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

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No Tricks, Just Treats, Please!

Communication is only effective if it is clear. If your thorough translator identifies any tricky bits in your text, such as ambiguities due to vague words, confused syntax or erroneous punctuation, they will send you a list of sentences and clauses to clarify. And that’s good news: it shows that they are keen to get it right.

It is therefore worth spending time questioning your own text before publishing it or Continue reading

How to be a VIC (II): Does Your Text Make Sense?

This second post on how to be a VIC (very important client) addresses the quality of your texts. Vague (generic words, clichés, lengthy sentences) or poorly written (incorrect grammar/punctuation, etc.) documents are confusing and hair-pulling sessions slow your translator down. We love our work and we do like a challenge, but we’re not so keen on headaches. Painful translations do not get priority.

If no one Continue reading

Translating with Design in Mind: the Space Challenge

When working on texts destined to be published in a strongly visual context (e.g. website, magazine, brochure, illustrated book, etc.), one of the challenges is space. Because the same story in two different languages will always result in two different lengths, the layout, font size, and other visual parameters need to be adjusted significantly.

English is concise, flexible and snappy. So much can be said with so little. In comparison, 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

Less is More in Translation Too

Look up a word in the dictionary: depending on what you mean, you have various possible definitions. This is true for most words in all languages, and a sentence or a short paragraph is not necessarily enough to clarify what the exact meaning of a word is. This is why context is so important for translation: it is about meaning (in context) rather than words (in isolation). As a result, the shorter the text, the more time it is likely to take, proportionally speaking, and it is therefore vital that you Continue reading

OFF TOPIC: The Mad Linguist’s New Year’s Resolution

I don’t normally make New Year’s resolutions. Far from being due to a lack of assiduity, this is because I cannot wait for the first day of the year to get started with a great idea. This year, however, I am making an exception – well, with an early cheat in December maybe…

Being a bit of a language fanatic and an unabashed yoga addict, I have decided to Continue reading

The Dark Side of Translation

Translators usually work anonymously, in the shadows. We receive a text in one language, we send back the same story in another language, and no one out there ever knows who did it, like a dark secret kept between us and the client, our partner in crime. In history, the dark art of translation has sometimes proved as dangerous as alchemy and witchcraft.

In the 14th century, William Tyndale translated the Bible from Latin into English so that even “the boy who ploughs the field” could Continue reading