Dogs in Translation

In the Northern Hemisphere, the hot, lazy “dog days” of summer are at an end.  In recent years, the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy and New Zealand have marked the occasion by celebrating “National Dog Day.” National Dog Day is a holiday to celebrate all things canine, as well as to bring attention to the many dogs waiting for homes in shelters and rescues.

In honor of  National Dog Day, we’ve put together this collection of interesting translations and  facts about mankind’s oldest and most loyal companion.

How to Say “Dog” in 15 Different Languages

Spanish: Perro

Portuguese: cão

Italian: cane

Irish: Madra

Welsh: Ci Read more

Translating the Food Information Regulation Direction

Translating the Food Information Regulation Direction

By December 2014, consumers will see a huge shift in the way their food packaging is presented and therefore how food packaging is translated. One of the latest EU directives, the Food Information Regulation (FIR) to be precise, aims to tackle rising obesity numbers by abolishing confusing and inconsistent labels and adopt a unified system that makes it simple to read just what is in packaged foods.

Obesity is becoming a big issue in Europe, with the World Health Organisation’s figures weighing in half the population as overweight, and up to 23% as obese. In the UK alone, the numbers of obesity have doubled from 1993, putting 24% of men and 26% of women in the UK in the obese category according to the Health and Social Care Centre.

With expanding waistlines being blamed on eating too much of the wrong foods, FIR aims to set up strict guidelines about how companies choose to display their ingredients and content breakdowns. The purpose of this is to make it easier for consumers to read the carbohydrate, salt and fat breakdowns, as well as to highlight allergens, so that they can make more informed choices about the food they put into their trolley. Read more

British Holidays Lost in Translation

Another day, another study highlighting Britain’s national lack of foreign language skills. This time, it’s new research from the British Council . According to the survey (the results of which should surprise absolutely no one), too many British holidays abroad are lost in translation.

Some interesting statistics:

  • 78% of British people described themselves as unable to “speak a foreign language to a high standard.”
  • 40% have been embarrassed while on holiday due to their inability to communicate.
  • 22% have been ripped off.
  • A whopping 18% of those polled had eaten unknown food items while on holiday because they could not read the menu.

So, if you don’t speak the language, how do you communicate with the locals? A slight majority of those surveyed, 53%, just point to what they want. There’s a chance you could come across as rude, but at least it gets the point across. However, 17% of respondents actually admitted to speaking English in a fake foreign accent. Read more

A Translation Experiment

Translators are supposed to hew as closely to the original text as possible. But often, there is not one “perfect translation” that captures both the feel and the meaning of the original. Even the most conscientious translator has to make choices.

How do those choices change the meaning? That’s the question author and editor Adam Thirlwell tries to answer in his new book, Multiples: 12 Stories in 18 Languages by 61 Authors.

Thirlwell starts by taking 12 stories written in languages from across the globe. He has them translated into another language, and then back to English.  Then that translation is translated again, and so on, to end up with between four to six translations of each story.

The result is a book that the Guardian’s Daniel Hahn calls “big, preposterously ambitious and pleasingly silly. But meaningful, too, if you look closely enough. The devil, as every translator knows, is in the details.”

As the stories go from one language to another and back again, details both big and small are changed. Settings move in time and space. For example, Hahn describes the evolution of a story in Arabic by Lebanese writer Youssef Habchi El-Achkar:

“A Lebanese story by Youssef Habchi El-Achkar features a setting rendered by Rawi Hage as a “coffee shop”. Tristan Garcia’s French translation calls it “le café” – not quite the same thing. In English, under Joe Dunthorne, this becomes a “cafe-bar”. In Francesco Pacifico’s Italian, next, “il bar“. So we’re now, apparently, in a bar. And it’s in London. Which is absolutely not where we started.”

It’s worth noting that not all of the writers involved in this project were highly skilled in the languages they were supposed to translate. Also, they weren’t all conscientious- some of them played fast and loose with the original text on purpose.

According to the Guardian’s Lucian Robinson, the most successful translations in the collection were the ones that stayed faithful to the original source material, providing an important lesson for translators:

Multiples shows us that the most innovative translations are still crafted rather than invented from scratch.”


Learning a New Language? Sing Along!

Are you looking for a way to get an edge on your foreign language studies? New research from the University of Edinburg suggests that, as with many of life’s challenges, music is the answer.

In the study, groups of test subjects were introduced to a selection of words and short phrases in Hungarian, which was chosen because it is so different from English and from Romance languages like French and Spanish. Some groups  simply repeated the phrases back, some repeated them back “rhythmically” without singing (imagine a bunch of Scottish students “rapping” in Hungarian!) while others sang them. Later, they were tested on their knowledge of the phrases. The group that sang knocked the other groups out of the water on four out of five of the tests. Read more

What is the World’s Weirdest Language?

What is the world’s weirdest language? And what makes a language “weird,” anyway? Every language has its own quirks that might seem “weird” to people who didn’t grow up speaking it. Idilon, a company that uses natural language processing to build computer programs for businesses, recently analyzed 239 languages using data from the World Atlas of Language Structures to determine which ones were the most unusual.

To determine what makes a language “weird,” they compared 165 different linguistic features like how sentences are structured, where subjects, verbs and objects are placed in relation to each other, and how questions are handled. By comparing hundreds of different languages with each other instead of with English, they were able to come up with a “weirdness index” that is fairly objective. So, which one is weirdest? Read more

Translating for Tesco

Translating for Tesco

This is Agnieszka. It was her first full day at Tesco yesterday.


Its her job to oversee all of the client communication between K International and Tesco. No small feat as we help over a dozen different departments within Tesco to translate their documentation, packaging, websites and whatever else they need. Its all managed by our online translation management engine TrackLingua (and obviously Agnieszka and her team).

There are lots of translation projects at the moment. One of the key ones we’re preparing for is the integration of the new Food Information Regulation (FIR) guidelines into our translation memories. This will help us to translate the food packaging for Tesco and align it with the FIR guidelines well before the 2014 deadline. We’ve actually been working on this behind the scenes for the last few months to stress test our systems and make sure the additional translation resources were online. Pleased to say that it will and we’re ready. Read more

Does the German Language Sound Angry?

Just like different types of music, each language has its own distinctive sound. French, often described as the “language of love,” could be compared to a soft, seductive ballad. English might be a radio-friendly pop song. But what about German? By reputation at least, the mother tongue of Bach, Beethoven and Goethe is the death metal of languages. Non-German speakers often describe it as “harsh,” “angry” and “guttural.”

This reputation is used to hilariously good effect in the videos below, which translate the same word into multiple languages, ending with German:

Read more

Rainbow Bridge, Tokyo

Travel Photography: A simple guide for the social media crowd

Most people take a camera with them on their travels, whether it’s a phone, a compact or a full blown DSLR. Travel photography is now easily accessible to the wide majority, even if just to relive a few memories or to make your Facebook contacts jealous. Read more

Swearing: It’s a Cultural Thing

Most languages have a set of words that you really shouldn’t say…unless you intend to cause offence, that is. In English, George Carlin’s famous “Seven Dirty Words” skit comes to mind. When communicating across cultures, you might think that it would be easy enough to keep it clean- just don’t use the equivalents of those “dirty words,” right?

You would be wrong. Different cultures have different values and taboos, and that means they swear differently, too. Read more

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