Plural patterns

Plural patterns

piggy In English, we say 1 pig, 2 pigs, 3 pigs and so on.

So, does it follow that in another language it should be
1 [insert translated word for pig], 2 [insert translated plural of pig], 3 [same again] and so on?


Earlier this month we worked on a project for one of our clients, a customer review network, which reinforced the fact that plural usage can vary greatly between languages. For this particular project, the translation source text included two snippets of text, one of which had a variable:
1 review
Showing {{number}} reviews

As the translation was into 27 languages, we saw many different patterns. We found this really interesting, and wanted to share them with you.


Is it a pain parisien or a baguette?

tesco bread

Using little-known foreign words in advertising can make a product appeal to a certain clientele who understands the word or at least associates it with a particular culture. It can distinguish the brand as global and trend-setting.

Languages incorporate ‘foreign words’ all the time. At first, the use of a new word may be only between speakers of the source language who know the word, but at some point they begin to use the word with those to whom the word was not previously known. To these speakers the word may sound ‘foreign’. At this stage, when most speakers do not know the word and if they hear it think it is from another language, the word can be called a foreign word. There are many foreign words and phrases used in English such as bon vivant (French) and Schadenfreude (German), as well as many types of foreign food, such as pain parisien (French).


Will 2015 be the Year of Instant Translation?

Back in November 2014, Skype launched a preview of Skype Translator, which will aim to provide real-time translation of conversations in over 40 languages. Hot on its heels, Google has now updated its own app to include an instant interpreting function using voice recognition, as well as an impressive translation feature which utilises a phone’s camera to automatically translate text viewed through the lens.

Long gone are the days of trying to decipher the unusual looking dishes on foreign menus – now all you have to do is hover your phone above the page and receive an instant translation. Here at Web-Translations, we’ve given the app a quick road test using three major tourist preoccupations: warning signs, tourist information and those all important menus. Take a look at how we got on below. (more…)

Moghrey mie

Not quite sure how to pronounce that? Well, then you must not be one of the 1,823 people with some knowledge of Manx Gaelic. (Figure according to the 2011 census)

With only a few hundred competent speakers in the Isle of Man, the Manx Heritage Foundation, along with other groups, is trying to increase the number of Manx Gaelic speakers. As part of the plan to celebrate the island’s year of culture, residents are being encourage learn 1,000 Manx Gaelic words in 2014.

By learning 20 words every week for 12 months, people will have a vocabulary of over 1,000 words. Manx Language Officer, Adrian Cain, said “A thousand words is enough to have some basic conversational knowledge of the Manx Gaelic language.” This is true of other languages as well, so if Manx Gaelic isn’t your language of choice, pick another one and get learning!

Here are a few Manx Gaelic basics to get you started:
moghrey mie (good morning) fastyr mie (good afternoon) oie vie (good night)

Happy European Day of Languages!

Did you know that English pigs and German pigs speak the same language?  But not cows, as German cows say "muh"

Did you know that English pigs and German pigs speak the same language? But not cows; German cows say “muh”

Can you speak fluent Pig Latin? It’s not one of the 200+ European languages celebrated today as part of the European Union’s “European Day of Languages”, but it does work well as a secret language. This is especially true in Britain, where it doesn’t seem as popular as in America. So, if you don’t speak Icelandic or Esperanto, I’d recommend brushing up on your Ig-pay Atin-lay for top-secret conversations.


Untranslatable words

untranslatable-words   Image credit: Ella Frances Sanders, Maptia

Can a cow be a box?

I don’t think a cow can be a box, but I recently spotted a child’s toy that did describe a cow as a box:


The toy is a shape-sorter in the form of a cow, and is described in French as a ‘boîte à formes’, which is translated as ‘sorting box’ in English on the packaging. In French, ‘boîte’ means a rigid container, among other things. (For a complete list, try However in English, ‘box’ means a rigid rectangular container. A cow is definitely not rectangular, and I wouldn’t call a cow a ‘box’! Perhaps it could have been better described as ‘shape-sorter’.

I imagine that the French text for this packaging was included in a long list of product names and descriptions, and that the translator did not have access to images, and so chose the most logical translation of ‘boîte à formes’. Unfortunately it was not the best option, in my opinion. Perhaps if the translator had been provided with images, they would have translated it differently.

If Jeremy Clarkson says it, it must be true…

Jeremy Clarkson often comes across as arrogant and opinionated, so although I usually disagree with him and his attempts to turn cars into spacecraft and otherwise waste my TV license fee, I will have to admit that I agree with him about one thing…

“When I see a sign advertising CD’s and DVD’s, I become so angry that my teeth start to fall out”

– Jeremy Clarkson as quoted in Monday’s Metro

However, I’m not sure whether overuse of the apostrophe is actually worse than eliminating them altogether, which is what the Mid Devon District Council did earlier this month when it officially banned them from street names. Also, the current BBC drama Prisoners’ Wives is correctly listed as such on the iPlayer, but when you watch the opening credits, the apostrophe disappears! Tsk tsk.

As a Project Manager, I have often found that translators whose native language is not English are excellent grammarians and do a fabulous job of spotting errant apostrophes (and other mistakes) in English texts. Perhaps we can hire translators to teach English in our schools, to work for the BBC, and to work for our councils!

It’s all about the grammar…

If you haven’t seen the latest BBC drama Restless, then turn away now! Or better yet, catch it on iPlayer. Not only was it partly set in my hometown of Las Cruces, New Mexico, but it was full of period costumes from the 40s and 60s, with plenty of spies popping out from behind trees.

The turning point of episode two centred on a German map which the main character, a British spy, was supposed to pass on to an another spy while in Las Cruces. She was only supposed to obtain the map and pass it on. However, she decided to look over the map and noticed that the German text had grammatical and spelling errors. This set off a whole chain of events and she nearly ended up beng killed.


More mince pies, please!

How many mince pies can Santa eat before he gets frozen by an evil snowflake? The more he eats, the fatter he gets, so the harder it is to escape from the snowflakes! Only carrots offer the weight loss solution that poor old Santa is looking for…

Click on the image below to play. Good luck and Happy Holidays from Web-Translations!


Major Chinese Newspaper Fluffs Satire Translation

If ever there was an example to illustrate the need for professional translation, it was this; major Chinese newspaper The People’s Daily have taken an article by the Onion as fact and consequently declared North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un the Sexiest Man Alive, utilising the American satire website’s description of the, ahem, “great man”:


“With his devastatingly handsome, round face, his boyish charm, and his strong, sturdy frame, this Pyongyang-bred heartthrob is every woman’s dream come true. Blessed with an air of power that masks an unmistakable cute, cuddly side, Kim made this newspaper’s editorial board swoon with his impeccable fashion sense, chic short hairstyle, and, of course, that famous smile.”


Chinese New Year 2012: Enter the Dragon

This Chinese New Year, beginning on 23rd January, marks the beginning of the year of the Dragon.

The Chinese zodiac consists of 12 animals: Dragon, Horse, Monkey, Rat, Boar, Rabbit, Dog, Rooster, Ox, Tiger, Snake, and Ram; last year’s Rabbit, representing calm and tranquility makes way for the Dragon, bringing with it excitement, unpredictability, exhilaration and intensity.

The year of the Dragon is all about drama, and if the last few weeks in the build up to the Chinese New Year transition are anything to go by, then we are set for a lot of upheaval this year!

Dragon years are believed to be lucky for those starting a business or beginning a new project of any sort, because money is easier to come by for everyone, whether it’s earned, borrowed, or comes in the form of a windfall. Consequently Chinese astrology predicts that we can expect the economic downturn to improve slightly in the coming year.

Here’s hoping!

Siri for the Apple iPhone 4S – Talking out of a Japanese butt?

The launch of Siri, the “Intelligent Personal Assistant” for the iPhone 4S, has been greeted with all the hype you’d expect from Apple’s latest development. What is more surprising is the faux pas that Apple has managed to commit in naming this new app.

“Siri” sounds similar to the Japanese word for buttocks (“shiri”), perhaps this helps to explain some of the ‘attitude’ that comes from it…

What’s more, it has come to our attention that Siri also means “penis” in Georgian! While this may not be one of the countries Apple intends to target with this new app, it’s quite an oversight to make.

What is incredible is that a multi-national corporation like Apple, established in over 90 countries worldwide, and that spends billions of dollars in product development every year, chose to cut corners on something so important as international branding. It’s a shame no-one offers a service to check brand names for their suitability in an international market…oh, wait a minute….

Siri is currently available in 14 languages, including Japanese – let’s hope they didn’t use the same provider for the app localisation as they did for the brand name!

On a serious note, this episode just goes to show that even the most experienced corporates don’t always get it right. Learn from Apple’s embarassing lesson and research your brand names before you launch your company or product internationally – Apple have built a reputation that allows them to call their products names that may sound silly at first, but in the long run they tend to get away with it (remember the comparisons that were made between the iPad and feminine hygiene products?). Unfortunately, most companies are not so lucky.

If you need help with your international online product launch, or iPhone app, please contact us: sales[at]web-translations[dot]co[dot]uk, T: +44 (0) 113 8150460.

A name of two halves? Not in Brazil…

It’s difficult to argue that football is not a truly international sport. The conventions used around the world to name players, however, vary widely, and serve as a useful reminder that you can’t directly translate one word into its foreign equivalent. Different cultures express things in different ways – in fact they often express subtly different things full stop. In trying to explain the differences we come across a number of the social, cultural and economic factors that influence language.

When I was at primary school there was a persistent belief in the playground that Brazilian footballers only had one name. I understand where it came from – some of the greats have been known by one word: Pelé, Zico, Ronaldinho (Ronaldinho Gaúcho in Brazil). (more…)

Counting the cost of bad spelling and grammar

Your about to by somthing from an online store. The product looks great, the price is good, but somthing is definately wrong…

Before you post a comment to correct my spelling, the mistakes above are intentional. But the BBC reports that Charles Duncombe, a successful British e-commerce entrepreneur, reckons errors like these this could be cutting business’s sales revenue in half.

Admittedly, this was not a large scale study with academically rigorous data but the results are emphatic. Duncombe measured revenue on his site and found that after a prominent spelling mistake was corrected, it doubled.


Does the way you speak affect your compatibility with your partner?

Recent research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, suggests that couples who speak in a similar way are more suited to each other than those who don’t. (more…)

Is the Government right to consider removing a foreign language from the curriculum?

As schools contemplate the removal of a second language from the national curriculum, the fast approaching Olympic Games should actually be reminding us of the importance of languages.

The government’s decision to include French as a core language at the Games demonstrates the significance of languages and communication in today’s society.

With every word spoken at the games repeated in French, Great Britain will seem diverse, cultured, and prepared for the international visitors who have arrived on our doorstep to watch the games. Can we say the same about our school pupils, however? (more…)

Mr Prawo Jazdy

You would think that, with all the resources they have at their disposal, the police in Ireland would be able to translate text in the blink of an eye, to ensure no embarrassing mistakes are made. It would seem, however, that such mistakes are not always avoided…

Back in 2007, police in Ireland took note of over 50 people with the name “Prawo Jazdy”. A popular name in Ireland? A common name among Poles who have emigrated to Ireland? Or, alternatively, the Polish translation of “driving licence”?

It is, of course, the latter. “Prawo Jazdy” was originally believe to be the name of one person who had repeatedly committed offences, until it became clear that the same name had been used on numerous occasions in order to refer to a number of different people. As a result, the police system contained over 50 people with the name “Prawo Jazdy”. Finally, upon investigating this seemingly unlikely occurrence, police discovered that this is actually the Polish for “driving licence”.

Whilst this mishap may have occurred a few years ago, it is a story that we can all learn a valuable lesson from – translation is vital!

Endangered language at risk of extinction

A language that has been spoken for centuries in modern-day Mexico is at risk of extinction as only two elderly people can speak it fluently – and they’re not talking to each other! Ayapaneco is the official name of this language, but is known as Nuumte Oote (The True Voice) by the two remaining speakers.

In the 20th century, there were a number of decades during which the use of indigenous languages was prohibited, and Spanish became the language of education. Following urbanisation and migration in the second half of the century, the close-knit group that had used the language gradually dispersed, and as a result, fewer and fewer people spoke the language. (more…)

We won the Pub Quiz!

The Web-Translations team were the proud winners of the first “Peak of the Week” pub quiz held at The Midnight Bell in Holbeck on Wednesday.

It was a really fun night, with a choice of delicious curries and free poppadums on offer – what more could we have asked for? We’ll definitely be going back to see if we can retain the champions title!

Check out our prize – we would have saved it to share with the boss, but hey…we were thirsty after all that hard work! Sorry Dan, you’ll have to help us to victory next time…

What makes so good?

Founded in 1999, is perhaps the internet’s leading online multilingual dictionary. It will be familiar to anyone who uses more than one language, from schoolchildren to professional translators. It offers dictionaries in English, Spanish, French and Portuguese, as well as Arabic, Japanese, German, Polish, Russian, Greek, Chinese and more. But what makes it so great? (more…)

Wensleydale: A Yorkshire institution

The Wensleydale Creamery in Yorkshire is one step closer to realising their goal of achieving Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) for their cheese, according to an article in the Yorkshire Post.  This would provide the Yorkshire cheese with the same protection as products such as Parma Ham and Melton Mowbray Pork Pies, ensuring that no other cheese makers could use the name ‘Real Yorkshire Wensleydale’.

The original recipe, now over 800 years old, is still used in the production of the cheese. As the managing director of the Wensleydale Creamery, David Hartley, commented: ‘Applying for PGI status will protect the integrity and provenance of our cheese and elevate it above and differentiate it from manufacturers outside the region.’ (more…)

Harry Potter and the 64 Translations

With J. K. Rowling’s final instalment of the Harry Potter books coming out in cinemas soon, a blog post about how other countries have learnt about this brilliant saga is long overdue! The best selling series of books has been translated into at least 64 different languages, including Latin and Ancient Greek.

With so many new and invented words, translators had a hard time making the book as magical for their own nation as it has been for us!

Lord Voldemort, meaning ‘flight of death’ in French, has been difficult to translate as his real name – Tom Marvolo Riddle – forms an anagram of ‘I am Lord Voldemort’. This means his name had to change with the language.

In Icelandic, he is called Trevor Delgome; he became Tom Gus Mervolo Dolder in Swedish which is an anagram of ‘ego sum Lord Voldemort’ – that’s Latin, not Swedish! And my personal favourite is the French, where He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named goes by the name of Tom Elvis Jedusor.

Many of the spells in the books come from Latin words, and usually we British can get the basic gist of them. For example, from the word Expelliarmus we could take out the words ‘expel’ and ‘armed’ or ‘armour’ to figure out that this spell disarms somebody.

However, for languages that don’t stem from Latin, other methods were used to create the same effect. In the Hindi version, translators used words that derived from Sanskrit to invent the spells.

As well as the authorised translations, other illegal, amateur translations have been made – in China in particular. Among these was a version completely different to the genuine books. It was called Harry Potter and Leopard Walk up to Dragon. In this book, Harry becomes a fat, hairy dwarf, is stripped of all his magical powers and is made to fight a dragon that embodies all the world’s evil!

Maybe we should just stick to the films for now…

Guest article by Annie Smith.

Foreign Phrases in Everyday Use

Some people might think that learning a foreign language is too difficult, but if you take a closer look at the English language itself you’ll find tons of words and phrases from other countries already exist in our everyday speech!

Here in Britain, we have foreign phrases left, right and centre! We experience déjà vu; we make a bona fide offer and we order food à la carte.

An apprentice could be called a protégé; Shrove Tuesday is otherwise known as Mardi Gras and eating outside is dining al fresco.

You could describe something on trend as à la mode or use the same phrase to ask for ice cream with your food.

If we want to share with somebody, we might say ‘mi casa es su casa’; many of us live in a cul de sac and a social blunder is known as a faux pas.

In France on the other hand, the Academie Français is against their language being anglicised, however a couple of English words have managed to sneak in such as ‘weekend’ and ‘wagon’ (the letter ‘w’ doesn’t really exist in French – ‘west’ translates to ‘ouest’).

And in Spanish, some English words have broken into their language but the sounds and spellings have been changed. Examples are the verb ‘to photocopy’ – fotocopiar, ‘football’ – fútbol and ‘shampoo’ – champú (the word ‘shampoo’ actually originates from Hindi).

This sharing of languages could be due to people from different countries travelling a great deal more than they have ever done before or possibly the increase in business links between countries. Adopting phrases from other countries is just something that is bound to happen eventually, so learning a language maybe isn’t as hard as we originally thought – we know plenty of foreign words already!

Guest article by Annie Smith.

More goals than you can shake a spear at! Actually, no…

International sporting events always generate lots of opportunities for work in all sectors, from supply of equipment to provision of accommodation and entertainment during any competition or tournament. There are usually plenty of opportunities for language service providers too, but this year’s World Cup in South Africa has created more work than ever in this arena…sadly none for Web-Translations. Oh well, maybe next time…

Written translations are needed for not only the 11 official South African languages, but then of course the 22 standard official languages of the 31 nations whose teams have qualified, before even taking into account regional variations of some of these, such as Brazilian Portuguese, Swiss German or Mexican Spanish.

In addition to this, there have been other barriers besides language to overcome. This is almost certainly the first World Cup where regulations have prohibited not only motorcycle helmets and umbrellas inside the stadium, but also Zulu spears and shields!

We look forward to an exciting, multinational and multilingual competition. Good luck everyone!

Or should I say: Geluk!

Web-Translations voted top language blog for second year running

We did it again! Thanks to your eager voting, we were ranked in the Top 100 Language Blogs this year for the second year running!

See the full list

Thanks to all of you who voted for us, we really appreciate your support!

Top 100 Language Blogs 2010

Are Chinese people forgetting how to write?

When foreigners learn Chinese, they often struggle getting to grips with writing the characters. There are around 50,000 characters in modern written Chinese, but in order to be considered literate, an adult needs to know only 3,000-4,000 (a 1,000-2,000 character vocabulary would allow you to comfortably read a Chinese newspaper).

However, more and more Chinese citizens feel they are losing the ability to write by hand, and many are signing up for exams to try and combat this.

The HSK (Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi – literally Mandarin level exam) test was originally aimed at foreigners learning Chinese, but was introduced for Chinese nationals in several cities and provinces in 2007. Because so many people use computers in their work and hardly ever pick up a pen, their written literacy skills are in decline – this is true all over the world, not just in China.

When typing Chinese characters rather than writing them by hand, a person types the sound of the character (a bit like spelling a word out) then the computer suggests possible characters for that sound from which they choose the appropriate one:

It’s a bit like multiple choice, whereas if you were writing the same word by hand, you would have to think of the character yourself.

The Shanghai Language Commission conducted a survey among university students, which found that while many know what the characters should look like, they are unable to handwrite them.

A very similar thing is happening with English usage online – setting aside the international variations in spelling, we are seeing more and more instances of incorrect spelling in all types of published text. People just aren’t sure how words should be written anymore, and the auto-correct spelling functions built in to computers can often send us down the wrong path.
Perhaps the future will see more relaxed rules around spelling – take this example which has been doing the rounds on email and social networking sites over the last couple of years:
Arocdnicg to rsceearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer are in the rghit pcale. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit pobelrm. Tihs is buseace the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.
Are grammar and spelling still as important as they once were? What is your first thought when you see a typo or spelling mistake? Is handwriting becoming a dying art?
Let us know what you think.

Anyone for a glass of kalimotxo and a pintxo?

The Basque language, known to natives as Euskera, is the only language isolate in Western Europe, meaning that it is the only existing language that has no known living ‘relatives’: it is unique!  Linguists and historians alike have attempted to discover a link between Basque and other languages, but, despite trying to connect it to languages such as Egyptian, as well as languages of Asia and North America, no connection has been found.

The ancestral form of Basque was introduced into Western Europe several thousand years ago, whereas the majority of the languages spoken today arrived much later.  The first written records of the Basque language can be traced back to the first century BC.

Basque has been a co-official language in the three Basque regions of Vizcaya, Alava and Guipuzcoa since 1979.  However, it has no official status in France.  In 2006, it was recorded that Basque was spoken by just over 1 million people from the south-western French town of Bayonne to the Spanish city Bilbao, stretching from the coast and reaching 30 miles inland.


Where to Find Free Foreign Language Lessons Online

If you are interested in learning a new language or improving your existing skills, there are many free online resources that can help. A number of schools, including MIT, Carnegie Mellon, and Utah State University, have begun to offer free foreign language courses online. Free lessons can also be found through the BBC and the many foreign language learning networks that have cropped up on the web. This article provides a list of 15 places to find free foreign language lessons online:

Massachusetts Institute of Technology – The Massachusetts Institute of Technology offers over 60 courses in foreign languages and literature. Users can find courses in Spanish, Chinese, Spanish, German, and Japanese.

The Open University – The Open University’s modern language unit features courses for Spanish, German, English, and French. Courses are available for beginner, intermediate, and advanced level language learners.

Utah State University – Utah State University offers several free online courses in languages, philosophy, and speech communication. Two courses that are particularly popular are the Chinese I and Chinese II language courses.


Online Purchases Increase Across Europe

As e-tailers prepare for another record Christmas period they should consider the changing trends in consumer confidence across Europe for new opportunities. Consumers are buying more frequently in every country in Europe, but as the pace of growth slows in the UK and competition stiffens, smart businesses will look to serve multilingual markets where consumerism grows faster and is less competitive.


Learn a foreign language and save money!

Perhaps it’s not the number one reason to study a foreign language, but speaking another language can save you money!  You’re less likely to be swindled on holiday if you can communicate using the local lingo, of course, but even at home, knowledge of a foreign language can save you a few pennies.  In my case, a 25% discount totaling more than a few pennies!

I recently visited a popular chain restaurant and found a typo on their menu – the name of a French cheese was spelt incorrectly.   I thought it was worth mentioning on a comment card, and was completely shocked to receive a nice letter and discount voucher a week later!   Learning foreign food names definitely pays off, so keep studying, kids!

Celebrity linguists – setting the example

Of the UK’s richest under 30s, at least half (53 %) count languages among their skills, according to research, while only 14 % say they speak no foreign language at all.

According to MP Phil Willis “The lack of linguists in our society severely disadvantages us as a nation.”

As any Careers Advisor can tell you, the ability to speak another language is not only useful, it might be essential for a particular career path, or just might be the string to a candidate’s bow that makes them stand out from other applicants for a job.

With many young people answering “I want to be famous” to the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, who among their role models are setting an example to youngsters that learning languages is a good idea?


A travelling Spanish translator

This – the second guest posting on our company blog – comes from Spanish translator Carlos Montilla. Unsurprisingly, given the subject of his post, tourism is one of his specialisms but here he recounts a tale from his recent trip to Peru in near native English: cheers Carlos!

Spanish from Peru

Puno is a city in south Peru located on the shore of Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable lake. Puno’s access to the lake is surrounded by some 40 man-made floating islands inhabited by the Uros people. The Uros people live on these islands and depend on the lake and tourism for their survival. We took a boat with members of a Chivay Cultural Association and their families and disembarked at one of the islands, where part of the Uros community welcomed us.


Captcha – 50 Cent’s latest hit

Have you heard 50 Cent’s latest track? It’s called ‘Captcha’ and it’s about what happens if the police find you.

April Fools! Captcha (Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart) is based on the word “capture”, and although it does sound like it could be on a rap album, a ‘captcha’ is most often a set of squiggly letters you have to type in a box to prove to a machine that you are not a machine. Half of the time I get them wrong, which is why I was really intrigued when I found a few on the net recently that did not involve distorted or twisted letters.

Here are 2 to test your French: (answers hidden in glossary under Captcha)

When adding a comment to a blog, I found a captcha which asked “What city does David live in?” The answer was included in the blog title, so it took non-artificial intelligence to figure it out, but it didn’t involve straining my eyes to figure out if something was a lower case “L” or a “1″. If you know of any fun captchas, please share!

Hillary…we can help!


Oh dear, who did that translation for you, Hillary? Next time, give us a call!

If you haven’t seen the latest US foreign relations gaffe on the news, have a look at youtube – it really is quite funny! Hillary Clinton, in an attempt to improve US/Russian relations, had a meeting with the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, and presented him with a gift in front of a room full of reporters. The red button on a black and yellow base was supposed to say ‘reset’ in English and Russian, and was intended to be symbolic of Russia and the US restarting their relationship.

Clinton: “We worked hard to get the right Russian word. Do you think we got it?”

Lavrov: “You got it wrong; this says ‘peregruzka,’ which means overcharged.”


The banned apostrophe

News reaches me that Birmingham City Council has taken the decision to ban all possessive apostrophes from road signs. The move is intended to sort the matter out once and for all following decades of debate across the city.

Birmingham started to drop the use of apostrophes from road signs in the 1950s so that signs in areas such as King’s Norton (or should that be Kings’ Norton?) actually read ‘Kings Norton’. Despite years of calls to have the signs replaced, the council has said not only will it not replace them; it will continue the practice of dropping the apostrophe from all future signs as well. It justifies its decision on the basis of cost, consistency and the fact that council staff spend too much time dealing with complaints about grammar.

The Apostrophe Protection Society (yes, you read correctly) has taken a rather dim view of the announcement, criticising the Council of ‘dumbing down’. And I have to say I quite agree.

So while the apostrophe debates may rage on, they will be utterly pointless in Birmingham at least.

Ban on English words

Linguists around the world have nominated words which they would like to see banned as part of a survey by an American University.

Words and phrases mooted for removal from our lexicon include ‘bailout, going green, friendly fire, brainstorming’ and ‘dude’ (a personal favourite, as it happens).

I agree with ‘going green’ but principally because of how terms such as that one, and others like ‘carbon footprint’ or ‘credit crunch,’ become buzz words. Flashed around by people who don’t really care for the semantics of the word, but rather seek adoration for banding around trendy phonetics.


Can Europe laugh at itself?

A new art installation unveiled at the European Council building in Brussels has angered several EU members with its attack of national stereotypes.

The work – entitled “Entropa: Stereotypes are Barriers to be Demolished” – depicts Bulgaria as a toilet, Romania as a Dracula theme park and France as a country on strike.

The Czech Republic government thought it had commissioned work from 27 artists from all over Europe to mark the start of its 6-month EU Presidency, but it turned out to have been entirely the work of enfant terrible of the Czech art scene David Cerny, and two of his fellow artists.


Mistranslations – English in other countries

It’s a favourite cautionary tale among translation professionals: Make sure your translations are accurate or you and your product could become a laughing stock. The first step in achieving this is to use a native speaker – a golden rule that should never be broken.

Here are a few examples (many of which you may have seen before – but the old ones are often the best) of mistranslations into English – a language I would hate to have to learn as a foreign language myself, as there are so many exceptions to rules and slight nuances as the following will demonstrate:

“We take your bags and send them in all directions” – Airline Ticket Office, Copenhagen                (Never a truer word said!)


Toujours Tingo – words that don’t exist in English

Toujours Tingo, by  Adam Jacot de Boinod is a collection of words and phrases from over 300 foreign languages for which there is no direct counterpart in English.

The “tingo” in the title is an Easter Island word, which means to borrow objects from a friend’s house one by one until there are none left.

Some of my favourite examples from Adam’s collection are the German ones: “Tantenverführer” – a young man with suspiciously good manners, literally, an aunt seducer; and “Trennungsagentur” – someone hired by a woman to tell her boyfriend he has been dumped.

One word that may not have a British English equivalent is “Layogenic” – Filipino for someone good-looking from afar but ugly up close, but there is an American slang expression for this that is certainly used in California: “A full-on Monet” (as used by Alicia Silverstone’s character Cher in the film Clueless.)


Top Gear: Morse Code Translation

Those of you who watch Top Gear will be familiar with the section of the show which sees an anonymous chap in a white overall drag a range of cars around the test track in as fast a time as possible. Whilst doing so, he often has music (think Baroque) or language learning courses (Greek recently) playing in whatever high horse powered beast happens to be at his mercy that week.

The last few shows, however, have had the – now cult – figure listening to Morse Code. And yes, we have a translation of it…


More fun with accents!

Even though it’s been a few years since I first had this emailed to me, it still makes me chuckle! For those of you that have ever travelled to Asia, you will certainly identify with it! It’s a transcript of a supposed telephone exchange between a guest and room service in an Asian hotel. Read it out loud for full effect. Whether true or not, it’ll certainly put a smile on your face!

Tenjewberrymuds for reading…..


Most translated document?

Yesterday, it was 60 years since the Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations’ General Assembly (that makes the year 1948, just in case you’re in the throws of a mid-week lull and can’t do the maths).

Clearly, that was as great a day for humanity as the day a certain snake tricked poor Eve into eating an apple wasn’t. But it was also the beginning of a long story for the translation industry. The Guiness Book of Records claims said document is the most translated text in the world – available at last count in 337 languages. (This sparked debate in the office as the Holy Bible, as commented on recently by me, is available in over 2000 languages: something must exclude it from the running – probably its confabulated nature.) Many of those languages are ones we, as a translation agency, have never even heard of – Huasteco, anyone? (spoken in Mexico) – and include even the synthetic language, Esperanto.


Expensive translation mistake for Science journal

Max Planck Institute Science journal mistakenly uses flyer for Macau brothel to illustrate report on China…

The respected research institute wanted beautiful and elegant Chinese classical texts to adorn its journal, which included a special report on China. Little did they know that the text they had chosen was from a saucy flyer promoting strippers and other features of a brothel!

To Western eyes, Chinese characters look dramatic and beautiful, and have a powerful visual impact, but be careful that you know what they say before you print or publish whatever you are using them for!


What’s wrong with Swedish actors?!?

I was looking forward to the new BBC series with Kenneth Branagh playing a detective, Wallander. The trailers seemed good, so I made sure to plonk myself in front of the TV last night at precisely 9pm. The information button said that it was about a Swedish detective, so I assumed it was set in England with Branagh playing a Swedish person living in England. Swedish people generally have fantastic American and British accents (it seems they can choose which type they study at school), so the absence of a Swedish accent from Branagh didn’t strike me as odd. I did start to get really confused when after Branagh’s character was speaking about his father, some Swedish person died (a flag and a TV programme were the clues he was Swedish), so I assumed it was his father who died. It eventually dawned on me when the “Polis” showed up, that this was another horrible example of a show set in a foreign country where everyone speaks English!

Too many official languages?

In this country, despite our multicultural make up, we have only one Official Language for our 60 or so million inhabitants. That language is, unless you’re from Barnsley, English. The minority languages recognized on these shores are Welsh, Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Lowland Scots and Cornish and rather suprisingly do not include any Asian languages, despite a long history of immigrants from that area.


Howdy, y’all

I used to volunteer at Oxfam, back in the days when I had spare time. And at Oxfam, you meet all sorts of random characters: students, OAPs, antique hunters, book collectors, people on a budget and people trying to save things from the landfill. With all of these different personalities coming together for the Great Bargain Quest, you are bound to hear some rather interesting opinions… Once, while I was ringing up a man’s purchase, he commented: “why is it that Americans and Australians are the only ones who come to the UK, but never try to speak like the British?”

It seemed to me that he thought British English was superior to my American English, and that Americans/Australians should try a bit harder to assimilate. I really didn’t know what to say to that! I think I managed some random explanation about how people who come to the UK from non-English speaking countries use British English as their model, but I was a native English speaker, so why should I try to say tom-ah-to instead of tom-ay-to?


Road Sign that was ‘Out of Office’

Motorists in Swansea had to do a double take this week when a Welsh road sign told them: “I am not in the office at the moment. Please send any work to be translated”.

Unaware of the real meaning, Council officials had the Welsh text printed on the road sign under the original English, which cautions: “No entry for heavy goods vehicles. Residential site only.”

The blunder happened when the council emailed its in-house team for a translation, as all road signs in Wales have to be bilingual, only to receive a Welsh reply which they failed to realise was an automated out of office notification. They only became aware of their rather embarrassing mistake when Welsh-speakers pointed it out.

The moral of this tale; always get your translations checked by a native speaker….

BP means brain power, not British Petroleum

This post doesn’t strictly relate to translation, rather just words themselves in whatever beautiful language they may be – or not, as is in fact the case in this post – either way, do read on…

Reading is a multi cognitive process that has us decoding symbols in order to derive meaning. Once the retina recognises a set of symbols, the primary visual cortex processes them and then Wernicke’s area interprets them.

Convention has us arrange the symbols in a certain way and deviation from that pattern is discouraged. This is in order to maintain understandability across generations and to aid the formation of new words acording to the rules already in place.


Foreign quotes…

The greatest – and I do mean greatest – quote by any non native in a second language has to be that belonging to US President, J. F. Kennedy. On June 26th 1963 he declared ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’. Here comes the shocking part: he did not categorise himself as a jelly filled doughnut in saying those words, as the whole world, it seems, thinks he did.

In fact, according to the nuances of German, his translation of ‘I am a person of Berlin’ was perfect, as should any translation be. And that includes the punctuation, and brings me nicely to the topic of this entry: foreign quotation marks.


A whole new meaning to "green fingers"

Talking plants are no longer the works of fantasy or science fiction – a far cry from the intimidating Audrey II of The Little Shop of Horrors, and its sinister appetite, a plant in a Japanese cafe has become the world’s first non-human blogger, claim scientists.

Japanese IT company KAYAC Co., Ltd. has developed a sophisticated botanical interface system that allows plants to post their “thoughts” or impulses online.

Satoshi Kuribayashi, who is part of the project at Keio University, says that the aim of the project is to study ways of communicating with plants, and reveal something about their internal world:


Fun with foreign accents…

A brief, Friday morning, tea-break surfing session when you live approximately 60 miles from any sea means only one thing: I’ve been trawling the ‘net.

Fishing and sea puns aside, I’ve just stumbled over a very fun site – Language Trainers Group – and, although they don’t sell Portuguese speaking Pumas, nor Norwegian-tongued Nikes as the name suggests, they have an enjoyable game hidden amongst their pages.

All you do is watch the video clips of non native English speakers reciting lines from poems, then guess which country they are from based on their strangely accented twangs. If you are right, you get a chance to guess which city they are from, too, which is a lot harder in most cases.

A colleague and I got just over 50% correct, stumbling embarrassingly short of the bottom rung of the High Score ladder…how will you do?

Translation facts and funnies

So, I’ve decided to start a new series of posts, and I do so for two reasons. One: in an attempt to supply you with some humour/work-evading ammo’, and two: to distract me from more menial tasks such as editing metadata for an incalculable number of our own web pages.

Humour or no humour, being really optimistic would be to believe that, one day, one of the facts penned here may win you a pub quiz tie-breaker or something. Anyway, let us begin…


There are 2286 languages in the world which have neither a translated version of the Bible, nor a project in place to begin translation. This represents 196M people.


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