μ?ας ?ρας με το αυτοκ?νητο, περιλαμβ?νοντας τις παραλ?ες Κοκ?α Μπιτς, Σι?στα Κι και Κλιαργου?τερ.
Γιατ? να μην απολα?σετε την Ντ?σνε? και ας ε?στε εν?λικες; Φανταστε?τε να μπορο?σατε να επιλ?ξετε αυτ? που θ?λετε να κ?νετε, καθ’ ?λη τη δι?ρκεια της ημ?ρας, χωρ?ς να πρ?πει να σκεφτε?τε τη διασκ?δαση των παιδι?ν! Οι παραστ?σεις, περιλαμβ?νοντας την παρ?σταση La Nouba του Cirque du Soleil, αποτελο?ν μ?νο ?να μ?ρος μιας εμπειρ?ας πολλ?ν αισθ?σεων.
Στο Ορλ?ντο, αλλ? και στα προ?στι? του, θα βρε?τε μια πληθ?ρα καταπληκτικ?ν καταστημ?των, εστιατορ?ων και χ?ρων ψυχαγωγ?ας. Στα β?ρεια προ?στια του Αλταμ?ντε στην περιοχ? Αλταμ?ντε Σπρ?νγκς μπορε?τε να απολα?σετε τους καλλιτ?χνες δρ?μους καθ?ς και πολλ?ς εξορμ?σεις για ψ?νια. Μ?α ακ?μη συμβουλ?: Η Παλι? Π?λη στο Κ?σιμι ε?ναι το τ?λειο μ?ρος για να π?τε β?λτα με τα εγγον?κια σας. Ε?τε επιλ?ξετε να απολα?σετε ?να εκλεκτ? δε?πνο, τους καλλιτ?χνες ? μια περιπ?τεια στην ?παιθρο, οι ταξιδι?τες μεγαλ?τερης ηλικ?ας θα περ?σετε υπ?ροχες στιγμ?ς στο Ορλ?ντο.”
I want you to note that I paid for this Greek translation even though I could have had it translated into Greek using a machine translation tool like Google Translate for free. That said, because I don’t speak Greek, I am in no position to judge its quality (and yes, I did make the payment before having it checked by someone else – after all, I only ordered this Greek translation for the purpose of this comment). But my question is this: with me being a native speaker of English, would it be wise for me to translate it back into English using a machine translation tool for the purpose of judging its quality? If I did this, would I learn more about the translation competence of the Greek translator to offer good Greek translations (and should this be specifically defined as translations into Greek in general or translations from English into Greek in particular?), or more about the ability of the machine translation tool to do the same?
Now, this is something I actually do for the purpose of thoroughness in my work as a translator: after I have written what seems like a wise choice of words for a given expression or phrase in the original, what I do is I highlight individual words in the original as I re-read what I have written in the in-development translation: my highlighting of words in the original in this way has the purpose of notifying / reminding me which words in the original have been translated (if not directly, then they have definitely been taken into consideration) – it also prevents me from failing to translate anything in the original, unintentionally omitting it. But I can believe quite easily that this approach doesn’t work in every situation – you do get words in languages that have more than one meaning in another one, and this practice also doesn’t help me to get terminology correct. But at least I’m usually confident that, if I do write something that is not correct terminology, my particular choice of expression in the given case would help any reader with a developed knowledge of the correct terminology to understand the terminology that should have been used in its place.
But, in my willingness to explain and elaborate on things that just elude machine translators when it comes to translation work: I now list my latest collection of these translation work-related anecdotes, such as I have mentioned in previous comments…
In a translation project I did of a press release about fashion and fashion exhibitions, French to English, I originally translated “défile” as “parade” rather than “show”, mainly because I agreed that fashion models “parade” clothes on catwalks. But, on no suggestion other than my own intuition, I would eventually replace “parade” with “show”. How do you explain that?
In similar, I ending up writing this in my translation: “ ‘we never stopped; we always had to go further, experiment,’ recounted the creator, who left the diva last year, being exhausted by the frenetic pace of her metamorphoses – a dozen a day. In order to be able to better concentrate on his new, ambitious mission…” – note the comma after “new” – would this to some suggest that the previous mission (the Lady Gaga one) was not too ambitious? Would she be insulted by that?
In a project of a German to English translation of a contract agreement written in German, I saw this in the original: “Diese Qualitätssicherungsvereinbarung ersetzt alle früheren Vereinbarungen, die zwischen den Parteien getroffen wurden”. And this is the particular way I phrased what I put for it in English: “This quality assurance agreement replaces all earlier agreements concluded between the parties” – NOT “that were concluded between the parties”. If they “were concluded between the parties”, people could be left wondering exactly WHEN these agreements were concluded between the parties if you ask me; I mean, such information could prove important. But “that have been concluded between the parties” also definitely works.
In some German to English translation transcription work I did not too long ago, I heard someone say “Wie gesagt” in the original as they were making a certain point. Even so, even though my mother tongue is not German, I originally took as it as a question “wie gesagt?” – an abbreviated question – meaning like “How do I say this?” or “How could this be explained (coherently)?”, do you know what I mean?
The German word “Zentrale” has a certain figurative meaning in English: “switchboard” – I suppose that a switchboard does play a certain “central function” in a phone system sometimes – it’s just that the “central” bit is oblique. Of course, I realize that this is not the only word of its kind in German (and likewise for other languages, more likely than not).
When I wrote the sentence, “No wooden pallets may be used and no cardboard boxes may be stored behind the yellow line” as a translation of something, even I found myself asking whether or not I should a comma after the word “used”, or even if that actually mattered – would it have made a difference?
What is actually meant by “Außentür” in German? “Outside door” and “exterior door” deserve to be labelled as fitting translations, but it is somewhat vague? A door that separates an indoor area from an outdoor area? Or how about a door that opens outwards?
In my translation of a certain tourism article from French to English, I translated “Le Château abrite dans sa cave des millésimes exclusifs et accueille un club œnologique” as “In its basement the Château has exclusive vintage wines, and it hosts a winemaking club”. Presumably it doesn’t specifically host the wine club in the basement and only the basement, hence the comma after “wines”.
In the same tourism article: “La Citadelle n’a cessé de voir son architecture modifiée à travers les siècles”. I translated it as “The Citadelle has not stopped seeing its architecture changing over the centuries”, but should I have put “changing” or “changed”? Is it for sure that it is still changing (or not, as the case may be)?
For a number of weeks I have been translating questionnaire responses which constitute customer reviews on Nokia and Smartphone products, from French to English. I saw “vos conquérants” (“your conquerors”) where it should have been “concurrents” (“your competitors”). But I just got to thinking: anyone could deliberately spell it as “vos conquérants” as if to purposefully imply like, “Your competitors are better than you”. My idea.
I have also seen this in these questionnaire responses: “Mon tel a un écran trop petit”. I actually would insist that, when translating such a sentence into English, something like “My phone has a screen that is too small” or ““My phone has an excessively small screen” in my eyes counts as literal translation, even though it really doesn’t look that unusual at all. If you have to question what I mean by that, then consider how much more “normal” and “natural” “My phone’s screen is too small” sounds.
Another thing I have noted in the ASAP questionnaire responses: With “Il est finalement trop volumineux”, I eventually actually translated “volumineux” as “voluminous” – rather than “large” – it’s not like we’re actually talking about the size of the device!
6th March 2014

THIS IS TRANSLATION EXPERIENCE
I have played the game Free Running on the PS2. If you beat the third and final mentor challenge race against Sebastien Foucan, he says to you that, “Ability is one thing, but knowledge and experience are far more powerful.”
So what is this comment about? This is how I explain it: it’s a comment devoted entirely to these “work-related anecdotes” such as I have brought up in previous comments. So I don’t have anything else to say about languages or translation or the business of it all at this time; I don’t care – I just agreed to write a comment listing nothing but more of these work-related anecdotes as a reflection of my understanding of the importance of translation experience – real translation experience.
You might be wondering: is this comment really worth it, bearing in mind that I’ve already done this multiple times in the past? Personally, in all earnesty, I don’t think of this as showing off what I have been able to learn all for the purpose of impressing people no less than for anything else. Even if I have done this before, everything I’m about to say shows what I have been able understand about languages and translation based purely on my own reasoning – you could say that I would never have been able to write any of this without the knowledge of foreign languages and translation that I have, but my claim is that I wouldn’t have been able to write it exclusively thanks to the knowledge of foreign languages and translation that I have. After all, why does the art / act of translation exist at all? …It’s all about communication – accurate and stylistically fitting communication that people are not afraid to trust – isn’t it?
Sometimes I come across French and German expressions which are out of alignment with my knowledge of the language, yet I can understand (and even respect) how the French and German expressions that get referenced in these “work-related anecdotes” “come naturally” to / are used habitually by certain native speakers even if they are completely new to me given the knowledge of the language that I have. I think I’ve evidenced that I have trained myself to become apt at making sense of them – it hinges much on me having no less respect for others’ way of thinking (even if I don’t know them and likely never will) than for my own way of thinking, however much my own way of thinking helps me to accomplish. You could say that it all boils down to this: what does that say about my state of mind?
And here are my latest work-related anecdotes:
In a French-to-English website translation job, I saw “Portail des savoirs” in the original – which meant “Knowledge Portal” rather than “Portal of knowledgeable people” or anything like that.
For a certain client in Romania I continue to do proofreading of press releases about the actions of the Russian government in connection with major world issues such as what’s happening in Syria and what’s happening in Ukraine. During one such proofreading project I came across this comment in the original: “the situation primarily requires effective work of those who hold levers of influence on illegal armed formations in Syria”. I decided that I had to edit that a bit. I initially thought of editing it so that it read “who control illegal armed formations in Syria” – then decided that such a solution would be both right and wrong in theory: these people are hardly in charge of these factions! So I put “…those who keep illegal armed formations in Syria at bay.”
In one German-to-English technical document translation project I translated “Hinsichtlich der funktionellen Eigenschaften Scherstabilität und Gefrier-Tau-Stabilität” as “Regarding the functional properties of shear stability and freeze-thaw stability”. I’m proud of how I translated it because this translation phrase “works”, it’s correct, whether the message it’s supposed to be conveying is “the functional properties of these things as such” or “the functional properties that are shear stability and freeze-thaw stability.”
When I read this in the original version of another German-to-English translation project: “Wir sind bemüht Ihnen dauerhaft attraktive Preise anzubieten”, I am pleased that I had the sense to translate it as “We strive to offer you attractive prices on a long-term basis” (rather than “long-lasting attractive prices” – I was nearly caught out there).
That particular German-to-English translation project included a bit in the original that went, “Wie sehen die Gewährleistungsansprüche aus?” I decided that to write something like, “What do the warranty claims look like?” would be too literal (mainly because the warranty claims, being a non-physical object, don’t “look like” anything), and I decided on “What are the warranty claims conditions?” as the fitting and effective translation of it.
The final three of these all originate from my translation work of these questionnaire responses relating to electrical products (French to English) which I have been doing for someone in China for several consecutive weeks now.
I have to ask: does “ma carte SD ne sert à rien” mean “my SD card is useless” or “my SD card does nothing” in English? I can imagine people thinking that these two English expressions mean the same thing, but I wouldn’t always agree straight away – not if there’s a chance that the person who wrote this particular questionnaire response is arguing that, while their SD card is usually quite useful enough “elsewhere”, it does nothing with the particular device that is under discussion in this specific comment. I was confused and left guessing, but could never be made to feel embarrassed by it.
One common expression in the original French versions of these questionnaire responses is “rien à dire”. It means “nothing to say” in English, and I don’t think anyone could translate it as anything else even if they wanted to; the rigid phrase and its fixed translation suggestion are what they are. That said, however, when I see “rien à dire” in one of these questionnaire responses it is usually accompanied by at least a little bit more text, which means that they actually definitely have something to say. I can only conclude that the real common nuance of “rien à dire” is “nothing to point out in particular, rather than merely ‘say’”. Like “rien à signaler” (which I have seen abbreviated as “ras” – and I used to think that this was short for “ras-le-bol”!).
Finally, in my latest work translating these questionnaire responses, I read this in the French version: “Telephone pratique avec pas mal de function”. I had to make my mind up between translating it as “A practical phone whose functions are not that bad” or “A practical phone which doesn’t half have a lot of functions!”? If you’re interested (or even you just claim to be), I translated it as the former.
All I’m saying is that this is translation experience.
27th March 2014

MATCHING WORDS TO THEIR INTENDED MEANING WHEN REPRODUCING THEM IN ANOTHER LANGUAGE: UNSPOKEN “MIND-BASED DEVIATIONS”. INTERPRETATION SHAPES ALL KNOWLEDGE – BE PREPARED TO RECONSIDER WRITING WHAT YOU (BELIEVE YOU) KNOW.
I don’t think it’s crazy to suggest that even the brightest of us can end up a bit confused, misled or shrouded in mystery over something we would otherwise confide in. And if you fail to “get the gist of” something that you read or hear, one may surmise that the reason behind it is that what you’re reading / hearing is a translation of something from another language that is defective in some way. I provide these examples – which I will discuss in more detail later on – there are different kinds of bags, and the attitudes of society and certain individuals have yielded different impressions of what “sexiness” is.
If you write a translation of something only to evidence a grasp of the content of the original that someone else claims to find “unusual” in at least a few places, maybe the truth is this: your written material may be 100% “correct” (note the quotation marks) in every respect, but your own interpretation of the original means that your understanding of its content – at least, how concisely you reflect it in your translation – is not what is intended. To carry on from what I said in the first paragraph: chances are that you’re also familiar with the scenario of someone insisting that someone else “just doesn’t understand” something that the latter person has heard or read somewhere. Whether or not an undertone of accusation should be acknowledged in any such case, it may be grounded in the fact that the former person does not agree that the latter person attributes to it the level of credence that is or “should be” attributed to it (even if they actually do!), possibly with the former person being somewhat emotional about it in some way; or it may be based on the former person agreeing that the latter person has a misunderstanding of the material resultant of logical fallacies or misguided conceptions which exist owing to circumstances beyond their understanding. Have you ever heard of the saying “It’s all in your head”? The most fascinating and exciting discoveries you’ll ever know in your life could be a lot closer than you realise… I mean, look up synonyms for words on Google. You may be somewhat surprised at the suggestions you’ll be provided with. For example, I Googled “parochial definition”, and while I see clear similarities between that word and the words “narrow” and “myopic”, I know that, normally when I use the word “intolerant” or the word “conventional”, it is not to indicate anything that I agree is “parochial”.
About my “examples” referenced in the first paragraph. When some people hear the word “bag”, they will most readily think “a white polythene contraption which supermarkets provide to carry your shopping in”, while others might more readily think “a chic items carrier, as in a sports ‘bag’ from Nike, Umbro, Adidas, whatever”. Or it may be something else entirely; I think we all understand. Meanwhile, without providing any specific examples, I also imply that formed impressions of what constitutes “sexiness” range from one having an appearance and certain sometimes grossly brazen yet ever provocative dispositions that make them carnally appealing and little if anything else, to the kind of confident yet quiet and masterful sensuousness that is about as far from the kind of antics of the more bizarre contestants in Big Brother as Pluto is from the sun, to those who prove themselves as winners while being “cute” even if they’re not “alphas” (it is indeed not necessarily always a question of what behaviours and attitudes one exhibits behind closed doors). It depends on the particulars of an individual’s lifestyle and experiences; and these are but two random examples.
Anyone can claim anything about anything while rejecting any ideas that they might be expected to back it up. But notice how much interest in a claim / “thing” tends to intensify when a person who makes a claim is asked to back it up. (Actually… it really isn’t always that hard to find some “reason” i.e. a reason you may or may not believe per se to back up a claim you intend to make; but that’s another subject.)
“So what’s your point?” I hear you say. What are you expecting us to understand when we read this stuff you’re saying?” OK – when you’re self-employed like I am, you realise more and more over time that the normal rules don’t apply to you, so to speak. And why should they, considering how much a self-employed person’s work activities are prone to shaping the very society we live in compared to the typical average Joe employee with a 9-to-5 job? And as a person who is their own boss, I say this: if you tend to be frustrated and angry all the time over the otherwise eager and passionate pursuit of something you know you should be happy with (and indeed know you have been very happy with in the past), you would do well to consider that what is dragging you down is not so much how complicated a given hurdle is, or the resources you have to overcome challenges, or even your competition; no, you may be limited by your own ignorance and parochiality first and foremost, because it could be responsible for you failing to understand things or overlooking them. To evaluate: it could very well make you afraid of how much is impeding you in your goals while being… well, ignorant of the actual facts. And no-one – no-one – likes to be ashamed of themselves, right? Because, whether you think you can live with it or not, your own ignorance and parochiality do make you what you are… And I know I’m not the only one who has ever agreed that this “ignorance” and “parochiality” can be debilitating; based on the mere existence of certain words, like “ruse” and “conspiracy”, “faux pas” and “equivocate”. But this isn’t about entrepreneur life; it’s about the art of translation. A person’s own limits in their translation ability may be grounded in the same.
Oh, and by the way, if anyone thinks I’m being foolish on the basis of the idea that I’m giving succour to my competitors by providing them with a basis for encouragement and inspiration, there are times when I have been one of multiple translators assigned by a translation agency to work on a really big translation project. After all, availability is very important, right? So for that reason, go ahead: feel free to spread what I’m saying to everyone you know who’s a translator. I believe I’m doing the entire industry a favour.
And now – as I have done before in earlier comments, no doubt, but I’m going to do it again anyway because it’s so important – I hereby furnish proof of how I am so not ignorant and parochial in language / linguistic / translation matters, as if you weren’t expecting it. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone that, when I was still studying foreign languages back in my full-time education years, there were times when I was expected to do translations into English when not instructed to form French and German sentences based on what I read, heard or observed. And I know as well as any other translator out there that literal translation tends to be unreliable and that there are times when words (or just parts of words) can have multiple meanings, and I certainly wouldn’t have to try too hard to provide an example of, say, a grammatical construction which exists in one language but not another.
So how does one really translate reliably and confidently? And how do people currently actually translate in general?
Hence, let me point out that, when someone resolves to do a translation, the things that they are most likely to take note of most readily include words which always have a single given meaning, and only a single given meaning. Even if they don’t realise it, they will never have to worry about unwittingly translating those words incorrectly as they apply their own method of making what they deem to be correct sense of the words and grammar in use in the source material – when they are able to justify their reasoning as required using whatever arguments, they are fully confident that they could never be misled into forgetting these unique meanings. Such words definitely include numbers: the words “one”, “two” and “three” in English only ever mean one thing, just as the French words “un”, “deux” and “trois” only mean one thing (although it should be mentioned that, in French, “un” is ever so frequently used as a singular indefinite article, making it effectively “one”; and sometimes “one” in English is used as a noun to designate an individual); and it’s similar with the words “eins”, “zwei” and “drei” in German. Other words with a single resolute meaning are things like “and” and “or”. But let me also highlight this as an example of something: note that, while “from” has a single resolute meaning in English, in French “de” can mean “from” or “of”; the same is true with “von” in German. Meanwhile, while “the” only ever has one meaning in English, in German, “die” can mean “the” or “which”. Concentration and shrewdness is everything (and I don’t think it should be too resolutely “typical” in nature). As far as I can tell, the words for numbers and common conjunctions and prepositions of a given language are pretty much definitely going to be among the most common words used by all of its speakers – whether they are mother-tongue speakers of the language or not; and thus you can see how likely it is that translating something too literally or directly could prove unhelpful at best and perilous at worst, even if the subject matter of the material is oh so basic, do you know what I mean?
A good example of this “oh so basic” material is these short hotel marketing pieces I’ve been doing recently i.e. translating them from German into English.
At one point in the original I read this:
German: “Die ganz in grün gehaltene Lounge”
English: To translate that into English literally would be to write “a lounge decorated entirely in green”. Can you imagine someone advertising that a hotel’s lounge is decorated entirely in green? Whether it would be like nice or not so nice, it does seem like a strange thing to read, do you know what I mean? But my developed knowledge of German – and English, for that matter – meant that I realised that I should have translated it as “a lounge whose décor is economically friendly” (hence the “green” bit), which I did. All I’m saying is that I know very well that I would never have been able to think of that as a young child, mainly because I was so largely ignorant of the topic of the protection of the environment back then – even if I was ready to support suggestions that the protection of the environment is important – and this would be especially true in the case of an oblique reference to the general concept of the protection of the environment like describing something as “green” (based on the idea of saving trees, of course).
I also read this in the original:
German: “Wählen Sie dieses verkehrsgünstig gelegene Hotel”
English: Again, to translate this into English literally would be to say, “Choose this traffic-favourable hotel”. Don’t you agree that that sounds like an odd, if otherwise quite legitimate, expression? Now, this is only speculation, but if I believe that, had I read that in English before doing the work in question, I would have thought that the message that it was attempting to convey was that the hotel had good parking facilities and maybe a good car protection service (and maybe this actually is the truth in reality, I don’t know); and not that this hotel is in fact a “conveniently situated” hotel owing to how close it is to major roads, hence it being “traffic-favourable” . The word “verkehrsgünstig” in the original does indeed mean “traffic-favourable”, yet when we talk about something being “conveniently situated” in English… well, at the end of the day, “conveniently situated” has just become an expression with a de facto meaning that that which is “conveniently situated” is close to major roads and what have you. I can understand it causing frustration because, while there is any number of things you can just resolve to learn and do so, such a fact is not like that, huh?
Another thing I came across in the original:
German: “Stärken Sie sich morgens am reichhaltigen Frühstücksbuffet für einen ereignisreichen Tag”
English: I translated this as, “In the morning, re-energise for an experience-filled day with the rich breakfast buffet” in the English version. Now, you know how I said at the beginning that this was all about hotel marketing? Well, I remember that when I was VERY little I could only link hotels to holidays, such as when my parents took me and my brother to Tenerife. Yes, it’s embarrassing… but what has that go to do with this? Well, it’s about the word “ereignisreich” in the original. “Experience-filled”, and the more literal translation “experience-rich”, are perfectly fitting translations of “ereignisreich”, but a reliable online source that is familiar with this word in German lists multiple English translations for it which include “busy”. Had I been able to speak German as well as I could today when I was that small, I know that I would never have translated “ereignisreich” as “busy” – my mentality back then would have meant that I could only have thought of “busy” as a “work / chore-related word”; but something like “experience-filled” is more suggestive of things like exciting adventure and therefore (by default, so to speak), fun. After all, the last thing that holidays are supposed to be about is work and chores, isn’t that right?
There was also this:
German: “Neben zahlreichen geschmackvoll eingerichteten Zimmern”
English: I translated this as “Besides several tastefully furnished rooms” even though a source suggested “decorated rooms”. I couldn’t help wondering: does “decorated” mean only the floor and wallpaper etc. or does it extend to the furniture and stuff as well? Once again, it all hinges on how I see, remember and interpret the world I live in.
Of course, these are among my latest translation work-related anecdotes that I have listed in my work-related blogs which illustrate the true importance of imagination and flexible thinking in translation. I continue them:
In the German version of a German-to-English translation project I did of some technical material, I read this “bei Mühlenstillstand”. I remember agreeing amongst myself that “inoperational” and “switched off” don’t necessarily mean the same thing, in that “inoperational” might signify that this machine (a mill, for “Mühle” means “mill”) is non-functional as in broken. …or, depending on the circumstances (context), this phrase could be describing what happens when you SWITCH such a machine from on to off, as opposed to outlining things that it is wise to know about when the machine is not running (or, indeed, “inoperational” as in “non-functional” i.e. broken) to begin with.
In another technical translation project I did, this one French to English, I read “D’abord utilisées pour le thermalisme, l’eau des sources est ensuite mise en bouteille”; I translated it as “Initially used for heating, the water from the sources then got bottled.” I remember eventually deciding on “heating” rather than “hydrotherapy” (which might have nothing to do with “using water for medical treatments”).
Then there’s the French-to-English project in which I read, “Au cas où l’adaptation souhaitée serait notifiée”, which I translated into English as “In the event that any desired adaptation is notified”… but what about “duly notified”? You know, is it supposed to be talking exclusively about adaptations that have actually been notified or adaptations that SHOULD be notified as per the rules in question? It’s my perspicacity for otherwise unasked questions like this that let me tackle translation work confidently. It is much the same thing in this example: does “supplied by a common ventilation system” mean that the ventilation system is the source or the delivery (transfer) means? And I suppose the German word “Lüftung” can mean “fan” or “ventilation system”.
I saw this content in the German original in a German-to-English translation project of something technical: “Verfahrens- und Qualitätskriterien” - …is there one procedure or more? Hence I translated it as “procedural and quality criteria”, using an adjective rather than a noun with the “procedure” bit.
Another thing I noted in a given German-to-English translation project of technical material: “Verratswahrscheinlichkeit“, used in connection with machines. The German word “Verrat” usually means like “betrayal” or “treachery”, but I guess that we’re supposed to understand it meaning “letting someone down” in this context.
About these questionnaire responses I have translated from French to English on multiple occasions. In the original of one such bit of work I read “Qualité photo tres moyenne” in the original, for which I put “The quality of the photos is but very fair” in the English translation – I thought it sounded better than just “is very fair”. Think about it.
In another French-to-English project I came across this: “L’offre de formations est une des plus diversifiées en Belgique avec notamment plus de 200 masters”… the “masters” bit meaning 200 Master’s degree courses, just in case you’re confused.
This German technical project included “Drehzahl” in the original material. A literal translation of this word would be “number of revolutions” (“Dreh” meaning “rotation / “turning” and “Zahl” meaning “number” / “count”). But I was knowledgeable and sagacious enough to translate it properly i.e. “rotation speed”. I agree that the notion of “rotation speed” is there in the two German words alone, waiting to be understood as such, if you know what I mean – just “indirectly”. Think of it as like “number of revolutions over a specified period of time.”
I also translated a German press release into English recently, whose content was an interview with someone; the original includes this quote: “Marina war begeistert von meiner performativen Fotografie”. When I read “begeistert”, I originally thought of putting “enthused” for it in the English translation… but what about “inspired”? Can “begeistert” mean “inspired”? People are lot more intensely attached to what inspires them compared to what enthuses them, you know? And if you’re wondering, I did decide on “inspired” in my translation of this word, writing, “Marina was inspired by my performative photography” as my translation of the sentence under discussion.
Finally, I’m currently doing a German-to-English translation project about a tender which includes these words: “Bei Abgabe des zweiten indikativen Angebotes”. How did I translate this in English? I originally went with a more literal translation (i.e. “during the submission of the second offer”) “for the time being” but I think I was astute to reason that “indikativ” is supposed to mean “draft” / “template” here.
In a nutshell, translation doesn’t have universal “rules” like a language does – but I can only support the idea that there are times when it is better to have the courage to adopt your own rules when you’re translating as opposed to choosing not to adopt any as if on principle.
15th May 2014

YOU CAN PRETEND TO LEARN A FOREIGN LANGUAGE (TRY TO REALISE WHAT I REALLY MEAN BY THAT), BUT YOU CAN’T PRETEND TO LEARN TRANSLATION
Well, I’ve recently been on holiday in Monaco watching the Grand Prix live and I didn’t expect to be posting another comment so soon after I got back, not least because my last one was more than 3,000 words long. Predictably, I enjoyed the excitement of watching Lewis Hamilton live as much as every other British person there; but I won’t comment on what I think of Nico Rosberg here. For this is my latest business blog, and I am keen to say this: did I “practice my French” or “practice my foreign languages” more during this trip?
One thing is for sure: if there is any scenario where I would be expected to PRACTICE MY FOREIGN LANGUAGES (in this case French), it’s during a trip abroad! The thing is: having studied and used French as long as I have done, I long ago stopped considering the mere ordering of food in restaurants and buying tickets and other similarly simple things to be “practicing” it, hence I tended to neglect doing it. I fully expected to hear my Mum and Dad lament about me not practicing my French. But even then I laugh – I invented “soit me donné” (and similar phrases in the vein of it). I explain this in the following paragraph.
“Soit me donné” is a “special” phrase I invented a long time ago for ordering stuff in French restaurants in style, so to speak. It is special because it is “fancy” in that it uses a relatively little-used form of the French subjunctive: “soit me donné(e)(s) [followed by one or more accusative nouns]” means “may [the thing or things you’re ordering] be given me”. I love it because it’s educated and inventive, if peculiar. And my family know this, so I stopped doing it for that reason (well, most of the time).
I thought of suggesting that we have conversations in French. I thought of having us play Scrabble in French (which I remember doing at school once during a French lesson because it was the end of term). As a last resort I might actually have bought a local newspaper or magazine and encouraged everyone to read / translate a paragraph from a given article in turn. Even when I did speak French to locals during said holiday, they were eager to speak English to me, which wasn’t helpful (actually, I would often speak French while they spoke English, as if it was all totally normal). But it wasn’t exclusively me seeing locals exemplifying their knowledge of English with pride and expecting tacit appreciation for it. (That said, however, there was a time when we had sandwiches in a restaurant where the guy who served us originally talked to us in English even it wasn’t instantly clear to any of us who weren’t actually listening to him at the time, but I was ready for it even if the rest of my family weren’t.) It was then that I realised: did I have my mind set on practicing my French, or practicing foreign languages, or practicing translation?
I doubt that many methods used in language learning and practice are ones that remain used by most people all the time, without change. But then I also guess that I would do well to remember, reminisce what things were like for me during my first days of foreign language learning. This is actually quite amusing – it reminds me of the time I thought of keeping a diary of learning a new language or visiting a foreign language class as an observer for the sake of gathering “press article material”, or rather content for these blogs I write. Is it practicing my French or practicing my languages?

In the linked episode of Mind Your Language here: the “quiz” questions that Mr. Brown asks the students, is that practicing English or practicing languages? Because anyone can, say, learn a page of vocabulary in a foreign language and pretend that they have an absolute understanding of all the words in all the circumstances where they would come across them. Cross-cultural communication is no less important a theme in Mind Your Language as learning English is – it does seem to me that, generally, most of the jokes in this programme revolve around the students in some way.

Even today, there are certain expressions in English which I know are very common ones but for which I’ve never even considered determining a translation / equivalent in French or German. Seriously, it was actually after I got back from the aforementioned holiday that I found myself asking myself, “How do you translate ‘to make something up’ in French?” I couldn’t agree that it was strictly a matter of a single word, so I decided to invent a phrase which more or less meant the same: it was something like, “faire la creation de quelque chose par son imagination.” Or even just “imaginer” might be good enough – but people “make up” things both fictional and non-fictional all the time (everyone knows that), so maybe it depends?...
At the end of the day, ever since I started translating as a profession, career prospects has become the main reason for me practicing and perfecting my language skills in place of fun or gaining appeal among peers – but then that should be no surprise. I am indeed saying that you cannot pretend that you are learning / teaching yourself translation like you can with languages (maybe it was only a matter of time in my case). You know, when I was at school, there were times when I didn’t pay as much attention as my teachers and parents would have wanted – for reasons which were not always a belief that the lessons would not help me in the real world – but then I could today go and buy a copy of the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to read again easily enough, or revise what I learned about NOR gates, NAND gates etc. in physics (isn’t the Internet great?). But you see, this reminds me of when I was learning for my driving theory test and in the instructions it said “don’t just LEARN THE ANSWERS. They should mean something to you when such situations actually occur in real life” (or words to that effect). For translation is a real art by any other name. It’s not unlike martial arts: at the time of writing I have a green belt in jujitsu, for which I have learned a handful of techniques and by no means poorly so, but I am still expected to show patience to overcome my otherwise seldom-mentioned limitations and frustration when it comes to perfecting them for what they are REALLY for (or at least could be for) (like, anything can happen in an actual combat situation). But getting back to the topic at hand: it’s fine to learn a new language purely for basic convenience purposes, but you just know that things all change when you actually mean to resolve to become apt at, say, learning to make innuendo remarks in a new language, or similar language instruments. For example, I really don’t know of any equivalent phrase for “coming out” (i.e. like Ellen Page did) in French and German, but there MUST be one, right? For the time being, I could only think of saying something more stiff, “plain” and ultimately literal (like “admettre son homosexualité” in French or “seine Homosexualität bekannt machen” in German). If I knew many equivalent phrases of such expressions in French and German, then it would likely be only a matter of time before even educated native speakers agreed I had mastered all aspects of the language with flying colours in absolute terms. Now that WOULD be good.
4th June 2014

LANGUAGES – BACK TO BASICS
It may not have been that long since I was in Monaco, but already my family’s making plans for our next holiday; this time in Italy. Although I’m not fully expected to learn Italian for it, I decided that it would be good for me to know some; hence I have started teaching myself Italian where I can.
It has all started with a CD and notebook-size phrasebook. In the first lesson I have learned all the absolute basics, like “buon giorno”, “grazie” and “per favore”, while most of the other lessons are just lists of individual words or very short phrases for given scenarios (at a hotel, in a restaurant, obtaining directions and that sort of thing).
But assuming I do learn it all (or near enough) rapidly as I believe I will, when will it be time to actually start reading material which will teach me aspects of the grammar – which would actually allow me to be creative in this new language? As far as I’m concerned, a good start in this respect would include the following: learning case and gender agreement, verb conjugation of the basic tenses, and how to form sentences which use subordinate clauses… I’m sure I could think of more if I spent more time on it.
As I already have several years of experience of learning foreign languages, I have all the more reason to be confident about mastering Italian rapidly. I was reminded of this when I read that “Good morning” is “Buon giorno” whereas “Good night” is “Buona notte” – with “buon” in the case of “giorno” but “buona” in the case of “notte”, “giorno” and “notte” simply must be of different genders, right? And the expression for “[I’m] OK” is “va bene” – with my knowledge of French, which is similar to Italian, I imagine that this would translate literally as “To go well”; I can see the “OK” element in that and I’m sure you can too. But I wouldn’t be surprised if some learners of Italian out there would be encouraged to think of this expression as a “wish well” phrase i.e. “Be well!”, like how English speakers say “Take care.”
One thing is for certain. From the word go there’s one major difference: when I was at school, studying French and German, the syllabus and the study materials I used were all decided for me; and I was confident enough, not least because it wouldn’t have mattered if I effectively pursued the studies with all the parochial, happy-go-lucky ignorance of Wil Cwac Cwac (of course, I realise that everyone has to start somewhere). And one may imagine the voice of a narrator with “The adventures of George the foreign languages student / translator”, as I study a foreign language, like thus: “It was a beautiful day, and George was turning to page fifteen of his grammar book to study the perfect tense of French. […] ‘It’s a good thing I learn the past participle forms of irregular verbs well,’ said George, ‘for it is these verbs that tend to be the most commonly used ones.’ And then he noticed that the modal verb in question number two…” But I can promise you that will all quickly fall apart as soon as things start getting complicated. Oh, and fun – and when this happens there is generally less of a feeling that – however determined and committed you may be – you’re just going through the motions with a dull demeanour to do what needs to be done to learn what you agree needs to be learned. In all honesty, this does happen to me in my job as a professional translator at times… but that only reminds me that I can’t wait until I start doing things like mastering LinkedIn proper.
At the time of writing this I am 31 years old and, for all my talent in foreign languages that many may indeed envy, I am only realising my own limitations more and more over time. But you know something? I think it’s better that way. Because, when you think about it, I could be more confident about acknowledging the things I remembered and the things I didn’t remember so well. The idea of becoming a genius without trying is one I find attractive… but at the end of the day I would only have that much less to be proud of and that much less to look forward to. What sort of life would that be like? But anything less than a genius isn’t always something to be ashamed of. Yes, it matters what I know. Yes, it matters what I can do. But, in a way, it’s also a question of who I really am. Maybe lack of passion IS debilitating me.
I remember something: when I was still job-hunting in my early twenties, years before I actually became a self-employed translator, I saw a picture in a recruitment agency’s office with this quote: “Life is a journey, not a destination.” Today I find it easy to view that as a poetic way of saying “Never be (too) satisfied / content”, as true as it is that I didn’t at the time.
17th June 2014

IS THIS HELPFUL (LOL)?
If you’ve read any of my previous comments, I would hope that you’ve gathered that I don’t like the idea of posting any old inane stuff that discusses what I do as a professional translator in them. Like: “Today I got a translation job whose subject matter was…” or “I read comment X on forum X, which I liked.” They usually don’t suggest any kind of looking forward on my part, if that makes sense. Even if people were only too willing to show all due appreciation for what I do when I work as a professional translator, only so many people actually do what I do or anything like it; I just imagine that “truly getting” such “inane stuff” comments would demand an unnatural kind of concentration and imagination on the part of the reader. So, if you ask me, it’s only too easy to regard such comments as unhelpful.
I’ve never claimed that you have to be a language professional like me to make a point about language or translation worth knowing. Just look at what Pat Condell says in his video called, well, “Is this helpful?” He says, “Language is great for sanitising evil, don’t you find?”, and he doesn’t forget to explain exactly what he means by it with what he says about the word “unhelpful.” He also says that Confucius said that “Accurate terminology is the foundation of a stable society.” No wonder I’m so eager to sound like my knowledge of language and translation and related matters is nothing short of supreme; no wonder I’m ready to write just about anything that vaguely sounds like it makes an educational point or two (as long as it’s written in the right kind of style!); no wonder my comments are, some might say, ridiculously long. I wouldn’t blame anyone for thinking that all these essay-like comments related to my work look out of place as Facebook social media statements, and that I’m ultimately just blowing my own trumpet, as they say.
Here is a quote not related to translation / languages as such, but which I still think it’s important to reference here. When Franz Dodel said, “Ein Haus ist ein Haus ist ein Haus”, what he means is that, as an example, any house can have the function of accommodation. But it still needs to be planned and constructed. It might be a hut made of iron, glass or wood; it might be a house for one family or for multiple families, it might be a castle, a farmhouse, a high-rise, manor, a castle, a skyscraper, a baroque palace, a shed, a pawnshop, a publishing house, a bank etc. Whatever its function, certain things remain consistent: it must have a roof; it holds; it protects; it's a shelter. Think of it this way: ask ten people to draw a house and you will get ten different houses. I think there is a parallel of this in translation. Ask ten people to write a working translation of something and you will (most likely) get ten different translations; but there is nothing that could substitute inspection and scrutiny of each one for what it really is – including concepts of how it is regarded – and you know it.
I finish this comment with my latest bunch of language-related anecdotes – stories I remember from my experiences as a professional translator which generally discuss the content of projects I’ve done and how I assured myself that I translated it properly. I just hope they’re helpful.
Seen in one German-to-English translation project: “Die Problematik mit der Berufung ist, dass man nicht mehr zwischen privat und beruflich unterscheiden kann”.
My English translation included “private and professional life” – that’s the idea of the original even if the German word for “life” (“Leben”) is not there.
In what was probably the same project, I read, “wenn ich durch die Beschreibung meiner Frau sofort verstanden habe”. I understood it to mean, “If I have understood my wife’s description properly”… and not “If I have understood the description of my wife properly”! I suppose they could mean the same thing in theory, but it shouldn’t be hard to understand why I went with the former rather than the latter.
I also recently did a big project about train railway specifications, from German to English. I can tell a whole slew of anecdotes from this one.
In it, apparently “fahrzeugseitig” meant not “vehicle-related” but “onboard” (it pertained to devices included on a train).
“Bedienpult” did not mean “operation desk” – it really didn’t mean anything like a table or surface used by engineers in repair work, nor did it stand for anything like “Operations bureau”. No, what it meant was “control panel”, which is far more readily associated with computers and the actual use of a machine / system by the user for whom it is made.
In technical language, I find that “Prüfung” can mean “test” or “check” – but you must know the difference between these two English meanings. To me, “test” is more about the straightforward idea of verifying whether something works correctly or not, whereas “check” means “inspection of something which is important with regard to its function i.e. something which does or could influence its function”. But I was torn between “audit” as well as those two words when translating “Prüfung”.
“Brandschutz” translated literally into English is “fire protection”. It definitely didn’t mean protecting fire (ha ha)!; it meant protection against fire. Why have I even bothered mentioning that one?
I saw “Verpackung” in connection with “Lagerung”. “Lagerung” means “storage”, but did “Verpackung” mean “packaging” (i.e. the packaging that some things are wrapped in) or “packing” (i.e. the act of packing) here?
In one very recent German-to-English translation project, “I saw 5 v.H.” in the original, which I originally construed to mean “5 times”, based on a reasoning that “v.H.” must have stood for “von Höhe.” I thought that was clever of me. But… uh-uhhh! I was able to deduce later on that what it was really short for was “von Hundert”, or “5%” in English (and, yes, I had to change it to “5%” at an earlier point where I had mistranslated it as “5 times”; thank you CTRL + F!). Boy, do I ever have to be on my toes and more in this job sometimes!
18th June 2014

MY MOST AUDACIOUS MARKETING MOVE II
Way back on 3rd October 2011, I mentioned my most ever audacious marketing move on here: a partial RHYMING translation in English of a French song (“Le Chanteur” or “The Singer” by Daniel Balavoine). But I’m not even the only one who’s ever done this. Here we see that someone has written a clever, inventive rhyming English version of the lyrics of Engel (“Angel”) by Rammstein, where the lyrics often deviate from the original while meaning the same thing just like I did with Daniel Balavoine’s song.http://rock.rapgenius.com/Rammstein-engel-english-... What I do here goes one more step further.
I wrote what I believe to be a fitting RHYMING FRENCH translation of “Right Between the Eyes” by Garbage – the lyrics of the original song can be viewed here:http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/garbage/rightbetweentheeyes.html. I’m now going to reproduce my rhyming French translation of it here, followed by an English translation of that, which is NOT the lyrics of the original. It’s a translation of the French lyrics, and it’s doesn’t matter if those don’t rhyme (maybe I’ll give that a shot one day. Actually no, we’ve already got the lyrics of the original song for that). I’m particularly proud of the first two lines of the chorus.
C’est parti…
Verse 1
Ce qu’ils te disent ne te fait que de la douleur
Leur écouter a quelle valeur?
Pourquoi il faut leur donner ce qu’ils disent?
Ils te rancunent; ta souffrrance deviant pire
Chorus
Découvre une force que craint le diable
L’énorme surprise sera inoubliable
Leurs armes crudes ne te blesseront pas
Il faut le faire; frappe les direct entre les yeux
Verse 2
Cherche à détruire car ils ont peur de toi
Ils conspirent parce que c’est ce qu’ils croient
Mon joli aster les rend si agacés
Ton âme éxiste en ton coeur déchiré
Chorus
Bridge
Et tu as attend ta vie entire
A ascender, devenir quelqu’un d’autre
Et c’est vrai, le monde est super cruel
La vie est une chienne, puis tu meurs chèri
Ce qu’ils te disent ne te fait que de la douleur
Leur écouter a quelle valeur?
Chorus
Les gens cherchent à te séduire
Puis te déchireront en pieces comme ça
Tu sais que ça casse mon coeur
Jene veux pas que ça t’arrive comme ça
Reste vivant, chéri
Reste vivant, chéri
Reste vivant, chéri
Reste vivant, chéri
THE ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF THIS (COMPARE IT WITH THE LYRICS OF THE ORIGINAL SONG)
Verse 1
What they say to you gives you nothing but sadness
What value is there in listening to them?
Why do you have to give them what they desire?
They spite you; your suffering gets worse
Chorus
Discover a force that the devil fears
The enormous surprise will be unforgettable
Their crude weapons will not hurt you
You’ve got to do it; strike them right between the eyes
Verse 2
Seek to destroy because they’re scared of you
They conspire because that’s what they believe
My pretty star makes them so frustrated
You soul exists in your torn heart
Chorus
Bridge
And you have waited your entire life
To ascend, become someone else
And it’s true, the world is super cruel
Life is a bitch, then you die my love
What they say to you gives you nothing but sadness
What value is there in listening to them?
Chorus
People seek to seduce you
Then will tear you to pieces like that
You know that breaks my heart
I don’t what that to happen to you like that
Stay alive, my love
Stay alive, my love
Stay alive, my love
Stay alive, my love
NB there will be a follow-up to this comment very soon…
25th June 2014

MY MOST AUDACIOUS MARKETING MOVE III
What do you think of my most audacious marketing move II?
Perhaps I’ve gone a little crazy here but I just have to mention how I thought of trying this: I don’t speak Spanish, but I think I could grasp the basics easily; I’m very confident that I would be relatively good at making things out if the content were straightforward enough. Anyway, thanks to online translation tools getting something translated from a language you don’t know into the one you usually speak has never been easier. What I’ve done here is translate the lyrics of Paulina Rubio’s Libre from Spanish into English using Google Translate, and tried to rewrite the English output so that it rhymes. Like any translation activity, it’s all a matter of getting it right! I have to do this in four stages:
First, I provide the original Spanish lyrics: http://www.metrolyrics.com/libre-lyrics-paulina-ru...
Secondly, I translated it all into English using Google Translate line by line, and this is what it gave me:
Free, as the air
Live free, as does the wind
Fly free, believe in that voice
Get up and convince and follow the intuition
Good for you, you do what you want
And you're happy, you do not stop
For one to say, go for it
That you want, you want
That runs through your veins
Good for you, you hear the voice
That is within you, that life is a
And no one knows the end, you go for that
Moves you from within
Moves you from within
Be who you want, but you're wrong
And try, even if you defeat
Never move, except for yourself
Keep strong, but still
Free, as the air
Live free, as does the wind
Fly free, believe in that voice
Get up and convince and follow the intuition
Free, as the air
Live free, as does the wind
Fly free, believe in that voice
Get up and convince yourself and follow your reason
Good for you, bad things to
So you say, goodbye, good things that
Solitas vend ran, believe in love
When you find it and you have it
That is the only thing that counts
Good for you, you begin to play you
Just for your conviction that there are many paths
And his choice to go for that
Moves you from within
Moves you from within
Be who you want, but you're wrong
And try, even if you defeat
Never move, except for yourself
Keep strong, but still
Free, as the air
Live free, as does the wind
Fly free, believe in that voice
Get up and convince and follow the intuition
Free, as the air
Live free, as does the wind
Fly free, believe in that voice
Get up and convince yourself and follow your reason
I already passed, past
I already forgot, forgotten
That only matters to you
That now commands the heart
Oh, whoa, whoa, oh
Free, as the air
Live free, as does the wind
Fly free, believe in that voice
Get up and convince and follow the intuition
Free, as the air
Live free, as does the wind
Fly free, believe in that voice
Get up and convince yourself and follow your reason
Free, as the air
Live free, as does the wind
Fly free, believe in that voice
Get up and convince and follow the intuition
Free, as the air
Live free, as does the wind
Fly free, believe in that voice
Get up and convince yourself and follow your reason
Step three: I should comment on a few things here. “La vida es una” translates as “life is a” here but it’s very likely that what it really means is “Life is one” (i.e. another way of saying “We only have one life”). “Aunque” apparently got translated as both “but” (as in “but you're wrong”) and “even” (as in “even if you defeat” – which just has to mean “even if you get defeated” in reality). Compare “Levantate y convencete y sigue la intuicion”, which was translated as “Get up and convince and follow the intuition”, and “Levantate y convencete y sigue tu razon”, which was translated as “Get up and convince yourself and follow your reason”; I have no idea why Google Translate decided on “convince” as the translation of “convencete” in one and “convince yourself” as the translation of the same word in the other.
Step four: I actually know how the song plays – I love it even though I cannot understand it, but that’s Paulina Rubio for you. She’s damn good. This is the point where I try to muster a rhyming English translation of this Spanish song based on the existing English translation provided by Google Translate (and, to a lesser extent, the original Spanish lyrics even though I don’t speak Spanish as such). Here we go:
Free now! Like a passing breeze you must live
Free now, as the wind has done you must
Fly free now, that voice you hear’s your call
Follow that intuition so that you may see it all
Good for you, as you do what you want
And feel the delight, and you do not stop
You’re following the light, go for what
What you are wanting, what you’re wanting
And it rushes in your veins, yes
Good for you, as you answer the voice
That is inside of you, this is your life,
Whose end no-one can conclude, you head on and get that thing
Which moves you from within, yes
Which moves you from within, yes
Be who you like, even if you deviate
And keep trying, even if defeated
Never fight, except for yourself; just
Remain strong but remain still, be…
Free now! Like a passing breeze you must live
Free now, as the wind has done you must
Fly free now, that voice you hear’s your call
Follow that intuition so that you may see it all
Free now! Like a passing breeze you must live
Free now, as the wind has done you must
Fly free now, that voice you hear’s your call
Follow your own reason so that you may see it all
Good for you – the bad things are aside
To them you say goodbye; you await the good things
And that is no lie; now, believe in love
And when you find it and you have it
That’s the only thing that counts, yes
Good for you, as you act by your feelings
And you know the score, there are many paths;
The choice you won’t ignore, to forge ahead for that thing
Which just moves you from within, yes
Which moves you from within, yes
Be who you like, even if you deviate
And keep trying, even if defeated
Never fight, except for yourself; just
Remain strong but remain still, be…
Free now! Like a passing breeze you must live
Free now, as the wind has done you must
Fly free now, that voice you hear’s your call
Follow that intuition so that you may see it all
Free now! Like a passing breeze you must live
Free now, as the wind has done you must
Fly free now, that voice you hear’s your call
Follow your own reason so that you may see it all
I already went by, I went by
Already forgotten, forgotten
All that you need now
Is that which is guiding your heart
Oh, whoa, whoa, oh
Free now! Like a passing breeze you must live
Free now, as the wind has done you must
Fly free now, that voice you hear’s your call
Follow that intuition so that you may see it all
Free now! Like a passing breeze you must live
Free now, as the wind has done you must
Fly free now, that voice you hear’s your call
Follow your own reason so that you may see it all
Free now! Like a passing breeze you must live
Free now, as the wind has done you must
Fly free now, that voice you hear’s your call
Follow that intuition so that you may see it all
Free now! Like a passing breeze you must live
Free now, as the wind has done you must
Fly free now, that voice you hear’s your call
Follow your own reason so that you may see it all
26th June 2014

“SAYING WHAT’S ON YOUR MIND” INDEED FUSES WITH, OVERLAPS AND COMPLICATES THE ART OF TRANSLATION TO MAKE THE PRODUCT OF IT WHAT IT IS – BUT IT’S IMPORTANT TO KNOW THE DIFFERENCE AND DISTINGUISH THEM. DOES TRANSLATION INFLUENCE YOUR SPEAKING HABITS (IDIOLECT)?
Education (or lack thereof) / what you learn tends to shape the way you speak; I think we all agree with that one. And… well, it depends on exactly what you learn, whether or not the learning was intended by you and whether or not there was someone consciously intent on teaching you that stuff, huh? I think we all agree with that, don’t you? So when I’m not worrying about marketing or chasing unpaid payments (and that’s when I’m not actually doing translation work for clients), what are my chief concerns as far as my professional translation career is concerned when it comes to addressing my languages skills for what is, if not the ultimate test of them, certainly damn near it? I’m convinced my personal experiences shape the truths of both my language skills and my own particular language use tendencies and therefore my potential as a professional translator. Say what you want but at the moment I can conclude that talking with native French and German speakers could be beneficial in this regard.
When I mention “talking with native French and German speakers” here, I do mean on a reliable regular basis and not by chance. It’s not like when I’m at home, able to watch Youtube videos of speeches and interviews and stuff in French and German on the Internet or whatever, whenever I want. And that’s just on the FOREIGN language side of things. What about the MY OWN LANGUAGE SIDE of things? After all, to me it’s pretty much impossible to understate the importance of truly being able to choose the words I can and do use when I write a translation of something – even if the work of a given project were harder than I thought, I will always cherish it as a skill that I find useful and which keeps my confidence up when I just can’t escape frustration or confusion on the job.
Today I started wondering how much the regular practice of translation, such as I do, is prone to influencing the way you speak, including the words and expressions you use. Myself, as a professional linguist, no less, I can be as ready to e.g. watch Youtube videos of people whose mother tongue is not English, talking in English as I can to watch said “Youtube videos of speeches and interviews and stuff in French and German on the Internet or whatever”, for the purpose of investigating the particular English language words expressions that these non-English mother tongue speakers use when they speak English. If you are a native speaker of English and you can understand them when they speak that English they use, you will see that some get by even if they struggle, some speak English well, and some speak it very well. I find that it is only too easy to be impressed by the conversation that Geert Wilders musters in Hardtalk on British television Especially when you consider that Wilders is basically here in what to him is a foreign country and under TV cameras, yet English isn’t even his first language and it’s not enough for me to say that I couldn’t have put that Stephen Sackur idiot in his place better myself (did he really never consider why Geert was living under 24-hour protection!?); with the possible exception of Pat Condell, I can’t think of any mother tongue English speaker who could! But, to stick to the topic at hand: as much as you have to give Geert credit for this thing, if you’re sitting in front a computer screen reading this you are now able to watch that video clip whenever you want, “whenever you want” being the opposite of “by chance”, as would be the case if e.g. someone you hadn’t seen for years met you in a pub and they showed you this clip on their tablet or whatever before you eventually said goodbye.
As I’m supposed to be talking about the “MY OWN LANGUAGE SIDE of things” (see the end of paragraph two) at this point, this is the point where I bring up the “ ‘With this’ thing.” It's an example. However true it may or may not be that my own regular practice of translation has altered my speech habits (or “idiolect”), one thing I have noticed is a mild tendency I have to start sentences with “With this” as a general conjunctional phrase implying an explanation of why a given situation is the way it is – like a consequence / cause and effect thing.
It can have a place in legal material e.g.
“It is stipulated that the party of the first part shall pay for X for the party of the second part, up to a value of Y, and solely for the purposes of this contract. With this, every month the party of the first part shall transfer a sum of £500 to the party of the second part; the party of the second part may only spend such money on X – exclusively for the purpose of this contract – and shall itself bear any costs in excess of aforementioned £500. With this, the party of the second part shall retain receipts of legitimate purchases made with aforementioned monthly £500 capital and, if the party of the first part so requests, submit such receipts to the party of the first part within 48 hours; failure to do this shall justify an investigation for embezzlement on the part of the party of the second part. The party of the second part has agreed, at the request of the party of the first part, to pay accumulated unspent monthly amounts of £500 back to the party of the first part within one month after the end of the 12-month period stipulated herein; with this, failure by the party of the second part to do this shall be recognised as a basis for the part of the party of the second part being guilty of larceny.”
It can have a place in technical material e.g.
“If the engine of the device is overheated it can be a serious hazard; with this, the valve must be open whenever the device is active. The electrics must be protected, be kept dry; with this, the valve must be closed when the device is not active, to prevent moisture from entering in the device through that route.”
I like “With this” in that it’s a phrase of convenience that can be used amusingly commonly, but part of the reason why it’s so amusing is that it’s just so artificial… isn’t it? I don’t really want to get into the habit of using “With this” too much in my everyday, by-chance parlance.
29th June 2014

ON THE DEBATE OF THE LINK BETWEEN TRANSLATION APPROACHES AND THE ELEMENT OF HUMANITY IN TRANSLATION PRACTICE

With the digital age having made information available to the public more than ever before, it can’t be that hard to find someone who’s more as less as willing to discuss approaches to translation / translation methods as I am. People discuss all elements of it you could think of and then some in online translation forums like ProZ; and maybe you’re someone who started doing the same when you happened to read a list or two of bad translations – Charlie Croker’s “Lost In Translation”, one or two foreign films with bad subtitles in your own language, videos on Youtube, whatever. But there’s just no substitute for active and perceptive human thinking in the matter – and what could be a more important ingredient for “humanity in translation” than that?

As if I really need to repeat that translation is not just replacing words in one language with words in another language. I’ve already mentioned in an earlier comment on here that you cannot pretend to learn translation and it’s by no means unlikely that it is impossible to understand certain approaches to translation without, say, a pen and paper on hand to help you understand them. I know very well that I’m afraid of having too much faith in rigid, typical and effectively automated approaches to translation work. You know, this makes me think of all the computer games I’ve played in the past: I’ve played any number of computer games during which I’ve been pretty much completely absorbed by the activity on the screen – from the Sonic the Hedgehog games to the Tekken series to Wipeout to Parappa the Rapper to all kinds of stuff on Miniclip (and still do today, to be honest) – but when I started playing Theme Park maybe I should have had a pen and paper beside me at all times, to do calculations and draft plans with, to have been “playing it properly”. What I’m trying to say is that anyone can play Tekken or Wipeout or whatever insouciantly in this way (with no regard for anything other than the gameplay) and still be reasonably confident about getting far (i.e. reaching the last levels eventually), but it’s just different with Theme Park, you know? And you can be very sure that a similarly insouciant approach will get you nowhere when it comes to understanding approaches to translation as well, especially as writing in general can be so varied in nature. Registers differ, sometimes the terminology of some subject matter requires genuine consideration; I could go on.

What kind of imagination is necessary for successful understanding of approaches to translation? Maybe to a given extent the common one of making things up – the basis of literature and lies – factors into the equation. Ditto for the kind of flexible and innovative thinking that facilitates everyday life, or which might surprise others or leave them taken aback. But I also want to point out – however loosely – the concept of “insightful-logical imagination”. Consider this: you have a blue pen in your pocket and a red pen in your hand, and you’re telling a very small child that you will place a red pen in your pocket and then take a blue one out of the same pocket. If you tell them just before you do it then this is a magic trick, like you’re making the pen change colour or just changing it into a different pen, then they will believe you. But if you don’t tell them that it’s a magic trick – i.e. that you will just place a red pen in your pocket and then take a blue one out – then they will believe you. Just understand that they will believe that a red pen will go in and a blue pen will come out whether you mention that magic is afoot or not. How I came up with that idea – not the content of it: that is the kind of imagination I am talking about.

As vague as I know this will sound, I think it’s important (or at least relatively important) that I’ve acknowledged what I’m about to say, never mind mentioning it publicly. I would say that I have found what works for me, but at the end of the day I would most likely would be foolish to regard that as the end of the matter, however confident it may make me feel (or should that be help me to, at least sometimes?).

I don’t know. But I do know that the key theme of the South Park episode Funnybot is humanity being taken out of comedy, so to speak. And, given that comedy is an art, I really wouldn’t be all that surprised if it were pointed out to me that I have been guilty of “taking the humanity out of translation” at times. And I know that, in my work as a professional translator, I write what gets the job done while accepting – with a hugely varying level of enthusiasm – that people can be more sensitive to particular choices of words or phrases, or registers, whatever, than I might initially have guessed. My point is that, if a translation may be fit for purpose and functional on a purely practical level but just sounds stilted when you read it, people will pick up on it easily. And if I developed a reputation for writing translations like that, it would probably only be a matter of time before I got a bad reputation as someone who wasn’t a real translator and who got Google Translate or whatever to do his work for him or something, do you know what I’m saying?

Here’s an example: in one French-to-English translation project I did recently, I translated “Nombre d'actions totales potentiels” as “Number of potential total shares” while feeling that I was (merely) translating in a manner that was strictly playing it by the book, with all the “fun” and humanity taken out of it; but I translated it like that anyway.

This is followed by the rest of my latest collection of these translation-related anecdotes I have mentioned in other comments, for the sake of elaborating on that point:

In one German-to-English project, I was sharp enough to note that there was one time where “Beachten Sie, dass” meant not “note that” but “ensure that”.

In a German-to-English project which might have been the same one, the topic was instructions for fitness equipment. One of them was a treadmill, and the instructions for that included a mention that it displays how many calories a person has “consumed” during a session with it. I say “consumed” in inverted commas because the word that was used for that in the original was “verbraucht”, and “verbrauchen” is indeed the usual German word for “consume”. And even though I originally translated it as “consume”, I eventually realised this: “Hey, wait a minute! Normally it’s like, to ‘consume’ calories means to eat food and thereby gain weight. But that’s the complete opposite of losing them like what’s supposed to happen during exercise sessions on a treadmill!” The solution was to change “consume” to “burn”. Now no-one can make any frivolous claims that I’m not smart, or “have my eyes closed” at the wrong time.

Also in that fitness equipment instructions project I saw “Sicherheitsriemen” in the original, and its only sensible English meaning is “safety belt”. Fair enough – it’s just that, when I was still learning German back at school, I learned that “safety belt” in German was “Sicherheitsgurt”. It really is like there is an unspoken rule that a safety belt in a car – or, as it’s more commonly known, a “seat belt” – but if you’re talking about any other kind of safety belt it’s “Sicherheitsriemen” even though the German word for “safety” / “security” is there in both terms.

There was a French-to-English translation project I did recently which included this in the original: “Au niveau des structures françaises, le nombre d’heures de formation effectuées s’élève à 1881 heures pour 111 stagiaires”. I was able to comprehend that, in this case “s’élève à 1881 heures pour 111 stagiaires” meant “increased to 1881 hours” but totalled 1881 hours”

I’m currently doing translations of German adverts of hotels into English, in which I’ve seen this in the original: “beschwingt aus den Federn”. I know that a literal translation of that would be like “having jumped out of the feathers” or “having jumped out of the springs”; phrases which are ALWAYS peculiar to hear as far as I can tell. I had to look “beschwingt aus den Federn” up; I was lucky in that I found that it means “straight out of bed” i.e. “as soon as you’re out of bed”. But I see where it’s coming from: like, “straight out of the feathers that you’re lying in as you’re in bed” (or maybe it’s “straight off of the springs [of the bed’s mattress]”, I don’t know. Actually – and this is a true story – I thought of “straight off of the springs” before I thought of “straight out of the feathers”. These are the two things that I claim have shaped my thinking such that that was the case; 1) I have translated technical materials on the odd occasion, and technical materials do have springs in them, don’t they?; 2) The duvet of my bed isn’t stuffed with feathers – it contains a thick cotton lining – so no wonder my mind was delayed stumbling across the “straight out of the feathers” phrase in connection with this project.

In one French-to-English translation project I did recently, I had to note that “Produits de Confort” meant “amenity products” rather then “comfort products”.

If everything I’ve just said explains or gives credence to anything, it’s that language is indeed an art, with translation being a more “esoteric” side of it. That said, however, it is not an understatement that language influences our very society in fundamental ways – are you sure that you’ve never felt “so confused yet so alive”, a quote taken from the song Descend by Feeder? You could say that, in a way, translation is like theology; and that what distinguishes a great translator from a merely “good” one is a resilient commitment to pursuing knowledge of that which, if not unknowable, is just not flat fact or fact in absolute terms. It’s probably not too far from pretending that something doesn’t make sense, or simply believing that it does despite all the evidence and arguments suggesting that it just doesn’t.

If you’re serious about translating properly: sometimes arriving at the real truth depends on knowledge of expressions which are explicitly known by relatively few rather than the hoi polloi. Question: do you know what a “pineapple check” is? Hint: it has something to do with what I do as a professional translator even if it is by no means commonplace; but Slimen Zougari, if you’re reading this, I’m about to outline a practice I do in my work I know I’ve already mentioned to you in Facebook chat, so you might not need to read the next paragraph, which explains it all…

The explanation of what a “pineapple check” is: when I start a new translation project, if the original file is a Word file I always choose to duplicate it and write the English translation over the text of the original; that way I can be sure that the client won’t bring up any formatting issues. Anyway, when I want to stop my work temporarily on a project with which I do this, I type in the word “pineapple” at the point where it stops being English and becomes French or German – the remainder of the text which is yet to be translated. A word which clearly has nothing to do with the subject matter of the document I am translating; this will be indisputable if I’m translating, say, a lease contract or a technical manual. I do this because I use it as a kind of “bookmark word”: when I come back to it I can just use the Find and Replace feature (CTRL + F) to look for “pineapple” without having to search manually for the point where the text stops being English and becomes French or German. I thought that was a smart idea. But I do remember that once, after I had submitted an otherwise satisfactory project, the project manager for it wrote back to me asking why the word “pineapple” appeared in the document.

So now do you know what a “pineapple check” is?

Oh, go on. Have a guess.

That’s right, it’s making sure that the word “pineapple”, having been used like this in the translated document, doesn’t appear anywhere in it just before I send it off. So how would this expression be translated / rendered in another language (“accurately”, of course)?

And maybe you know what “dack” is, for example – that word is defined in my comment dated 14th November 2012. When it comes to my translation work, it’s comforting to know that I have a good memory in this regard.
10th July 2014

TRANSLATION AND GETTING IT RIGHT: THE TRUTH IS ONLY AS GOOD AS ITS EXPLANATION

For all the contributions that the great Noam Chomsky http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noam_Chomsky has made to the field of the study of linguistics, it is a matter of doubt that he ever could have predicted back in his heyday the tools that some people use in translation work today, and how, ultimately, they have shaped the very translation industry. I do not make such a statement lightly: as far as I see it, the only thing that could upset a professional translator more than a claim that they are not literate enough to do their work (as far as their customers’ feedback is concerned) – maybe even more so – is an accusation that they have simply gotten a translation software tool to do a translation for them; essentially having said tool do the work for them while snubbing the importance of their own critique in the translation process. Depending on the situation, it just may be possible that it could happen to anyone, however accomplished they are in both of the languages in question, however creative (verbally and conceptually) they are, and how familiar they (truly) are with the subject matter of the material being translated.

What I’ve just said there is surely the most blatant ever example of me going out on a limb as far as my work and reputation as a professional translator is concerned. And it’s easy for me to claim that I deserve credit for acknowledging the same, but the truth is that it would just amount to nothing if my own capacity for self-assessment as a translator were poor or not as good as what I thought it was.

I don’t usually blow my own horn, but in this case I will go ahead and do so. It has struck me unequivocally that there are a good many occupations which command respect which do so because those who do them have a responsibility to fight for and uphold the truth in some sense – not just however tough it may be, but also however elusive the truth may seem to some. Just look at how prone we really are to depending on teachers to grab the bull by the horns in the education of our children. Just look at how easily people are tempted to fall back on the police for answers when an ugly incident appears to have spun out of control. Many of us can only prostrate ourselves before doctors and scientists for all the advances ever made in the medical field, which let us be healthier and live longer, nothing less, as if we were programmed or possessed. In the case of the professional translator, the only way success could even be regarded as possible is through an extensive knowledge of two languages – the language being translated out of and the language being translated into – while having the courage to confront the fickle inconsistencies of message interpretation and representation head on. It’s just common sense.

The logic behind it all is simple enough for me to explain. A frequent element in translation work is that of conjecture, a term which Google defines as “a conclusion or supposition about something on the basis of incomplete information”, and being able to accept it. You see, deep down, even the most unlearned of us know that there is just no substitute for human imagination – it’s important that “imagination” be properly defined here: it can be essentially making things up which would just never be expected to happen in real life (grounded in purely fictional paraphernalia or otherwise), but it can also be imagining things which just could happen if all the elements were in place, however absurd they may seem on the surface. After all, conditioned imagination is something that the authors of great works of art and jokes that are anything fatuous, have learned to become very familiar and comfortable with. It all gives a very different meaning to the phrase “that’s life” from the one that is to be understood in the Frank Sinatra song of the same name.

And you can be sure that conjecture is often a prelude to non sequitur statements, statements which are not self-corroborative and all the rest of it. Thus, the practice of translation is susceptible to being regarded as a platform where a person can explain their logic without actually explaining themselves, and that can prove very inconvenient to the party that the translation piece that they are writing is supposed to be for.

If you have a job which falls under the category I discussed in the third paragraph of this comment, you will likely agree that you’re more likely to encounter paradoxes than those who don’t do so such jobs, as all kinds of people so eagerly assail you with not-always-tested ideas about what you should be doing and what you shouldn’t be doing, about what information related to what you do is correct and which is just myths, and so on and so forth. It is a situation where, depending on the particulars, it just might be the case where everybody’s right and everybody’s wrong and, while there will always be a certain portion of the whole that actually matters – it may be small or large, but no less importantly, it may or may not be meant to be understood as small or large – it will only ultimately be valid if it is asserted. Like I said earlier, there’s no substitute for your own judgement and for showing it; and who would argue that applies not just in what I do (translation) but life in general? And that’s precisely why I write these comments; which brings us to the next paragraph.

Whenever someone is doing translation work, the irresponsible use of translation tools should be discouraged at every turn. That should be obvious to anyone. And yet, people encourage professional translators to buy CAT (Computer Assisted Translation) tools like Trados or MemoQ. Now that’s what I call a paradox in what I do for a living. That said, while no professional translator wants to be accused of using Google Translate or Babelfish or whatever: suppose someone was expected to translate something from one language (language A) to another (language B); while they do speak language A, it’s just not at the sophisticated level that the original material is written in, but what if they turned to a translation tool for… ideas? There’s one thing in particular I think of right here: I’ve been doing these French-to-English translations of event marketing press releases recently; the title for one of these in the original was “Scènes d’été”. It’s oh so easy to think that this is one of those occasions where a literal translation – “Summer Scenes” – would have been OK in this context. But “Scènes” could have meant, say, “theatre scenes” – so you see, “Scènes d’été” might have meant more like “Summer theatre displays” or whatever. I’m proud that I considered that (even though, having considered the rest of the article in question, the best translation of “Scènes d’été” was actually “Summer Scenes”). But a translation tool would be deaf to any of this, you know?

Of course, there will be limitations and exceptions to all manner of willingly established rules, and everyone knows it. There is literally all kinds of information, with often highly varying registers and terminology, and everyone knows it. But who knows how many different things I have translated as a professional translator. But I do keep a record of past successful projects for reference, which includes press releases, textbook articles, contracts, technical manual content and God knows what else. (My most recent business video provides other examples.)

I remember how, way back on 2nd July 2013, I compared my own French translation of the English version of the angry kid Greenpeace video with the ready-made French version that they made and which he actually read
. There are definitely expressions in French and German used by the majority of people whose mother tongue is French or German, which I would just never have thought of even though my own command of French and German is sound – it’s just that I can’t help feeling that I’m out of touch with such expressions in my own language (English) sometimes. I don’t like the idea of my imagination being supposedly limited / inhibited in this way… but when I say I’ll find a way, I’ll find a way.

Mind you, having said that: when I mentioned “my own capacity for self-assessment as a translator” in paragraph 2, this included what I state to be my very objective as a professional and how I can be sure of living up to it. I have always said “Communication needs the right words” is my motto. But things change; nothing is set in stone. At any rate, when I accept a new translation project my foremost concern is to write a translation formed of expressions which people can confide in – perhaps to the point where they feel comfortable about presenting its content as if it were their own work. But I do wonder if I really could succeed as a journalist. Sometimes translation clients expect a translation which reflects an actual level of subjective attachment to / involvement with the subject matter; one which indicates what could be described as a passion for it which is indeed undescribed, but what matters is that it’s indisputably genuine. It’s not just translation either; think about it: a person may be a very good singer but may never get their big break if the lyrics of their songs are just plain and… well, with no style. (Seriously, based on my personal experience, I find that many singers, however good their voice is, would rather pay someone to write their lyrics – thus compromising who they are and who they would have people know them as – than write their lyrics themselves. How sad is that?) How else to put it?

But – refer back to the first paragraph if you have to – this comment is about knowing the truth about being a professional translator, dealing with it and not being afraid to assert it (and it sure isn’t the only one). There is every reason to believe that never is the requirement for this more evident than when it comes to translation assistance software tools that weren’t always around. I’m not saying never use computer-based translation aids when you do a translation task, but remember this: as an extension to the often-made claim that machines don’t think for themselves, a computer-based translation aid has no sense of direction or principle. It can’t be taught one, and you can never afford to act in a way that may, hypothetically, suggest the opposite. Don’t delude yourself. With all due respect, stupidity kills, you know.
18th July 2014

MORE THINKING ABOUT MACHINE TRANSLATION TOOLS AND WHAT THEY MEAN BOTH TO THE TRANSLATION INDUSTRY AND TO ME PERSONLLY – WHEN IS “MAKING SENSE” NOT ACTUALLY “MAKING SENSE”?

As certain people continue to boast inventions of this or that translation tool or updates thereof (or maybe certain things that they have achieved with this or that translation tool), I wonder: can pretentious translators be hypnotised into believing (i.e. hypnotise themselves into believing) that it’s possible to formulate any reliable translation strategies (however straightforward or convoluted) from translating in a way where they are hopelessly dependent on machine translators?

I must state here that, however easily some people may be seduced by the option of using machine translators to get their translation work done, I believe that no-one could be ignorant enough (if “ignorant” is the right word) to at least begin to realise their own limitations with their translation skills / ability when they’ve been doing it for even a fraction as long as I’ve been doing it professionally (nearly six years now). Are such limitations usually the same or similar? I’m going to discuss / refer to people’s limitations with their translation skills, and their awareness thereof, before I mention anything about machine translation tools. Starting with: the translation equivalent of writer’s block.

Writer’s block is something a lot of people are familiar with: it happens when, as someone is writing something, whatever good reasons they may have to be confident about the EXISTING content (and, depending on the case, the existing spirit) of what they are writing, they just get stuck with regard to how to put forth something important (which is usually subtle); it’s like a drop in “creative libido”. Translators too may experience a drop in creative libido – it happens to me sometimes, when, as I am reading the French or German original of a text that I am translating into English… the reasonable and stable grasp of the intended message is there but the question of how best to put it into English tends to leave me frustrated, especially when I know that my own grasp of English is not to be trifled with. And as I wrestle somewhat in vain with the material at hand, I turn to certain online sources for suggestions, but never without wondering what solutions (or preludes to solutions) other people would suggest whether they were translators or not. I’m going to be very honest here. I struggle to find a way to put this that doesn’t sound vague, but… I can sort of believe that, when I do translation work, I am prone to making the mistake of focussing too much on the “translating out” bit (the message extraction bit) and focussing too little on the “translating in” bit (the message recreation bit), as literate as I am.

It’s hard for me sometimes – I know I have very good reasons to love myself, yet it’s sometimes so easy for me to despise my own mind for what it is. If that is not a good reason for me to claim that I know what it’s like to be insane, I would love to know what does constitute a good basis for knowing what it’s like to be insane.

But then, I’ve heard of the saying “You’re limited only by your imagination.” It would be easy enough for me to make arrangements to learn new French and German vocabulary on a regular basis, but how much would that really do? Who knows how many totally random French and German words I’ve come across (especially when I was learning French and German back at school) and am still able to remember, which I could never seriously expect to come across in any professional translation job I do. Like “sanglier”, which is French for “boar”, or “Rettich” which is German for “radish”.

But, in my own defence, I always try to allow for consideration of the following things in my own translation style, however poorly defined it may be in reality: the issue of getting more prescriptive terminology right; and how to write in a certain style, by which I mean a style that is more oriented toward a given industry rather than a sociolinguistics kind of style (like, the Queen’s English, slang and swear words are very prominent examples of the subject of sociolinguistics). The thing is, I have made it clear in the past on here that I must get round to mastering LinkedIn proper sooner rather than later (you can visit my LinkedIn profile as it is now right here http://uk.linkedin.com/pub/george-trail/15/5b4/585 ) and there is one conclusion I arrive at time and time again: maybe if I interacted more with other people – by this I mean in the scope of my working life first and foremost, but some might also find it easy to argue that my social life in my private life is also bleak to say the least – I would be a lot more in touch with all these “industry styles” that some people are or seem so insistent on when certain kinds of creative endeavours are undertaken.

Sometimes it really does seem that it is not enough to make sense, and to be intent on making sense. I mean, any individual knows how to be a PERSON who doesn’t make sense, which explains why my dentist is a lesbian with an allergy to cinnamon and why the last Norwegian person I met once had a dream in which he saw Britney Spears doing a parachute jump from the top of the Eiffel Tower wearing stiletto heels. Yes, that doesn’t make sense at all in the scope of ISOLATED INTERPRETATION THEORY, but for the purpose of elaborating the point I made in the first sentence of this paragraph that is also a statement (all of the sentence, constituting a single point) which does make sense. Also, while you could say that this South Park clip is funny because it makes absolutely no sense, it also “does make sense” because Johnnie states quite correctly (not to mention confidently and assertively) that he is not making any sense, and thus you see its effectiveness as a joke. And to consider the difference between a person who’s not making sense when they speak (be this intentional or accidental) and mere statements that don’t make sense (which can never be intentional or accidental by their own intent), is often important, especially in translation. When you think about it, it makes perfect sense.

But I don’t write this comment solely with the intention of stating the obvious – that would just not make sense. Knowledge can be a dangerous thing in the hands of the ignorant, and anyone who seriously regards themselves as not ignorant – however modestly – should consider how easy it is for a person to make a statement that is nonsensical even though they may be intent on making sense AS A PERSON, which is not necessarily grounded in that person claiming or believing that they have a knowledge of something which they simply don’t. (Although it may well have something to do with that person having a knowledge of that thing which is a product of delusion.) Admittedly, I would probably have a far better sense of that subject if I engaged in conversation more than I did. Thus you see that an unwavering approach to writing something (anything) that could pass for perfunctory in anyone’s eyes when undertaking translation work, can be a curse if you’re aiming high in the translation game.

Hence you get all these stories on online translation forums like ProZ.com and elsewhere of people who call themselves translators but all they do is chuck the material to be translated through Google Translate or Babelfish or whatever; they actually don’t seem to think it matters that they’re not willing to apply any kind of sincere or innovative critique of their own, “but at least we can tidy things up if we have to, and that’s the main thing”. And no, they don’t always actually tidy things up when they should, so to speak. They may claim that they only use these translation tools “for ideas”, as if they were suffering from a drop in creative libido such as I mentioned in the first paragraph, but they don’t seem to care about the fact that what they do is essentially give more respect and credence to the (often so-called) solutions offered by machine translation tools than they do to their own (real or potential) solutions!

I mentioned Noam Chomsky in my last comment on here, and just like in that comment I argue here that translation is rather different today compared to what it was back he was my age, the main factors behind this being the Internet and the advent of digital communication, and machine translation tools. But even machine translation software is today at a level that just goes over the heads of most people today. The oldest machine translation tools establish all their translation solutions based purely on their own particular bilingual dictionary file memory, using certain complex algorithms as far as the grammatical aspects are concerned. But modern translation software is designed to have the accuracy of its solutions upheld by the ongoing debate and consensus of its users – you have to have a licence to use Trados or MemoQ, but you don’t need a licence to use Babelfish or Google Translate. Meanwhile, Google Translate is a prime example of a piece of translation software engineered to have the credibility of its translation solutions enhanced by general material on the Web, which is made possible by the fact that it is actually connected to the Web as a whole. Even I am in awe at how far we’ve come since the days when translators had nothing to turn to but bilingual dictionaries whose thickness is at least that of the height of an ashtray.

I am of course determined to do whatever necessary to keep up. And I realise that, however much is said about “translating well” or “translating properly”, much, much less is said about “translating convincingly” or “translating persuasively”. I am certainly literate enough in English and the languages I translate from and that’s important. But it does seem to me that relatively few translators are even capable of considering their skills at writing stuff which people can just read with a confidence that they take for granted. Having said that, though, it’s very clear right here that I have had plenty of experience trying to be “convincing” and “persuasive” with my business blog writing record. As I’ve said before, I don’t just write any old fatuous stuff that most people (especially if they don’t do what I do) will not be able to get an easy grip on and therefore be likely only to “half-read” it (you know what “half-listening” is, right?) – anything which is essentially like, “Today I did a translation for this customer – what do you think of that?” or “I decided to try this today and the prospect of it all makes me excited because blah blah blah blah blah.”

To conclude, I believe that I am on the verge of becoming a true master translator in every sense of the word. Watch this space…
3rd August 2014

WHY I WILL NEVER BELIEVE CLAIMS THAT MACHINE TRANSLATION TOOLS WILL ONE DAY FULLY REPLACE HUMAN TRANSLATORS

I know I’ve hinted this before, but to me it’s worth considering that taking the human element out of translation work may be the thing which causes a translation to… just not be good enough. Why? Here’s what I state as my examples of the argument in point: I suppose that there is prescriptive and descriptive terminology, and maybe sometimes it does exist more to increase the significance of its subject matter than anything else. And I also suppose that, deep down, no-one likes to feel that they “live for nothing”. (You know, to say the least, not all truths are tested.)

Is there such a thing as being “emotionally committed” to accuracy in translation work as well as “intellectually committed” in every sense of the expression? One thing is for sure: machine translators don’t think like this!

Do you know what a “screamer” is? It’s a short video (or equivalent) which plays (or whatever) on a screen for a bit, and eventually, an ugly and / or scary face suddenly appears, filling the entire screen and accompanied by a loud scream, which is to meant scare the viewer; it’s a prank. Of all the screamers you can get on the Internet, I realise that the Scary Maze game ( http://www.fugly.com/flash/709/Scary_Maze_Game.htm... )is particularly well-known – probably because it’s the first one of its kind, but that’s another story. The ghastly face which accompanies the eventual sudden scream is unmistakable. I’ll be talking about that face here.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve come across “screamer reaction” videos, a surprisingly high number of which are of the Scary Maze game in particular. And they include a few of pre-pubescent children who are not only frightened by it, but who are reduced to tears by it while others insistently hold it as amusing (indeed, sometimes you hear laughter in the background in the case of these particular clips). I wonder: had I first played the Scary Maze game at that age, that might have been me. God forbid, I think the Scary Maze game is a good laugh too – but how would you help a poor child reduced to tears by it to get over it and maybe even see the funny side of it? Do you find it “fun” to speculate? If you do that’s great – read on!

For the love of God, it’s not as if it’s anything to really be afraid of, just an image that suddenly and unexpectedly appears on a screen for a few seconds, and a scream sound that plays when it comes on. Also… it’s an ugly face but it’s not an angry or frightened face – if it were an angry or frightened face, that could upset a child a whole lot more, wouldn’t you say? And it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where the first time a child sees that face is not in the Scary Maze game but anywhere where they are encouraged to view it as a “great big scary monster” and just laugh along with it like it’s something in a trick or treating session or something like that. And there’s a German advert which does the screamer thing which loads of people on Youtube know about (for an energy drink; the one with the white car driving through hills in the background).

But looks what’s happened – I’ve started talking about that face for what it is (a key element in the Scary Maze game work)… and for what it isn’t. Why? I first happened to come across it on the Internet on my computer in the comfort of my home, when I was in my comfort zone, so you might be wondering: why is it that it’s a topic that I, at 31, seem to have become absorbed by as much as anyone could be absorbed by any major topic in the big real world – political issues, what technology is doing to us as a species, how to eat properly and healthily, whatever? And I certainly haven’t failed to realise that cultural awareness and all that matters when it comes to getting translation right. Why am I, at my age, so willing to invest so much attention and emotion in something as trivial as something which simply doesn’t mean or represent anything other than the fact that this is an image of a ghastly face, which is, provably so, a good choice for a “screamer face”? Because that’s all it is in “intellectually committed” terms, terms of fundamental reasoning. But when I started talking about the face not being an angry or frightened one, and everything else in the paragraph that begins “For the love of God” – where do you think that came from?

Well, I find that good translation practice is also like that in a certain way and to a certain extent (for this comment, as a professional one related to my career as a professional translator, is ultimately supposed to be about translation, the practice of it and linguistic matters) – “trying to accept words and written statements for what they aren’t” as well as what they are (even though I know very well that translators are expected not to be biased in the choice of words they provide in their translations of stuff). When you’ve been translating for as long as I have – and especially for the reasons I do it – it’s only a matter of time before you start to reject all-too-typical approaches, knowing that they have their limitations.

Maybe me outlining my latest list of translation anecdotes, such as I have outlined in previous comments, will help you to understand what that point is all about.

In one French-to-English translation project, I saw “les idées reçues” in the original – fortunately, I was astute enough to realise that it meant something other than the literal translation of “received ideas” in English… “misconceptions”.

There was a French-to-English technical translation project I did recently which included these words in the original (as bullet points): “Signaler la présence du tramway (KB) // Signaler la présence par moyens acoustiques (KBB) // Indiquer la présence par moyens optiques (KBC) // Indiquer la présence par des éclairages extérieurs (KBD)”. I wrote “Presence of the tramway” in my translation of the same, but not without thinking: “where it is in terms of transportation / destination location or whereabouts people are in it?” Part of it included “Visual indication of the tramway's location”, rather than “Visual indication of the tramway's whereabouts”; with the former, when you consider the various ways it could be interpreted, that could sort of be right in either case.

I’ve been doing a fair bit of translation of these event marketing articles from French to English, and all of the rest of these anecdotes in this comment are taken from those. In one of these I read “Au gré du parcours émaillé de peintures, maquettes de navires, de pièces archéologiques ou d’objets d’art” in the original. I came to realise that the “ou d’objets d’art” bit here in reality meant “and art objects” rather than “or art objects”. In the original versions of other ones I read:

“La Colère du Dragon” – originally translated as “The Anger of the Dragon” before I changed it to “The Fury of the Dragon”, because I agreed that that sounded more “natural”.

“Produits malins et loisirs” – “Malignant products”? Was the true intended meaning of this like “Guilty pleasures products”?

“L’occasion de découvrir les nouvelles tendances du moment” – translated as simply “discover the latest trends”.

I saw the words “Près de 300 stands” in reference to the discussion of one exhibition. I remember thinking: “Is this event taking place now or in the future?” I didn’t know – so I thought of and put “Expect to see nearly 300 stands”, agreeing that that phrase would work whichever it was in reality.

“Dans leur dernier spectacle” – the last spectacle that “they” once had or their latest spectacle which is to take place soon? I put “In their most recent spectacle”, agreeing that that phrase would work whichever it was in reality.

“A noter que Jacques Bon et Moomin ouvriront les hostilités de cette soirée placée sous le signe du romantisme” – translated more literally, this means “Note that Jacques Bon and Moomin will engage in hostilities under the banner of romance this evening.” Really? I don’t think so. I think it meant “they will be competing this evening”. And that’s why I put “Note also that Jacques Bon and Moomin will be competing under the banner of romance this evening” in the translation.

It has all had me considering that freedom can play a role in being confident in translation. I dare say that I feel what I “should feel” (for the purpose of essentially being a member of society); but what I allow myself to feel – which I have had the temerity to outline here – should probably be viewed as a sign of how in touch I am with how free I am (I had to say it). That said, maybe if I always want to feel confident about finding the right solution in translation, I should never forget that freedom – or at least something within myself – just may be an important ingredient. Maybe I’ve already said it: “I suppose that, deep down, no-one likes to feel that they ‘live for nothing’ ”.

And that’s why I will never believe claims that machine translation tools will one day fully replace human translators.
PS: the game Mindtrap is a known example of those kinds of questions that challenge the way you think - is "not falling for that sort of thing" a matter of being "emotionally committed" (at least some of the time)?
15th August 2014

Now that I've actually put my translation quality policy article - which is the longest article I've ever written by far - online, up on a new page on my new website, I thought I might as well reproduce it here, in addition to my latest comment ("Why I will never believe claims that machine translation tools will one day fully replace human translators").



GEORGE TRAIL TRANSLATION SERVICES
QUALITY POLICY
This article, dedicated to discussing the quality policy that I adopt in my professional translation work, is a very long one, as I realise that quality in translation is always invoked (for obvious reasons), but it can be very hard to discuss it clearly (especially without a pen and paper, and without the availability of “other things”, if you ask me). And let’s not forget that, when someone reads some text in their mother tongue only to find that it has the poor translation factor, they are frequently at a loss to suggest what might have been meant – even if they had the original to hand, people request translations precisely because they can’t understand something that is written in another language!

One thing that everyone does agree on is that discussion of the “quality” of translated material is an extremely common occurrence – I would agree that even people who are not very well educated, when reading something that is a translation into their own language of something, can be quick to find something that “just isn’t correct” / “just doesn’t work”, without really trying. In a world where speaking more than one language is accepted as very important to many people’s life’s prospects – indeed, more businesses than ever are currently asking for translations of their material so that they may be able to find customers abroad – no-one should forget that people are quick to respond to bad translation all the time; indeed, people are quick to point out things as “literal translation” (or what they consider to be “literal translation”) all the time, and, depending on the circumstances, frown upon it. Such people, if they know that something is a translation of something else, will not hide their willingness to criticise the words that are used with a certain level of passion and pride, whether or not they would know how to define such a choice that they make, such as I just did in this sentence. While no French person, no matter how stupid, would write “Je veux à sortir école” expecting it to pass for a valid translation of the English sentence “I want to leave school”, it can be hard, even for linguistic professionals, to provide a full account of the full range of meanings attributed to “literal” or “inaccurate” translation.

So how would I describe “poor translation” in my own words? Well, as already implied above, it is quite a wide-reaching topic. (I have tried to keep this bit as brief as possible without over-generalising.) Even today I sometimes read bad translations that have been referenced as such, just for fun – even professional translation agencies include lists of bad translations on their websites as something of an educational / humour element – and I have to say that I personally do not always regard mere incorrectly spelled words in translated material as justification for calling that material a “bad translation”, even though that label may well be valid. In the book “Lost In Translation” (Charlie Croker), there’s one entry referring to a “restaurant and bra” advertised in China, but I only call that a “bad translation” to a certain extent, because no native English speaker needs to think to realise that it should have been “restaurant and bar.” However, there are times when incorrectly spelled words – often written as the correct spelling of a completely different word (ever seen “your” written when it should have been written as the abbreviation of “you are”?) – genuinely do impede understanding. A notice on a soup terrine in a German cash-and-carry store once said, “Pie Soup” – I think they meant “pea soup”, but I was genuinely unable to come up with this idea the first time I read this, and long after that.

In other cases, what qualifies bad translations as such is awkward wording / sentence structure. I’ve read some bad English translations which, while they use proper English words throughout, are blatant bad translations because they fail to adhere to some very fundamental rules of English. For example, this is a subtitle quote taken from a Western film shown in Japan (Casablanca). Instead of “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine”, I read, “In all towns of the all worlds of all gin, her it connects to my ones which you walk.” Other bad translations are written in perfectly valid English but still conspicuously less than coherent as a result of poor word choice; like the sign that said, “Please don’t surpass the cautionary driftwood while having the aquatic visiting.” Confusing? Perhaps establishing the context / circumstances will help to clarify things. The source where I read about this sign says that it was seen in the “Yudu scenic spot in China”, which has let me conclude that it is supposed to be understood as referring to wooden railings positioned between visitors of the park and a body of water located in the park (hence the “aquatic” bit) and when the visitors visit this body of water these wooden railings are there to prevent people from getting too close to it, for safety reasons (hence the “cautionary” bit).

I fully believe that I should also mention that, with some bad translations, unwise word selection was responsible for the content not only failing to enable the intended readership to understand what was meant, but it also veritably suggested something else entirely; something which tends only to make it harder to understand what was meant. And I am aware that there are cases of this where the alternative thing suggested will instantly be taken as rude or offensive, or liable to cause embarrassment. The government in Seoul, South Korea, established a hotline for taxi passengers who encountered rudeness, and a sign in taxis which referred people to it listed it as the “Intercourse Discomfort Report Center.” I have seen bad translations where I have sympathised not only with the intended readership but also those who composed them. Like the English “Do Not Enter” sign written by a Japanese person, which stated, “Don’t get into this.” Another English sign written by someone who was Japanese was a road sign which said, “Stop. Drive sideways” – a sign which is to be recognised as a traffic diversion instrument, telling people, “This road is blocked; you cannot drive straight on at this point. Drive down the side road that you can see.”

Even the language used by native speakers (including educated ones) can “stand out” in ways that they did not intend. Consideration of things like slang language and swear words (and people who use them without realising their true implications) is just the tip of the iceberg. I could go on and on about the poor English of native English speakers who do not really speak the language; people who are prone to writing things like “your” when they mean to use the abbreviation of “you are”; or getting “there”, “their” and “they’re” confused; or indeed “I should / could / would of”. But what I’m really talking about here is things like unintentionally stupid-sounding headlines (like “Drunk Gets Nine Months In Violin Case”) or comments that comprise language that is sound in every respect (at least academically) but for an element of clumsiness (like the misuse of the word “literally”, as in the genuine Talksport statement, “Gazza will literally be going through cold turkey for the rest of his life”). The truth is that the topic of difficulties in communication based on faulty language is popular among many, many people. A man called Richard Benson even wrote a book of strange things that children have written: “Blackboard Blunders: spelling slip-ups and homework howlers”. On the back of the cover, he writes, “Children at their funniest when trying to be serious, and their earnest attempts at mastering the English language are a goldmine of unintentional humour. This book is packed with hysterical examples of silly spelling and wonky words, from the charming and ludicrous, and from the profound to the downright X-rated!” My favourite is probably: “‘You are under a rest and you will be remembered in custard for the night,’ said the policeman. He wasn’t expecting that!”

All that said, however, as a translator, with every project I undertake I am committed to pursuing a very stringent quality policy. All humour aside, this is why my commitment to a high level of literacy, analysis and quality in my translation work is absolute. It’s fair to claim that good translation work is a matter of “paying attention to more than what can be seen”. I cannot and will not allow for distractions when I am determined to produce an educated-sounding and lucid equivalent of the content of what I am to translate; all the more so when, like everyone else, I know I have my limits just like everyone else. I’m human. My knowledge and reasoning capacity do have their limits, and it is the same for everyone else. Translation agencies everywhere understand this, which is precisely why so many of them have a policy that submitted translation work be proofread by someone else (always a native speaker) before it is finally submitted to the client. And, in all candour, I speak in favour of the same.

So… what is my quality policy, exactly? It’s certainly not just a matter of correct spelling, and, as mentioned before, sometimes misspelled words are actually real words, except that they mean something else entirely. I just wouldn’t be adhering to this quality policy at all without a strong commitment to a properly close, vigilant and incisive inspection of the words in the sentences of the original material, even if they strike me as making sense and making appropriate points the first time I “read through” them, and even if they are notably less than what I would call long sentences. But that is just the beginning. I believe that anything less than a totally resolute analysis of what I write in my translation material is an unwise risk at best, and blatantly unprofessional at worst.

What I don’t do is translate “word for word”. Even when I do a translation task today I just might realise that I have picked out the wrong meaning of an individual word in the original document, one which means that the word I appropriate for it in the translated sentence means that that sentence fails to resemble the message in the original, and then I need to replace it. This is something that I always bear in mind when getting terminology right is important. If I agree that any specific word in the original “looks like terminology”, I make a note of it, just in case I eventually agree that I need to go back several sentences to change it to something else! Mind you, using the find and replace feature (CTRL + F) means that I can do this very quickly, even if a translated word that I have decided is incorrect appears several times in the translated version. But ultimately, this is why I’m prepared to take the time to do a final proofread of a project once the final words have been translated… and why so many translation agencies speak of the “four eyes” policy in connection with translation proofreading or editing work.

My usual approach is to look at and treat individual sentences in turn. I say “usual” approach because I do realise that sometimes it is best not to attempt to write the sentences of a translated product in such a way that the successive sentences in the translated product are congruent with those of the original, where structural elements may vary but the information content is not re-arranged. This might be a matter of excluding information content from one sentence in the translation and including it in another so that that information is no longer in the “corresponding sentence” in the original, or taking the information content of one sentence in the original and representing it in more than one sentence in the translation, or the other way round.

Unless I know I’ve picked up the correct information in a given sentence in the original without really trying, chances are that I will segregate individual phrases (which may only be a couple of words), not least because I might be mistaken about which phrase a given word belongs to. This is accompanied by the identification of key words (like the main verb) and of the word types (noun, adjective etc.) of the words that most contribute to making my understanding of the text in the original what it is. I find that this is the best way to pick up the pieces if I have got it wrong first time round. Certain aspects of punctuation help (the comma in particular), but only to a certain extent. It’s not always there. (Then again, if there’s too much punctuation in a sentence, following it can be a very big chore!)

Translation is indeed an intellectual activity, and I will make it clear that I have categorised use of language as well as language itself (from an academic perspective: word types, tenses, declensions etc.). Sometimes people say things that are easy and straightforward to illustrate on a piece of paper (“I have a red car”, “The white horse was bigger than the brown one” etc.) – although one should consider that what is actually to be understood from saying simple-sounding statements like this may vary if individual words are deliberately given special emphasis (“I have a red car” vs. “I have a red car” vs. “I have a red car”) etc. Against this there are times when people say things that are harder to illustrate because they reflect concepts or attitudes which may well refer to things that those who receive the message may not be familiar with (example: “It is a fact that the implementation of these new measures would incur greater costs.”). It’s when translating concepts and attitudes in particular that I’m prepared to use my imagination in an attempt to put the message of the original across in a way that will be noticeably different at the end of the day, but always accurate.

While I do try to limit my use of machine translation tools (my own judgement always matters more than anything else!) I will state that I also divide language into “statements that I would always trust a machine translator with” and “statement that I would not always trust a machine translator with.” In the paragraph above, simple and plain statements like “my car is red” are ones that I would always trust a machine translator with, but anything “more complicated” than that requires a more prudent approach. After all, a machine translator won’t think for itself. Like I said before, some words do have different meanings – but they’re not alwayscompletely different. The French word livre can mean “book” or it can mean “pound sterling” (in this case, though, it depends on whether it’s un livre or une livre). But the German word Stelle can mean “place”, “job”, “office” or “authority” – to a native English speaker who doesn’t speak German it would seem that these four words have their clear differences and have little in common until they are all compared with the word “position.”

I may have five years of study of French, German and translation studies at three universities under my belt but this still is a career that succeeds in challenging the limits of my knowledge and reasoning from time to time… I hope my earnestness is appreciated. Even today, sometimes when I read something written in English which I know was translated from French or German (my professional translation language pairs are French to English and German to English) and come across a bit which I accept is a poor translation, I am simply unable to fathom where it came from. I remember early in my career stating in my marketing material that I have found myself becoming more and more seldom amused by what I read in poor translations, which may or may not have been included in a list stating that they are comical or bizarre. This may be a sign of a truly heightened sense of language and linguistics, but nevertheless my task is only made more complicated by my need to consider how compatible my translation products will be with the idiolect of their intended readership. I’ve heard of psycholinguistics and I do understand that people can be quick to attach certain attitudes to certain statements – not just individual words, but phrases. Like clichés. But cultural and social concerns need to be borne in mind. Sometimes when I’m doing a translation task I know exactly what is meant by a sentence (after I’ve taken the time to make sure that I really do understand it properly), but because languages tend to be different and work differently (you can only truly understand what is meant by this if you’ve studied a foreign language in depth), it can be hard for me to put it in authentic English. In other words, I can write it in proper English independently, but it is something of a struggle to write it in the kind of English that qualifies as clear, cohesive and laconic and does not use structures which may be found in spoken English but which are just rejected in educated written English. I am reminded of this by a sign in India which read, “Commit no nuisance” – to me, just because it’s detached from the idiolect of English native speakers doesn’t mean that it should strictly be viewed as a “bad” translation. I have asked for help readily in this line of work, and always show willingness to co-operate when I know it is expected of me. When I do know exactly what is meant but it takes time for me to decide how best to write it in my own language where reading it wouldn’t result in someone else’s frustration or confusion (or at least strictly as little as possible)… well, let’s just say that the inventiveness that this calls for is something I regard as a perk in my job!
It is said that translation is as much an art as it is a science; something that only a fool believes that it is possible to learn within the confines of a classroom without allowing for all things abstract. As diligent as I am in my work, though, I will still plead that it’s not always the translator’s fault. I remember once when I was very young when our teacher read to us a passage from a book describing the “Marrog”, and then we all painted our own pictures of the Marrog in our minds; the differences in our imagination spoke for themselves. I believe that this reflects how, sometimes, meaning is just plain ambiguous and existing understanding of specific things inaccurate; something that manifests itself in translation issues for sure. I once heard that a translation of the Qu’ran contained some incorrectly translated terms of certain words in Arabic that even Arabs don’t understand if they “do not have an expert knowledge of the Qu’ran” (whatever that means exactly). Myself, I do speak very good French and German (or I would not be doing this job!) but I do have my limitations when it comes to things like French / German abbreviations or acronyms, or anything else that is normally used only between French / German native speakers. I have asked for co-operation from others in connection with my work and still do, and believe that it’s so much easier for them to provide it when they have access to the original version of something as well as my translation of it. And while I believe that it’s all very well to continue expanding my French and German vocabulary in general, I think it’s every bit as important, if not more so, to know where to find “other things” (usually online): things like dictionaries of French / German terms in specific fields (legal terms, medical terms, whatever) and lists of foreign acronyms… even monolingual dictionaries.
In conclusion, the application of sage and well-reasoned academic prowess alone (the sort of thing that can be taught solely within the walls of a classroom or lecture hall) cannot suffice if I want to be sure of delivering a translation product of professional quality. For at the end of the day, as much as I understand the importance of being impartial in translation work, the message I am supposed to be conveying in a translation project is never my own, but that of someone else, and it is my responsibility to act as such.
I always was a talented linguist as a child, but I’m realising my limits now… but at least I don’t need anyone else to tell me them! I at least hope that I’ve done a good job clarifying what is meant by translation quality here in my outlining of my translation quality policy. I look forward to further adventures and discoveries when I’m doing my next translation job…
15th August 2014

WHAT’S YOUR STYLE?
I decided to write this comment in response to a translation project I did which was rejected because, while it was generally correct and articulate, it just didn’t have the desired “marketing ring” to it. So I got the style wrong? I have a thing or two to say about that.
The translation project in question was a load of short tourism marketing articles from German to English. Each of them basically described a certain area and a certain accommodation place. Here’s the original and my translation of one of them now:
Etwa 13 Kilometer nordöstlich von Des Moines entfernt, liegt das Hotel in der Stadt Ankeny im US-Bundesstaat Iowa. In einem Radius von 12 Kilometer befinden sich diverse Golfanlagen, die leidenschaftliche Golfspieler vor die Qual der Wahl stellen. Im Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden (14 km) winkt Erholung inmitten prächtiger Vegetation.
Mit seinem Angebot an Tagungs- und Freizeiteinrichtungen ist das Hotel Hampton Inn & Suites Ankeny ideal auf die Bedürfnisse von Privat- und Geschäftsreisenden zugeschnitten. In den gemütlichen, wohnlich eingerichteten Zimmern und Suiten finden Sie einen atmosphärischen Rückzugsort vom Alltagstrubel. Wie wäre es mit einem wohltuenden Bad im hoteleigenen Whirlpool?
My translation:
The hotel is located in the town of Ankeny in the American State of Iowa, some 13 km North-East of Des Moines. There are various golf courses located within a 12 km radius, which leave golf lovers spoilt for choice. The Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden (14 km) beckons relaxation within lush vegetation.
With its offer of meeting and recreational facilities, the Hotel Hampton Inn & Suites Ankeny is ideally suited to the needs of private and business travellers. In the cosy, comfortably furnished rooms and suites you will find an atmospheric retreat from everyday hustle and bustle. How about a relaxing bath in the hotel's jacuzzi?
Now, for whatever reason, the client preferred to reject that; and I have trouble agreeing that it is in any way “wrong” in real terms. What is style anyway?
If they have any, I have compared the styles of Girls Aloud and the Saturdays, as I perceive them. For ages I have agreed that Girls Aloud and the Saturdays, while both girl groups with 5 members whose fans are generally (but no way exclusively!) those under 30, have “different styles”. “Is it their music?”, I hear some of you say. “Or their image? What?” Here’s what I’m talking about: Girls Aloud tend to be more dance and thrill energy pop, and more “girl next door” types than the Saturdays. Notably sexy girl next door types, I agree, but girl next door types which most people will feel comfortable around however much they agree that they are “out of their league” in the typical social hierarchy. The Saturdays, on the other hand, strike me as being outright determined to be sharp and sassy, if you will, and more willing to tacitly dismiss anyone not socially prominent enough for their tastes, which would include being too timid and / or endearing over sharp and hot.
And that’s normally what my idea of “style” is. But what about “style” as a (mostly likely inconsistent) concept in translation? I’ve basically been left thinking that the style I used in this translation was too, shall we say, formal – at least, the kind of style that’s great for explaining things in plain and unbiased terms which are definitely articulate (like James Berardinelli’s film reviews), but it just lacks any edge or spark punch such as you expect in marketing / advertising material. All I’m saying is that it was likely too much like a report, or a textbook article or a periodical entry, when it was supposed to be more alluring. If that was the case, stop and try to imagine how depressing it was for me to be called “unprofessional” for making that mistake. I believe that it was probably “too A rather than B” – to understand what I mean by that, see these two specimens:
A: “The Rose Hotel offers its guests a total of 50 comfortable rooms whose facilities include free Wi-fi, a safe and a trouser press as well as a TV. Those who stay here can look forward to a delicious breakfast buffet in the morning and a fine hot evening meal.
B: “At the Rose Hotel you can expect a comfortable room which has not only a TV but also free Wi-fi, a safe and a trouser press. When you wake up there will be a delicious breakfast buffet waiting for you, we’ll also cook up a fine hot evening for you in the evening.”
I’m guessing that I wanted to make a point of it being anything but trying to be edgy / “have spark” in a flippant way, like:
C: “Rose Hotel – this place has 50 comfortable rooms! They’ve all got TVs but it’s not just that – free Wi-fi? Sorted! A safe? Bob’s your uncle. A trouser press? Damn right! Don’t forget that delicious breakfast buffet in the morning, and you’ve got to try one of our fine hot evening meals!”
I would find it easy to say that commitment to a style is to be regarded as a means of asserting who one is. And why not? Consider this quote from “The Bourne Identity”: when Bourne and the girl are at that family’s house somewhere in France, there’s a bit where he says, “I don’t want to know who I am anymore.” If you don’t know who you should be despite having good reasons to be proud of yourself, consider the idea: ...be someone! DON’T be no-one! I think even Tyler Durden would give credence to that idea. …Or would he? Have you ever felt like assertion of yourself would be in vain? Who could deny that sometimes having style is some sort of definition or representation of something that you do (actually resolve to do) – a faith in what you think it should be, and not just for selfishness-oriented ends?
What about the Tower of Babel? Why would God destroy our language (especially as He is supposed to love us)? Maybe some things, whatever they “are” or are simply meant to be – including really important things, paradoxically enough – are best learned straight up without them being explained by some sort of source of absolute authority. I remember Pat Condell’s video “Absolute Certainty” – which was the first one I ever watched. Also, NB The lesson of “Go God Go” in South Park (something like “no one answer is ever the answer” and about isms).
Endpoint: I’m sure that “proper” language styles and “improper” ones abound everywhere (just as you are, am I right?). And with improper ones you get made up expressions, like this one: in the Muslamic Ray Guns video there’s a point where he says, “They’re trying to ‘get their law over’ our country” (0:42). Now, I regard the “get… over” bit as a somewhat made up, non-standard expression, however clear what he meant by it is. But could expressions of this kind be recreated in other languages? Hell, I created “neppas”, the French version of the English non-word “innit”, so why not? In French I would translate that sentence as, “Ils essaient de faire avoir leur loi au-dessus de notre pays.” Isn’t the same meaning clear enough in French? Try asking someone whose mother tongue is French. I bet it is. Aren’t I clever?
4th October 2014

MORE TALK FROM ME ON TRANSLATION TECHNIQUES AND THEORY – JUST HOW PASSIONATE ABOUT TRANSLATION AM I, ANYWAY?
If you seriously agree that good translation is as much about taking facts and considerations about the subject matter into account as it is about formulating sentences both correct and valid in the translation material that… well, “actually work”, let me ask you this: is it wise to search for universal rules or principles that let you do it if you felt distant from the subject matter?
There are times when I feel sorry for myself because my Facebook business comments don’t get as much attention as I’d like – and to be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if many people who do read them think it’s little more than waffling adoxography on my part. Even when you see that today’s universities specifically offer courses on translation and similar fields in the multi-lingual realm, the academic community all over the world realises that there is indeed a plethora of things that influence individual languages, never mind translation; social factors shape them as much as education / paedogogical ones, if not more so. So it’s got to be only a matter of time before a person starts to agree that a key part of “good” translation – certainly confident translation, at any rate – is being apt at the virtual art of verification. Verification which doesn’t require making waves, yet which can require one to tacitly elicit another person’s view on something without frustrating them. Let’s face it: smart translation is as much about understanding the impossible as it is about understanding the possible.
With that said, I’m now going to state my latest bunch of work-related anecdotes such as I have mentioned in previous comments:
In a French to English translation project:
French: “Windows Phone va rapidement imposer sa présence.”
English: “Windows Phone should make its presence known rapidly.”
The question lies in the “should”. Is it prescriptive or descriptive? In other words, it “should” as in “it’s expected of Windows Phone and it and would somehow be committing an infraction if this didn’t happen” or “Because that’s just the way it is; that’s just the fact of the matter.” Consider both.
In a German to English translation project:
There was this German word “Regalprüfung”. “Regal” means “shelf” in English and “Prüfung” means anything along the lines of “checking” or “testing” or “inspection” or “audit”. But I understood that “Regalprüfung” is some sort of management term, which I translated into English as “stock management” rather than “shelf management”.
In what was probably same German to English project: I had to ask myself whether “Arbeitsbereichen” meant “Work areas” or “Departments”.
In another German to English project I saw “Wasserkühler” in the original, and it meant “water-cooled radiator” in English. Interestingly enough, it did NOT mean “water cooler” which is very much the opposite of a radiator!
In a bilingual proofreading project, I saw this in the original German version of some BMW marketing:



“Als erstes Großserienmotorrad der Welt verfügte die R 100 RS im Jahre 1976 über eine im Windkanal entwickelte, rahmenfeste Vollverkleidung und begründete als perfekter Allrounder für Reise und Sport das Marktsegment der Sporttourer, wie wir es seitdem kennen”.
I have to admit, I couldn’t have done a translation of it as sharp and apt as this: “In 1976, the R 100 RS became the first mass-produced motorcycle in the world to come with a full, frame-mounted fairing that had been developed in the wind tunnel.” (like I said, I only proofread this stuff)
Apparently, the French word “impossibilité” can mean “inability / incompetence”; such as in the French to English translation project where I read “l’impossibilité du Président” in the original.
In one French to English project I read this in the original: “Un plan de réduction des nuisances sonores, olfactives et de pollution.” I believe I showed some skill translating it as “A plan for reducing noise, odours and other pollution”.
I’m going to finish this list by commenting on a number of things I read in the original texts during my translation of a number of pieces of French advertising (about various events) into English, including my translations of the same.
ONE
French: “ « Le tango c’est bien mais on sait pas les pas… » chantait Richard Gotainer en 1982 dans son célèbre tube « La Sampa ». Il ne croyait pas si bien dire.”
English: “ ‘Tango is good but people don’t know the moves…’ … this is what Richard Gotainer sang in 1982 in his famous hit ‘La Sampa’ ”… What I translated “Il ne croyait pas si bien dire” as, having considered deeply the text that just preceded it, was, “He didn’t consider the real importance of his point.”
TWO
French: “Oubliez tout ce que vous saviez sur cette célèbre danse”
English: “Forget everything you know about this famous dance”? No. “Tout ce que vous saviez” was not translated literally in this case. I knew better, hence I wrote: “Forget everything you thought you knew about this famous dance.”
THREE
French: “Le cinéaste laissait derrière lui une carrière déjà saluée par de multiples récompenses.”
English: For once, “récompenses” did not mean “compensation” or anything like that. My final translation of this was: “Even at the time, his career had received multiple awards.”
FOUR
I remember translating “Les amateurs de la nuit” as “Nightlife lovers”, rather than “Night amateurs”, which simply doesn’t make sense.
Perhaps I never properly understood the true definition of making sense until recently. You see, when you do what I do – the issues of plain, matter-of-fact language knowledge aside – by committing to writing a reliable translation of a document you are agreeing to produce a piece of writing full of sentences which, even if you indeed know them to be true (probably indisputably so), just might be “things that you write in vain”, as I like to call it. In other words, the truth is in your hands even if it isn’t in your head. I mean, I think of that scene in the film Freddy Got Fingered where Gord is first showing his drawings to the blonde-haired producer guy: he says, “this is a cat that can see through walls with his X-ray vision” and “this is a banana on a string with dripping sauce and a baboon” only to be told, rightfully so, that it doesn’t make sense. The drawings’ content is just empty: like, no person who’s a member of the audience of the would-be cartoon TV show he’s trying to get created could have any rational or logical reason to speculate what events could take place given the matter that they are presented with, and only given the matter that they are presented with. Or the associated themes and that. Chances are that they just wouldn’t (nay “couldn’t”) let their imagination roam free with it – that said, I believe that every single person, champion or loser, relentless sadist to hapless victim, those who make no secret of trying to be like Tyler Durden to those more likely to remind you of Forrest Gump, is “proud” of their imagination, no exceptions. I mean, I could tell you that I am currently wearing trainers that are white – my trainers are indeed white – but… so what? But consider this example: maybe if I told you this when I was about to go on a cross-country run in the next couple of days, it would be an empty statement but for the fact that there is this on my mind: I am wondering just how dirty they would get when I’m running through a lot of mud and stuff. If you’re the kind of person who agrees that translation can get boring after long enough even if you’re really good at it, all I’m saying is that, when you are translating, it’s easy to feel like much of what you’re writing is these “statements that are in vain”, even if that is only because you are detached from them personally and would probably be so however bright, smart, passionate or generally “good” you were / even if you were everything you’ve ever wanted to be (and possibly more). At any rate, it’s certainly worlds away from people’s love of making their communication more “colourful” in some way based on specific expressions that they use (the most obvious examples of this that I can think of lying in the realms of dialect speak, slang, swearing and idioms that must sound peculiar to foreigners).
Also, sometimes you hear or read something – or learn that thing, depending on your point of view – which can only make sense even if you’ve never heard it before, in a theoretical sense. Recently I was listening to one of Chris Cardell’s CDs in which he has a discussion with some American guy called Bill Harrison. I took notes as I listened to it attentively. One of my notes, one of the things I wrote was, “Having a book allows you to shape people’s view of your particular industry.” I’m not going to debate the importance of that fact or of knowing it – which is precisely why I wrote it down – but part of me still questioned the need to write it down because, when you think about it, it just makes sense in itself, like it’s just another “stating the obvious” comment; after all, why would anyone write these books in the first place?
On the same theme, some of the stuff I’ve been reading from Chris Cardell recently reminded me – as if I needed reminding – that sometimes the answers lie in questions. So you see, translation (certainly, professional translation) is anything but common mundane, “going through the motions” kind of work. Oh yes.
I stand by my opinion that, if this is rambling, then it’s very educated rambling with a worthy purpose. So let me end this with this: if you’ve ever “felt weak” at the end of a long day… does that or does that not mean that you’re ashamed of yourself? Or maybe you’re just a bit sad? I’m not trying to claim that I’m a psychologist but the impact of language on how people think shouldn’t be underestimated…
PS Have a nice day.
6th October 2014

WHAT CAN I SAY?
If you’ve ever believed that a willingness to be inventive is important in translation, then I am confident you will find this latest comment of mine enlightening (if you read it carefully enough).
Do you know what is meant by the phrase “Catch 22” in English? Google defines it as “a dilemma or difficult circumstance from which there is no escape because of mutually conflicting or dependent conditions.” In other words, a difficult and unfavourable situation where solutions are precluded by other difficult and unfavourable situations. I had to say it; I hope you’ll see why here.
Compare that statement to this one, which actually was born entirely of my own independent thinking: there’s probably an expression or saying in some language (present or past) which refers to a case where one mistakenly believes that they are the first to invent something; that is, when they “invented” it in their own eyes, they genuinely believed that they were the first to invent it, only the truth is that the thing has already been invented by someone else. Or maybe there’s an expression designating such a thing or such a person; who knows?
So why do I say those things? Well, I for one would certainly agree that a capacity for being inventive helps one to be confident in translating… and to produce translations which actually work and can be trusted. That said, the scenario of a translation being dismissed even though it was “correct” technically, is something I am familiar with. You could say that it is both a good thing and a shame at the same time.
At any rate, as far as I’m concerned, I have indeed proven myself as a translator – I have proven myself for my translation ability and for my writing ability in general. I’m going to start rhyming for a bit here, discussing the start of a typical day in my working life: in the morning at eight, when I’ve stirred, it’s like: I achingly yearn for nice chances to display that my work is tight. A flood of emails don’t hurt when I see some people asking me if I’m currently an available service guy, and my raging determined side helps make sure that fate won’t disturb my pride.
It’s easy for me to say that I’m proud of that rhyming there, but having said that, I must ask this: was that really me being inventive or were the rhyming statements that I came up with in that little rhyming session born of chance happening, if you know what I mean? You can decide. The truth is, I would say that it’s the latter, not least because I was originally going to write about a whole typical day in my working life, not just the beginning of one.
Yes, I have considered the need for flexible thinking and imagination in translation – and I wonder if, in general and as a rule, translators have a better idea and awareness of self-deception than those who are not translators – certainly as far as words and people’s interaction are concerned, if not anything else. In translation there is simply no substitute for familiarity with subject matter, but the same does ring true for individual expressions as well. A case in point: I was recently looking at property ads (wondering when it will be time for me to get my own place), and some of them included the statement “[a certain amount of money] per pcm”. Now… when I saw that, I… just imagined that, for those for whom the idea of getting their own place is a million miles away, when they see “pcm” they just might think, “now what the bloody hell is meant by that acronym?”, and possibly delude themselves into thinking that it is some kind of strictly industry-specific term that simply must go over the heads of themselves and everyone else just like them. Well, I won’t delay clarifying that I was capable of working out independently that what it stands for is “per calendar month”. The phrase really is that simple, and self-explanatory to anyone who would come across it.
To be truly “loyal” in translation… Paul Valery said, “Fidelity to meaning alone in translation is a kind of betrayal.” But what exactly is meant by “meaning” here, anyway?
Whereas some things seem to mean whatever we want them to mean (subjective thinking): sexy, cool, funny etc.
There is one thing that is true: when a translation is done for someone, the person that it is for either does read through it before accepting it proper or he / she does not. It is possible for a person A to ask a person B to do a translation for them even though person A has a knowledge of the language of the source text; but I can’t think of any other scenario where, after the translation is completed, person A would actually check the translation text against what is in the original, for the sake of “accuracy” or “correctness” or “clarity”… you will have noticed that the words “accuracy”, “correctness” and “clarity” are indeed in inverted commas there: it’s all about person A trying to find something – anything, which is usually most indefinite – to allay some sort of concern or concerns which is / are not necessarily based on anything real, or which they have not necessarily taken the time to substantiate.
But then, if you ask me, in an ideal world, people like to read things which sound to them like they could have been written by themselves. The closer a piece of writing is to a person’s individual idiolect, the less likely they are to argue about its content. That’s what I think. And people know subconsciously that the closer a piece of writing is to their individual idiolect, the more confident they would feel about reading it without looking lost, and about answering out-of-the-blue questions about its content, whether the answers they gave would be true or false.
Indeed, there are cases where, after a translator has finished doing a piece of work for someone, the person who it was for has the temerity to ask them if they used a machine translator to do it. I’m going to bring up a news story from The Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/oct/11/ed... and debate which phrases probably could be translated into another language reliably using just a machine translator, and which I doubt could be translated into another language reliably using just a machine translator, giving my reasons in each case.
In the first paragraph:
“Ed Miliband has moved to contain rising panic over Ukip’s growing threat to Labour by pledging a raft of hard-headed measures to ensure that migrants ‘earn the right’ to state benefits and face stiff English language tests before taking up jobs.”
I don’t agree that this could be reliably translated into another language using a machine translator alone. For example, “raft” could be translated in the sense of the wooden contraption that floats on water; a machine translator could never translate Ukip, which is of course the acronym for the UK Independence Party; and in the “state benefits” bit, the word “state” is, in this case, a noun rather than a verb but it just seems to me that a machine translator would take it as the verb “to state” rather than the noun “state” as in “country”.
Paragraph three:
“Miliband stands accused by some in his party of failing to do enough to counter Ukip and of allowing Nigel Farage to amass support in Labour heartlands as well as Tory areas by exploiting worries over immigration.”
I wouldn’t trust a machine translator alone to muster a reliable translation of this either. For one thing, the grammatical constituents of “Miliband stands accused by some in his party of failing” are enough to form a whole sentence, but then the same is true with “Miliband stands accused of failing”; “by some in his party” is just an inserted adverbial clause, and as such any machine translator asked to translate “Miliband stands accused by some in his party of failing” could end up confused by the whole thing and thereby be likely to render a translation which didn’t make sense. And I would suggest that a machine translator could only muster a literal translation of a word like “heartlands”, and would not know what was meant by “Tory” (which here is a noun, used like an adjective, which could scramble things a bit).

In the first sentence of the fourth paragraph, the entire noun element is “Concern that Ukip could wipe Labour out in many northern seats next May”. I couldn’t help noticing that the “wipe out” verb is split in that “Labour” is in between “wipe” and “out”, and that would likely prompt a machine translator to go off on a tangent if you ask me. And in the bit where it says, “after the anti-EU party failed by only 617 votes to oust Labour in its previously safe seat of Heywood and Middleton in Greater Manchester”, I couldn’t promise you that a machine translator would differentiate between “the anti-EU party failed by only 617 votes” and “the anti-EU party failed by only 617 votes to [do something]” when applying its AI for its usual purpose. I’ve also imagined that the very first word, “concern”, might – might – be taken as an imperative tense verb (or command, if you will) rather than as the noun it is by a machine translator assigned to translate this. It’s the same with the word “surges” in the first clause in paragraph six: who’s to say whether a machine translator would “take it as” a verb rather than as a noun given the other words in that clause?



I wonder… in my life I have seen sentences which look strange to say the least but they are proper sentences. Like “Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo…” and all that. Let’s read the first sentence of paragraph seven: I read, “While he claims that his core message that the economic recovery is not benefiting most people” and, after the word “people”, was inclined to view that as the end of that clause; but then I saw “has resonance” at the end of it… those two words basically forced me to revise my whole view and interpretation of that clause, and I have to admit that the grammatical rules of proper English are still adhered to in every respect.
Paragraph four ends with the clause, “with immigration a lower priority”. Just how aptly could a machine translator translate this into another language given that there is no verb for it to work with?
“Sources close to Miliband made clear that the announcements would go further than Labour’s existing plans to extend the period EU migrants must be in the UK before claiming out-of-work benefits to six months” – here the accusative noun of the verb “to extend” is “the period EU migrants must be in the UK before claiming out-of-work benefits”. This could definitely “screw with a machine translator’s mind” if you ask me.
Looking at the start of the penultimate paragraph (“In an interview with the Observer, Mark Reckless”), I think that any machine translator would make the so-called mistake of translating this guy’s surname. Also, later on in that paragraph, I think that “refused to rule out following” would be likely to confuse a machine translator. And, at the point where it says, “You should never say never in politics,” just how likely would a machine translator be to treat the second “never” as a noun?
On the other hand, I believe that this paragraph could be translated reliably using a machine translator alone:
“One key figure said: ‘We have had no real response to Ukip, who are now our main opposition in large parts of the north. We just assumed Ukip was the Tories’ problem. The worry is that it is a bush fire spreading everywhere.’ ”
All the grammatical structures here are linear, with no inserted words or phrases liable to complicate one’s understanding of one clause, followed by the next and so on. In addition…
I saw that this is the end of one paragraph: “It is expected that Labour will impose language tests on migrants to ensure those applying for public sector jobs have a level of proficiency as a condition of being taken on.” I am confident that, here, in this case, the word “to” with the verb “ensure” would be regarded by a machine translator as a preposition rather than strictly as part of “to ensure” in the infinitive, and that’s why I would trust a machine translator to translate this whole sentence reliably.
Part of paragraph four says, “senior Labour figures say the party has been caught unawares by Ukip”. I think a machine translator could be trusted to translate that reliably, as the nouns, even if they are of different cases, are not intermingled, and the same is true with verbs in this example (like, this is not the case with “The anxiety so many feel is not the fault of people in their community that are different from them.” in the last paragraph.)
Paragraph eleven is, “Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper added her voice to those calling for Labour to do more to tackle Ukip: ‘We should talk more about immigration and the things people are worried about,’ she said.” I’m confident that a machine translator would translate this well. To me a sentence’s main verb is the one of the foremost core parts of it; all the proper and actual meaning in this sentence sprouts from it. And I agree that a machine translator is much more likely to translate a sentence properly (or even properly-ish) if its main verb is, in of itself, unequivocally of a given tense and if the most important noun elements of the sentence (nominative, accusative and dative) are located as close as possible to its main verb.
15th October 2014

UNCONVENTIONAL TRANSLATION TRAINING
I know very well that I’m not the only person who’s ever rabbited on at length about how translation is not as easy as it might seem. Even for someone like me, who does it for a living, I sometimes end up in situations where I can only really lean on my own ingenuity to come up with something that will work… and however relaxed I may be feeling at the time, it is always going to be limited by my own imagination. After all, you just can’t always consider translation work done based solely on what you know (or what you think you know). And I guess I’ve always known this: indeed, from a comment dated 6th October 2014 I quote, “Let’s face it: smart translation is as much about understanding the impossible as it is about understanding the possible.”
There is a big difference between having / gaining knowledge and applying (or attempting to apply) it (and I would suggest that all of us have denied the very same at some point in our lives). Especially when what really matters is you applying knowledge other than that which, in your case, is the kind of knowledge you once had someone specifically try to teach you from the start. Learning how to learn: now that is something that is likely to change a person’s life forever, whether or not the person would change forever with it. In the case of translation, the knowledge that someone – anyone – would attempt to teach a translator in the making from the start would include knowledge of a foreign language, including vocabulary of it, its grammatical constructions and blah blah blah; then followed by discussions of what matters as far as understanding the true meaning and feel of a message in a given language is concerned. Knowledge other than that which matters for the translator would and does include – and I know I’ve said it before – awareness of subject matter, and maybe psychology when you consider the kind of response which should be triggered in readers.
Maybe a few more of these “work-related anecdotes” such as I have discussed in previous comments can be trusted to reflect this point.
In a French to English project:
In the French original: “Parce que les mots, faussement légers mais jamais dénués de sens, ont depuis toujours une importance particulière pour la chanteuse”
My English translation: “Because the words, which are misleadingly light but never meaningless, have always been of special importance to the singer”.
What I’m proud of here is how “faussement” was not translated literally as “falsely”; it was a matter of acknowledging a certain element of possibility of deception. That was why I translated that word as “misleadingly”.
In a German to English project:
In the German original: “Der Agent ist nicht verpflichtet, über den Prinzipal vermittelte Geschäfts- und Kundenkontakte anzunehmen.”
My English translation: “The Agent is not required to retain any business or customer contacts they have received from the Principal.”
In this case, “über den Prinzipal vermittelte Geschäfts- und Kundenkontakte” is the entire accusative noun element in this sentence – “über” is part of the adjectival bit and not a preposition related to the main verb (“anzunehmen”). I was glad that I caught that.
In another French to English project:
In the French original: “Pour vous, dans quelle mesure l’événement de création de moments est-il pertinent pour célébrer BEAUTYFOOD?”
My English translation: “To you, to what extent is this event that is a chance to make things happen relevant as far as celebrating BEAUTYFOOD is concerned?”
I decided against translating “moments” literally. It took me a bit of time before I decided that the best translation I could think of for “l’événement de création de moments” was “this event that is a chance to make things happen”, but I’m proud of myself for thinking of that one (however small it may seem)!
In another French to English project:
In the French original: “Sa voix grave, reconnaissable entre toutes, s’occupe de faire le reste.”
My English translation: “His deep voice, which is unmistakable, tends to do the rest.”
“reconnaissable entre toutes” translates into English literally as “recognisable among others”. I remember thinking, “There must be a better English translation expression than that”; then I came up with a phrase which I know has been used many times before: “unmistakable”. I gave myself credit for that one. Oh, and how I translated “s’occupe de faire le reste.”
In the same project:
In the French original: “Mais loin de se contenter de ce hit international, Bryan Adams est devenu au fil du temps une référence en matière de ballades rock acidulées”
My English translation: “But, far from being content with this international hit alone, over time Bryan Adams has become a benchmark for acidulated rock ballads”
Again, regarding, “se contenter de ce hit international”, I would say that I was sage not to translate literally – it’s just that, in this case, it’s was the thinking of and the insertion of an entirely new word, “alone”, that was the key factor.
In the same project:
In the French original: “Ce n’est pas tous les jours qu’on a 5 ans !”
My English translation: “You don’t become five years old every day!” as opposed to the literal translation, “You’re not five years old every day!” Even if that is undeniably true, it’s a bizarre thing to read, isn’t it?
In another French to English project:
In the French original: “L’ERP reçoit des SI métier des factures accompagnées de justificatifs qu’il enregistre.”
My English translation: “The SI companies shall send the ERP invoices accompanied by supporting documents that it has registered.”
I find that a commitment to being concise helps me to do clear translation work well and confidently, and that’s why I wrote “The SI companies shall send the ERP invoices” rather than translating “L’ERP reçoit des SI métier des factures” literally as “The ERP shall receive invoices from the SI companies” or anything very similar to that – it just doesn’t work. But more important is how I refused to translate “enregistre” in the present tense. In this sample of writing, “has registered” should be regarded as “will have registered”, which, in a context of how it is meant to be understood that the registration of supporting documents is fully expected of someone here as part of a certain process, basically amounts to the present tense in its own right.
In a more recent German to English project, I read this in the original:
“Bei erhöhten Werten erklingt ein Alarm”.
I decided against any form of literal translation revolving around “increased values”, instead writing “An alarm will sound if values are high enough” as the English translation of this.
I read this in the original in the same project:
“Luxmodo setzt europaweit auf zahlreiche Vertriebspartnerschaften, die sich auf die Distribution hochwertiger mobiler Accessoires und von Zusatzgeräten spezialisiert haben.”
My English translation of it was, “Luxmodo has landed and continues to land several marketing partnerships throughout Europe which specialise in the distribution of high quality mobile accessories and additional devices”, where I did something uncommon with the verb “setzen” in the present tense, and also decided to translate the verb “spezialisieren” in the perfect tense rather than in the perfect one, simply because it “works better”.
You know that multi-syllable rhyming I did in my last comment? And how I just had to ask whether it was me being genuinely inventive or allowing for inventiveness left to chance, as it were? From that I feel a lot more sharp when it comes to distinguishing between tasks whose success is fixed and absolute, and tasks whose success you will only know when you see it. Certain tasks of either category may well be very important, but at the end of day knowing which category a given task belongs to is just a matter of common sense, or is that just me? Either way, it can be hard to categorise which of the two translation is – maybe it depends. Some people are very strict about the use of proper terminology, for instance. But – and this is an important point – I ALWAYS make a point of allowing time for the arguments of my clients, even if I can see that they’re completely stupid, misguided and dogmatic.
Hence my interest in pondering the domain of less conventional translation training. You know, the official Gangnam Style video on Youtube exceeded 2 billion hits a long time ago, but how many non-Korean people who have seen it have ever actually bothered to seek a translation of the Korean lyrics into their own language? I would say relatively few; wouldn’t you agree? As it is, I found an English translation once, and here is a link to it (it had fewer than 650,000 views on 29th October 2014). I also point out that I have also seen a Youtube video where the original Korean lyrics are entered into Google Translate and then “sung” by it in turn thanks to the audio recognition software it has. Is it even possible to do that without the help of a native Korean speaker (and I certainly can’t write Korean using my laptop’s keyboard… if I knew the Korean alphabet, never mind the language)? Do you really think you could reproduce the original Korean version of Gangnam Style by having a translation of the song translated (back) into Korean by Google Translate and replacing individual words here and there? Do you really think using found lists of synonyms and the like alone would be enough to help you accomplish this? Do you really think that that kind of extreme patience alone would be enough, because I somehow don’t think so! After all, “languages work differently”, isn’t that right? God, I really have no idea what I’m talking about here, huh? But only in the sense that I don’t know Korean. I suppose anyone could get a dictionary listing synonyms in Korean, but I’m sure that merely learning basic Korean alone wouldn’t be enough if I wanted to get Google Translate to sing the original lyrics of Gangnam Style myself; I would need extensive examples, allowing for challenge requiring virtually unrestrained flexible thinking, condition scenario exploration and obscure paraphernalia born of imagination which is not necessarily anywhere near close to being on the same wavelength as my own mindset. Ultimately, I’m never going to pretend that there’s any such thing as a typical example of this, any more than there is a typical example of “the kind of person who’s like, ‘well, I don’t regard them as an enemy, but I wouldn’t want them for a friend either.’ ” To explore this whole idea: that is the kind of unconventional translation training that I am talking about.
But I will stand by the idea that there’s no substitute for good old education to help form a translator worth the name. You know what education is, don’t you? Yes, of course you do. But how about actually looking up the term in a dictionary? Or what if I told you that it is possible to find an authoritative-sounding definition of the term in something that is not so dry and academically constipated as a dictionary? I mean, I’m fascinated by the definition of “education” provided by the official Wikia of Sid Meier’s Civilisation V:
“Education, the concept of systematically transferring abstract knowledge to others in a process other than the objective teaching of a trade to a young apprentice, changes the way civilization treats knowledge as a whole. The utility of educating others is quickly proven as groundbreaking discoveries in all spheres follow soon after the spread of knowledge.”
I’ve never played the game myself, but I am aware that if you do play it you can get your civilisation to pursue acoustics, which is the study of sound. “The study of sound”? What do you say to a phrase like that? Actually, I can provide a response to it with some sort of coherence in it: when I was at school, I remember learning in physics that the speed of sound is something over 300 metres per second, but the thing is… as easy as it is to understand what that means, how do people find out things like that? It all goes over my head, you know? I imagine that, right now, the best you can hope for at this point is me being forthright honest and clear that I am insistently believing that this is an unusually frank admission of my own ignorance for the greater good. …Which is my point exactly! Even if I were to say, “it’s just thoughts”, thoughts can be very powerful things, isn’t that right? I mean, the Holocaust, 9/11… all the world’s major atrocities started with mere thoughts; think about it! Thus, I am proudly more open to ideas about translation training, conventional or otherwise, than most people probably couldn’t even begin to appreciate or get their head around.
If that makes me a mad translator (like a mad scientist), than brilliant, because translation is essentially all about making sense.
1st November 2014

CHECKING / PROOFING: THE ELUSIVE ARGUMENT – NEVER MIND SOLUTIONS – OF WHAT WORKS BEST
No matter how hard I try in my work as a translator, there will be times when someone finds fault with it which they expect me to be ashamed of, under the flimsiest of pretexts, it seems.
So what is the best way to do proofreading? And is it strictly the same for everyone? Or does everyone have to, somehow, find out what is best for them?
“Word for word” certainly doesn't work, but maybe I should discuss “sentence by sentence” in more detail. You can look at what you've written in your translation product first before comparing it against the original, or, conversely, you can re-read the original before gauging that against what you ended up writing. Personally, I prefer the former, but it may be argued that that doesn’t always work. It’s basically lies in what you’re encouraged to think of by what you read, and subsequently by what you think of as you look for things to connect it with (which usually happens on a subconscious level).
Where do you (or would you) “start”? What elements of the typical sentence do / would you use as your starting point(s)? Sometimes it is necessary to agree formally that a given word is this type of word category or that one (for me, at least). And sometimes it's comforting for me to agree that a bit which constitutes a whole sentence is but part of a bigger sentence. Or I may use certain types of clause in a sentence as a starting point as I am checking that sentence.
But terms can be a real bugger. Sometimes I'm familiar with the “standard” meaning of a given word (which is often “what my teacher said” years ago) but it stands for something else when used in a given example – the word is used in a way only a native speaker would be likely to acknowledge, never mind use; and when I fail to acknowledge it simply because I can't, I get treated like I'm guilty of ignorance and the client may demand a fee deduction. Or they may get upset because I failed to translate something as one given thing and that thing only. Nouns (and not just noun permutations of verbs) can have synonyms – or disputed synonyms – not just adjectives and verbs; but there is no single type of, say, string (guitar strings vs. ball of string) or code (entry code vs. warrior code vs. Enigma machine code); and the common word used in another language for a word you would always use readily in your own language... their “default label” may not be the same in both languages! Common short phrases I'm not familiar with e.g. “Paris en toutes lettres” for “Paris in full”; which is not like “It's raining cats and dogs.” In this way you don't always write 100% self-corroborative text when you think you do. “Pouch” is like a pocket, but I always thought pouches were found on animals until that German press release on leather products I did for someone on 6th November 2014.
Of course, it’s not just terms as stand-alone items as such. Perhaps predictably, I include below a number of work-related anecdotes from various translation projects I have done recently, which might help to illustrate the true scope of it all:
French original: “dommage que le store ne soit pas aussi bien fourni que celui des Android”
English translation: “It's a shame that the store is not as easily accessible as that of Android”
Here, I chose not to translate “aussi bien fourni” literally i.e. “it’s a shame that the store is not as well provided”
German original: “Zudem ist auch der beste Standard nicht in Stein gemeisselt.”
English translation: “In addition, even the best standard is by no means set in stone”
…not “also” the best standard.
French original: “Très facile à prendre en main en venant d un univers ios”
English translation: “Very easy to hold - and this is coming from someone who normally uses IoS”
It refers to a phone, and people can appreciate a new phone if it’s “easier to hold”; but it in retrospect it was probably more like “very easy to use”.
French original: “Jazz, tango, pop ou même musique électronique, Paolo Conte ne s’est jamais fixé aucune limite.”
English translation: “Whether it’s jazz, tango, pop or even electronic music, Paolo Conte has never had any fixed limits.”
Another case where I was quick to decide against any kind of “close” i.e. more literal translation; for “Paolo Conte ne s’est jamais fixé aucune limite” translated into English literally is like, “Paolo Conte has never set himself any limit(s).”
French original: “La Révolution est dans l’assiette”
English translation: “The Révolution is close at hand”
“La Révolution est dans l’assiette” is just another common popular phrase with a set meaning which I had never heard up until then – and one which I knew better than to translate literally; i.e. not “The Revolution is in the plate!”
German original: “Insbesondere in Europa lösten sie eine Korrektur der wirtschaftlichen Erwartungen aus”
English translation: “In Europe in particular, they forced people to revise their economic expectations.”
…as opposed to “they triggered a correction of [existing] economic expectations.” Even if that’s a correct statement, it’s just too literal, you know?
German original: “Sollte das ausgefüllte Fehlerformular dem Repair-Kit nicht beiliegen oder unvollständig sein”
English translation: “If the error form is not included in the repair kit or if it is not filled in completely”
I was compelled to show acuity in how I translated this, for a literal translation actually sounds properly errant: “If the filled-in error form should not be included in the repair kit or be incomplete…”
German original: “Die Werkzeugmaschinen der Zukunft differenzieren sich dabei über innovative Steuerungstechnologie mit höchstem Bedienkomfort”
English translation: “The machine tools of the future differentiate themselves via innovative control technology with the highest user convenience.”
There’s a reason why I translated “Bedienkomfort” as “user convenience” and not “user comfort”
French original: “Parallèlement à la compétition, les 50 000 visiteurs attendus auront l’occasion de voir s’illustrer des amateurs et des célébrités lors du Prestige Trophy (CSI 2) et de l’Invitational Trophy (CSI 1) qui se disputeront tout au long du week-end.”
English translation: “50,000 visitors are expected, and in addition to the competition they will be able to see amateurs and celebrities doing their thing during the Prestige Trophy (CSI 2) and the Invitational Trophy (CSI 1) – they will be competing throughout the weekend.”
That was the phrasing I used in my English translation of that; not anything like, “In parallel with the competition, the expected 50,000 visitors will be able to see amateurs and celebrities showing themselves during the Prestige Trophy (CSI 2) and the Invitational Trophy (CSI 1) – they will be disputing throughout the weekend.”
French original: “Raed Bawayah : empreintes de passage”
English translation: “Raed Bawayah: footprints of journeys”
I looked for a different angle in my translation of “empreintes” and “passage”, not just as individual words by themselves, but as how they were used together in a three-word saying. “Passage prints” sounds beyond commonly strange or obscure, after all.
French original: “Ce soir, toute nostalgie de 2014 sera proscrite”
English translation: “This evening, all nostalgia of 2014 shall be banished as a matter of principle.”
Regarding “proscribed” as an unwieldy term in the English translation of this French phrase – especially given its context where it’s not actually a case of a rule that is to be obeyed – I decided that I just had to look for a completely new term. Then I decided that some whole multi-word phrase of my own creation would be more appropriate, and “all nostalgia of 2014 shall be banished as a matter of principle” is what I went with at the end of the day.
French original: “Le présent document est établi électroniquement et est muni d’une signature électronique avancée pa le gestionnaire du registre de commerce”
English translation: “This document was drafted electronically and it comes with an advance electronic signature apposed by the manager of the trade register”
This one really frustrated me. I remember finding it hard to be sure whether “avancée” was meant to be “advance”, “advanced” or “apposed”, but the headline just above it went “Document muni d’une signature électronique avancée” (which I translated as “Document with an advance electronic signature”).
How close to incomprehensible could you be while remaining (easily enough) comprehensible (without sounding stupid, innit)? And how would you do this? “Foreigner's talk of your own language”, maybe?...
24th November 2014

TRANSLATION ERROR: UNDERSTANDING YOUR OWN MISUNDERSTANDINGS INDEPENDENTLY
I’ll begin this comment by making what I regard as a long overdue point. I’m sure there are loads of pursuits / interests / “things” where your success in them is almost exclusively determined by what you remember or can remember. And after you’ve been engaging in them long enough you start to develop more, more clear impressions about what you really “should” be remembering compared to what you remember which is superfluous but which nevertheless helps you personally and drives you – it may well be things you knowingly consider yourself lucky enough to remember. Now, as important as the role of remembering things usually is in translation, sometimes only the translator’s own judgement and innovation can be enough to provide them with any sort of confidence – is it so hard to believe? Why do you think so many people have said that translation is not just about replacing words with words and all the rest of it, after all? And why do you think that it’s so easy to find people on translation forums who say that passion is important in translation (certainly professional translation, at any rate)?
The role of translation is essentially one of making something clear to someone else… and being willing to be the first one to guide them when something needs clarifying. I would even suggest that everyone should consider the importance of learning how to make points in a lucid enough way where they are not hopelessly dependent on examples (which may well be likely to be examples that are strictly from one’s own personal experience) if they are going to be understood and taken seriously (maybe this is why the Spartans were so keen on teaching their children how to speak laconically). This is why I say that, on the basis of that: when you can’t help but question your own decisions during translation work, I would equate it to teaching something that you know to be unverified but you’re just not certain that asking questions would help. At the end of the day, it’s all up to you.
I believe that it’s easy enough to understand that, in translation, just because a translation of something might be grammatically correct in every respect and articulate and everything, doesn’t mean that it’s proper for actual, real-world consumption or use by real people you don’t necessarily know (or indeed will ever know) and whose judgements you can’t always hope to speak for or claim to understand. So the question here is: when you’re doing translation work and someone makes a mistake claim which you would love to label as too obscure or flippant but or afraid to, how can you be sure of understanding your own misunderstandings… without someone else’s help?
I make a point of clarifying what I’m talking about even to the more lazy minds reading this. Ergo: some machine translation tools are better than others, while some are more likely than others to take written material in a source language and to produce incomprehensible gibberish in the target language “out of it”. I find that this is especially likely if the original material has a lot of punctuation in it, for example. And lots of people know (at least in theory) that “languages don’t always work the same”. But I find that Google Translate can be trusted to produce a reliable translation of even certain kinds of relatively long sentences – certainly the one “Love is the only thing that never gets easier the more you do it” – in just about any language.
I may be a translator, whose purpose is essentially to make proper, lucid written sense of things for others, but I believe that everyone has things that they want people to understand without having to explain it – even if they COULD put it into understandable language to begin with. This is the spice of culture – this is but a reminder that culture does matter when it comes to getting translations of things correct. After all, is it really that hard to believe that people can easily enter into animated discussion about what does work as the correct translation of something and what doesn’t? I would suggest that these work-related anecdotes I keep posting illustrate it well – here is the latest batch in this comment:
French original: “Type Pandrol ou équivalent en substance”
English translation: “Type Pandrol or close equivalent”
I understood the proper gist of “équivalent en substance” to be “substantially equivalent” in English.
When a noun in a foreign language which is a tangible object is used for a noun which is a concept in English (compare “calendrier” in French with “calendar” and “schedule” in English)
In a German to English project I did, I saw the word, “Federkabeltrommel” in the original, and eventually came to understand that “Trommel” meant “reel” rather than “drum”. Not a musical instrument drum, necessarily – but “Trommel” essentially means like “some sort of solid cylinder device” even if you have to find something out yourself.
It is important to know when “Lieferzeit” in German means “delivery period” and when it means “delivery time” – certainly when you’re translating something like a contractual agreement.
French original: “les artistes se produiront à travers la France”
English translation: “the artists will be performing throughout France”
To me it’s not likely that many people whose mother tongue is not French would have thought of the correct translation of “se produiront” – “will be performing” straight away. But I knew that it couldn’t have been, “The artists will be producing themselves throughout France!” That would just have been not just literal translation on my part, but shamefully ignorant and careless literal translation. But I know better than that!
French original: “Pour se mêler à la course au titre, ils devront se montrer intraitables devant leur antre du Stade de France.”
English translation: “To have a chance winning the title, they will indeed have to stand firm on their home ground at the Stade de France.”
That is my English translation; for allowing a literal translation would have yielded something like, “To integrate themselves in the race to the title, they will have to put on an intractable image at their home ground at the Stade de France.”
I saw this in the original of a German-to-English translation project: “Fahren am Arbeitsplatz”, translating it as “Driving at Work” (rather than “Driving at the workplace”) in the English version. But it wouldn’t have been likely that I would have thought of the more appropriate “driving at work” had I not already seen it translated into English in the original!
German original: “Wir kümmern uns um die Begleitung, Bewachung und Übergabe Ihrer Fracht an den Empfänger”
English translation: “We take care of the monitoring and surveillance of your cargo and its delivery to the consignee”.
Here, “Begleitung” is better translated as “monitoring” rather than “accompaniment” of something.
But the project that is most in my mind as far as this is concerned is a German to English one in which it was said that I mistranslated “Pauschalspesen” as “allowance expenses” when it should have been “fixed expenses”, along with a few other small things. Like I told them: “ ‘fixed expenses’ was too elusive - I thought ‘allowance expenses’ was a well-informed answer even if it wasn't correct.”
21st December 2014

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