Translating Chinese Whispers

We all know the hackneyed expression “lost in translation”. Yet, some seem to expect translation to work like an exact science.

I was recently working on an exhibition catalogue and one of the texts, written by a German artist, had been translated into English for me to translate into French. Not having been offered to see the German text, and my German being limited anyway, I had to Continue reading

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Translation May Not Be What You Need

Just like being able to speak English is not enough to be the next Oscar Wilde, not every job that involves a foreign language can be allocated to a translator. There are times when a translator is the wrong person for the job.

To come up with a snappy slogan or a memorable acronym, you have probably delegated the task to a skilled person within your marketing department or even hired a professional copywriter. Many translators can Continue reading

Trust Me, I’m a Linguist

Each language has its own logic, sets of rules and exquisite weirdnesses. If something looks strange to you in the translation, it may be due to such idiosyncrasies rather than a translator’s mistake.

For example, in French there is a hard space in front of certain items of punctuation such as question and exclamation marks, colons and semicolons, and quotation marks. Also note that the latter Continue reading

That Doesn’t Break Three Legs to a Duck

If you hire an amateur “translator” who speaks French like a Spanish cow, your audience could feel like a hen that has found a knife, leaving you in the cabbages while the crook runs away in the English fashion.

Puzzled?

Idioms make languages colourful and interesting. When using them, we don’t think about what they say literally but non-native speakers hearing them for the first time will Continue reading

Translation or Localisation?

An agency once sent a translation with some complaints from the client to me by accident. The problematic translation was a Belgian French version of a text that I had translated for them into French French. The agency had commissioned two translators to work on the same text into two different variants of French. While adapting the text to each country is sensible, translating the text twice into very similar variants of the same language is not the most cost-effective way to do it. Continue reading

Keeping Up With Languages

After much thinking, deliberating, hesitating and mmm-ing, I have decided to stop offering translation from Spanish.

People who do not speak a second language struggle to understand that the knowledge of a language is not for life. Languages are living things. If you don’t look after them, they will wither away and die from your memory. Even your mother tongue can Continue reading