The Untranslatables

No, it’s not another film about a family of superheroes or a documentary following members of society who lack certain skills… The Untranslatables is a non-exhaustive list I have started, comprising words or phrases that are not easily rendered in another language. Interestingly, it is these that punctuate the days of a translation project manager with the most tears and the most laughs… Read more

Hillary Clinton Translation

Clinton in Translation Faux Pas

Sergei Lavrov had a laugh at Hilary Clinton on Friday when she gave him a small token gift.

Hilary Clinton the US Secretary of State met with Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov to discuss how the US and Russia can ‘reset’ relations.

Mrs Clinton handed Sergi Lavrov a small box which had a button inside, this was a token gift to represent the ‘resetting’ of relations between the two countries. The button had the word ‘reset’ printed on it and a Russian translation was printed underneath.

As reporters watched Clinton assured Lavrov that her staff had worked hard to get the translation right. Unfortunately it was wrong, Lavrov smiled as he pointed this out to the US Secretary of State.

The Americans had chosen the Russian word ‘peregruzka’ which means ‘overloaded’ or ‘overcharged’ rather than ‘reset’.

Despite some embarrassment the two of them laughed it off in front of the media. They both pushed the button together to signify their shared hopes for a better relationship in the future.

Later that day at a news conference the two of them joked together about the mistake.

The BBC reported Lavrov as saying through his interpreter, “We have reached an agreement on how ‘reset’ is spelled in both Russian and English – we have no more differences between us.”

Mrs Clinton managed to turn her mistake around in her speech saying, “we are resetting, and because we are resetting, the minister and I have an ‘overload’ of work.

Perhaps Hilary Clinton’s staff should have looked into proofreading. Once a translation has been done the proofreader will check that both the translation and the context are correct.

It seems the light hearted gift didn’t do the relationship any harm and hopefully any future translations by the US government will be checked.

Rosetta Stone

Unlocking the Meaning of an Ancient Hieroglyphic Script

Translating ancient scripts is difficult, especially when the civilization they belonged to is long gone.

We lucked out with the ancient Egyptians when we found the Rosetta Stone, which had the same passage translated into three different scripts: Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, demotic Egyptian and classical Greek. Since linguists could read classical Greek, they were able to use this knowledge to understand the hieroglyphic script on the stone.

However, there is no similar artefact available for ancient scripts such as the hieroglyphics used by the Indus Valley civilization. These people lived approximately 4,000 years ago, along what it now the Indian-Pakistani border. They were very technologically advanced for that time, living in cities equipped with the first known urban sanitation systems in the world.

They were also excellent traders who developed an extremely accurate, standardized system of weights and measures. But could they write? Many of their artefacts are decorated with symbols, but nobody knows what these symbols mean. In fact, some researchers doubt that they even represent a written language at all.

So, researchers at the University of Washington have teamed up with researchers from India to try to translate the script using computers. The computer program looks at existing examples of the script and tries to perceive patterns in the order of the symbols.

Using a statistical method called the Markov model; the program has been able to demonstrate that the placement of symbols follows a logical pattern, supporting the theory that they represent a language. As one of the researchers noted in the article referenced above, “The finding that the Indus script may have been versatile enough to represent different subject matter in West Asia is provocative. This finding is hard to reconcile with the claim that the script merely represents religious or political symbols.”

Message in a bottle

Message in a bottle

A French love letter was found near Falmouth, Cornwall last week.

The beer bottle was found by Martin Leslie, a coastguard manager, and his family as they walked on Praa Sands, near Falmouth.

The bottle was poking out of the sand; its top was sealed with red candle wax. Inside was a three A4 pages handwritten in French and dated September 28th.

Mr Leslie had a go at translating the letter using the internet but could only decipher words relating to love, death and missing someone.

He assumed that the letter must be a suicide note and handed the letter to Falmouth Coastguards to pass onto their counterparts in France.

According to the Telegraph Mr Leslie said the woman said she and her lover shared magical moments together but that she understood that he had to return to his wife. She finished by saying she hoped to find another man like him with whom she could live a beautiful life.

The letter said ”These magic moments are pure secret. The secret of life and pleasure without limits. In twenty years, it will still be here, the previous moments of happiness, when life will get dreary, we will be able to tap into these memories to remember what it is to live again.”

Mr Leslie plans to keep hold of the letter which is unsigned and has no contact address on it.

Preparing Copy for Translation

A good quality translation is dependant on the original copy. With this in mind we have prepared a list of tips to help you to create copy which will be easier to translate.

Limit the use of Idioms

An idiom is a term or phrase whose meaning cannot be determined literally from the dictionary definition of its words. Idioms are often ingrained in a culture and considered humorous to people outside, just think of a few idioms and analyse what they are actually saying. For instance, terms such as raining cats and dogs, kicking the bucket and a rising tide lifts all boats are idioms.

They make sense to an English speaker but people outside of this culture would have little chance of understanding the true meaning in which this copy was intended.

Some idioms can be translated, although usually not directly — for example, ‘raining cats and dogs’ in English can be translated to il pleut des cordes in French (it’s raining ropes), or llover a cántaros (raining jars) in Spanish.

Humour Doesn’t Translate

Humour can be difficult to translate as it often depends on the country (or even group of people) that the ‘joke’ is intended for in order to make it funny. Even countries that share a common language such as the UK and US have very different styles of humour.

If humour is to be used or a particular approach we recommend that we re-write (transcreate) the copy for each market region (as opposed to translate it) as regions around the world have very different attitudes to humour — especially in a corporate setting!

Provide the Original Brief

To help to understand better what the thought process was in creating the original copy we ask if the original brief or instructions can be supplied with the source text. Context is invaluable in when translating any document.

Be Ready for Questions

After receipt of the source text we may want to speak to the team that created the original copy.

This helps us to understand exactly the background and meaning of the text which in turn helps us to serve you better. Our project managers and translators may also suggest alternatives for specific markets (cultural differences which must be taken into account). For instance, some phrases in the source text might sound offensive if translated into foreign languages.

Supply Past Articles

We can (and will) use any past documents that have been translated for your company before as reference material.

These can be extremely valuable for our translators: they can use them to better understand your style of writing and reproduce it in their translations, vastly improving the consistency of your published material. Read more

Translated Yiddish Cookbook Offers a Peek into the Past

Everything old is new again.” It may be a cliché, but a new translation of an old Yiddish cookbook from 1914 proves that it’s the truth. More than a cookbook, the volume also provides a healthy dose of dietary advice that’s striking in how “modern” it sounds.

When Bacha Weingrod received an old copy of the “Dos Familien Kokh-Bookh” as a housewarming present, she knew immediately that she had something special on her hands. In an interview with, she explains:

“It was like going back to my roots. I did not have to go Russia to the small village where my mother was from. I just opened the book and it was somehow there.” Read more

iPhone App Helps Troops

When it comes to Afghanistan, winning the all-important “battle of hearts of minds” has proven to be quite difficult…especially when soldiers don’t speak the language. Now, a new, free iPhone app is available to help soldiers learn Dari, one of the local languages. The app, TripLingoDari, was recently profiled on

Dari, the Afghan dialect of Persian, is spoken by about half of the country’s inhabitants. Being able to speak it, even with a limited vocabulary, is a huge advantage for NATO soldiers. Lt. David Duffus of the 1st Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland told CNN that the app has been a big help: “It helps break the ice with the locals… I can talk directly to the soldiers without needing an interpreter and when we are under fire that can save lives — ours and theirs.” Read more

Where to get free foreign language fonts

Foreign language support is required for any kind of digital translation, for both individuals and business e.g. foreign artwork design, websites & document translation. Due to the prevalence of translated material, numerous varieties of fonts have been designed over the years to support the needs of foreign communication.

Certain languages use very different character sets that will not be supported by most of the traditional English or Latin based fonts. Before searching for or downloading a new font, first check if one is already available on your system for the language you require. Sometimes the font you require might be stored on your operating system’s installation disc or just requires activation via the settings on your computer. The more recent the operating system, the more likely it will have extended support for a wider variety of languages.

If you are still unable to find a suitable font for the language you are working with, these websites have a good selection that incorporate support for almost all major languages. They can be accessed for free via the following links:

Once you have downloaded a font, simply drag and drop them into your system’s font folder. The font will then be installed into your system ready to use.

In most cases languages using Latin based alphabets can be used in virtually any computer application, without requiring any added features or facilities. When working with fonts for languages that use non-Latin or extended Latin based alphabets however, you may require additional software and keyboard layouts to properly make use of them and ensure they display correctly.

Due to the limited number of font styles or typefaces available for certain languages, you may have to visit a number of sites to seek out one that fits your requirements. The sites provided should be viewed as a starting point as you will find that certain styles or font families are only available commercially.

US Healthcare Website Lost in Translation?

Spanish is the second most commonly spoken language in the United States, so the US government has made a concerted effort to include Spanish speakers in the roll-out of the country’s new healthcare laws. However, their outreach efforts have come under criticism a number of times.  The most recent example is, the Spanish-language version of, an official website where Americans can view and purchase insurance plans available under the Affordable Care Act.

According to a recent Associated Press Story, the website was full of translation errors. The AP called the translation “Spanglish” and said  “the translations were so clunky and full of grammatical mistakes that critics say they must have been computer-generated — the name of the site itself can literally be read “for the caution of health.” Read more

Why Translation is Important In A World Where English is Everywhere

In a world where English is everywhere, is translation still important? Is it even necessary?

English is the third most widely-spoken language in terms of native speakers, of which it has at least 330 million. But if you count the people who speak it as a second language, it’s the most popular language in the world. So, why is translation so important? Here are 5 reasons why translation is important and will remain so, despite the growing ubiquity of English.

Translation is Important Because Not Everyone Speaks English

Sure, English is the most commonly spoken language. But that doesn’t mean you can overlook all the people who don’t speak it! Even England is home to significant populations of foreign and minority language speakers. 

And just because a person can speak some English, that doesn’t mean they can speak it well enough to cope in all situations. For example, a 2012 survey from the European Commission found that only a quarter of Europeans were able to understand English well enough to follow an English-language news broadcast. Holding a basic conversation is one thing. Easy and effective communication is another.

Translation is Important Because People Prefer Their Native Language

English is the most-widely spoken language. But, that’s only if you take second-language speakers into account. And therein lies the rub.  Almost without exception, people respond better to the language they grew up speaking.

To effectively sell to people, it’s not enough to speak a language that they understand (especially if their understanding is limited). You must speak to them in the language their heart speaks.

Dale Carnegie may have been right when he said “a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” But the next sweetest sound is their native language. Babies as young as 5 months old have been shown to recognize and prefer it.

Adults prefer it, too. A study from Common Sense Advisory found that  75% of customers  “prefer to buy products in their native language.” And a study from  Indian market research company JuxtConsult  found that “almost three-quarters [of Indian consumers] prefer and seek out content in their first languages.” Read more