Refugees, Lost in Translation

The refugees fleeing the turmoil in the Middle East lack a lot of things, even basic necessities. One vital, often overlooked unmet need is access to translation help. Without it, refugees and migrants can’t communicate effectively with authorities and aid workers. The resulting communication barriers are further inflaming an already tense situation.

For example, in this article from 09 September, Hungarian police try to control a crowd of desperate refugees, but there is only one interpreter available in the entire train station:

“Police officers, in one horizontal line, rushed toward the crowd of refugees, blocking them from getting through. In broken English, the Hungarian officers tried to get the refugees to “stop” and “back up.” Confused and unable to fully understand the English, the refugees began to yell back in frustration. Children sitting on their fathers’ shoulders cried. Mothers holding newborn babies shrieked.”

Imagine how much more smoothly that scene could have played out if the police and the refugees could understand each other. At every step of their journey, refugees need translation assistance. Here’s how people around the world are helping to provide it. Read more

Idioms from around the world

Idioms of the World

This article, written by Sam Brown, originally appears on the Comtec translation blog. Used with the author’s consent.

Foreign idioms are always a source of trouble, and sometimes hilarity, when trying to translate them. Every translator knows this but it was the post by Matt Lindley for Hotel Club that really got the team at Comtec thinking. After reading his piece we discussed the funniest foreign phrases we could think of and came up with the following 10 which we love. Read more

Legal Translation: 4 Times It Changed History

Legal translation is one of the most difficult forms of translation. The stakes are high, as money , lives and freedom hang in the balance. It requires absolute familiarity with both everyday language and legal jargon in both languages, and it’s essential to get it right the first time. For perspective, here are four times legal translation (or the lack thereof) has helped shape history.

Guantanamo Bay


Since 2002, the United States has detained 779 men as terrorists in the prison in Guantanamo Bay. They weren’t all terrorists, though. As many as 80 percent were handed over to the US by Afghan and Pakistani authorities, often in exchange for bounties. When it came time to interrogate them, interpretation was sometimes lacking.

In the case of Emad Hassan, over a decade of his life may have been lost in translation. Newsweek reports:

 “Eventually, Hassan found himself in front of the young American in what he later learned was the U.S. military prison in Kandahar. Confused and afraid, his lawyers say, Hassan decided it was best to continue telling the truth. “Yes,” Hassan said, according to his lawyers, he had a connection to Al-Qaeda. He waited for the next question, but the soldier and the translator seemed satisfied. The interrogation was over. What was lost in translation, Hassan’s lawyers say: The soldier thought he was talking about Al-Qaeda, the deadly terrorist group. Hassan was actually referring to Al-Qa’idah, a village 115 miles from where he grew up in Yemen.”

Read more

How to Get International Expansion Right

How to Get International Expansion Right: Advice from 7 Entrepreneurs & Experts

Once you’ve established a successful business, it’s natural to want to expand into different markets. Particularly as nearly all of the world’s biggest companies – from Tesco to Google – operate on an international scale.

However, much the same as setting up a business in the first place, successfully targeting international audiences is far from easy. From local customs and colloquialisms to superstitions and humour, every region is entirely unique, making a ‘one size fits’ all approach sure to fail. Read more

How Five Ancient Languages Were Translated

How do you translate a language when nobody is alive who speaks it? So much of what we know about ancient cultures comes from the writings they left behind. But how are ancient languages translated? Here’s how archaeologists and linguists deciphered five ancient languages.

Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphics

Rosetta Stone

Rosetta Stone

For more than a thousand years,  historians puzzled over the hieroglyphs of ancient Egypt. What did they mean? Nobody knew, but plenty of people were willing to guess. They were mostly wrong. For example, the Hieroglyphica of Horapollo provided incorrect explanations for 200 glyphs. For 2o0 years after it was published, scholars took it as truth. They also believed its main premise, that the hieroglyphs were a purely symbolic language.  We now know that each symbol can represent a sound, a concept or an idea, depending on context.

Then, in 1799, one of Napoleon’s soldiers found a stone with inscriptions on it while repairing Fort Julien near Rosetta in Egypt. The stone, used as fill when the fort was being built, contained the same inscription in three different languages: Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, demotic Egyptian and ancient Greek. Read more


What is Legal Translation?

The term legal translation refers to the translation of any text used within the legal system. As documents used for legal purposes are generally required to be submitted in the official language of a relevant jurisdiction the term can encompass a wide variety of texts including, but not limited to, witness statements, legal rulings and precedents, filed patents, transcripts, official reports, financial documents and identity documentation. A wide variety of other sources of information can also be subject to legal translation depending on their contextualised relationship to legal proceedings. For example the Will and testament of an expatriate may be subject to translation into the language of the jurisdiction in which they have died in order for a probate lawyer to begin the process of executing the instructions contained therein. Generally legal translation services are only undertaken by those with specialist knowledge as mistranslations, especially of contracts, can carry significant financial and legal consequences.

The means of regulating legal translators vary from country to country. In many countries specific degrees are offered in Legal and Business Translation. Some states (such as Argentina and Brazil) require the use of state-certified public translators whilst a majority of states, including Spain, Sweden and The Netherlands stipulate that legal translators swear legal oaths and are centrally regulated and examined in order to ensure proficiency and good practice (this is also known as a sworn translation). Furthermore other legislations (such as Italy) require legal translations to be notarised (i.e. certified) by a relevant legal professional. Read more

15 Words we Need in English

15 Words we Need in English

The English language is notoriously bizarre. Meaning that some words simply do not translate. Whether it be Japanese, French or Vietnamese, there are words in other languages that we are yet to have the equivalent of in English. Here are a few of my favourite examples. Read more

Company BBQ 2015

Company BBQ 2015

It was our financial year end last week so why not have a BBQ and a bouncy castle! Here are some of the pictures. Big thanks to everyone for a wonderful year. Read more

Medical Interpreting: Helping Women Out of Poverty

A charity in Boston, Massachusetts is helping local women get out of poverty by training them in medical interpreting. Called Found in Translation, the organisation trains bilingual women, usually immigrants or children of immigrants, to use their existing language skills to become medical interpreters.

Why Medical Interpreting?

Why does medical interpreting make such an excellent career choice for poor immigrants? Three reasons:

  • There’s a high demand for medical interpreters. Demand is expected to grow 46% in the next 10 years.
  • The job pays well. The median wage is $45,430.
  • It saves lives. Also, it allows these women to give back to their communities while bettering themselves.

Medical interpreters provide an essential service in doctor’s offices and hospitals. They help doctors accurately understand patients’ symptoms and histories. They help patients understand what’s happening with their care and treatment. Often, no interpreter is available and the job falls to the family member with the best English skills. Usually, that’s a child. And that’s a huge responsibility for tiny shoulders.

According to Mashable, Found in Translation founder Maria Vertkin was inspired by her own experience as a six year old “medical interpreter.”

The problem is that family members, especially children, don’t have the skills to be good translators in a health care setting.  They may be fluent in both languages, but that’s not enough. As Matilde Roman, senior director of medical interpreting firm New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation, told Mashable:

“Medical interpreting is a very finite skill set. Not only do you need to have competency or language proficiency in a target language and in English, but you also have to have a level of competency in medical terminology and ethics.”

Read more

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