mardi 25 septembre 2012

New year, new classes, same old problem

So the summer holidays are a dim and distant memory, the new school year has started and I've got to know several new classes. Today I collected their first written homework. It appears that this bunch are no better at using the dictionary than last year's..... The very first paper I picked up has the following superb example of both how not to use the dictionary and the need to be able to spell in one's own language:
"She burned herself while she leathered her chips."

to cook: cuire
leather: cuir

lundi 9 juillet 2012


One last post before the summer holidays: I'll be back in September when I'm sure my pupils will continue to provide us with plenty of entertainement.
From the paragraph of translation just before the previous example.
The original English: "When he opens his eyes, I look into them. They are glassy. Even in the shadow of the station his pupils are pinpricks."
One examinee managed to translate "They are glassy" as "Il avait des lunettes": He had glasses (oops).
Two, however, failed to take into account the context - we are talking about eyes and "pupil" sounds the same as the French word pupille even if there's a slight difference in spelling. I suspect in the second example the candidate also read "glassy" as "class" .....

"Derrière les fenêtres de la gare ses élèves sont malades"
Behind the station windows his pupils are ill.


"Dans les étages de sa classe ces [sic] élèves sont brillants" :
In the floors of his class(room) these pupils are brilliant.

Well these pupils definitely aren't!  I suppose it keeps me in work......

dimanche 24 juin 2012

Rule One: A translation must make sense

Alas, many pupils and students neglect the basic principle that if their translation doesn't make sense in French (their native language) than the chances are that they've made a mistake... at their level we don't give them Ulysses or Bardolino to translate.
My colleague Mel is also marking exam scripts this week and she thought we might like to share the following.
The candidates had to translate a short paragraph of dialogue from English to French. Part of the English read
"I was told you were dead"

Pupils' translations: Je t'avais dit que j'étais mort: "I told you I was dead",
Je t'avais dit que tu étais morte: "I told you you were dead"
Je voulais te parler quand je suis mort:."I wanted to talk to you when I was dead"

vendredi 22 juin 2012

All in a good cause

Earlier in the week I was prevailed upon to buy a programme for a charity event run by a British club here in France. The programme is "bilingual" and is generally comprehensible despite several inaccuracies in the French, but it was when I came to the item "Croquis à thème britanniques" that I let out a howl and demanded to know who was responsible for the translation. "The computer" I was told... well yes, obviously... the poor machine doesn't know the difference between the kind of sketch which is a drawing and the sketch which is a short scene.... and just as Murphy's Law dictates that your bread will always fall buttered-side down, there must be a linguistic equivalent which dictates that a machine will always pick the wrong translation where  two or more are possible.

I may not be able to update the blog in the coming week... I'm marking exam papers. For this exam the pupils do not have acces to a dictionary, so there probably won't be to much material for me to share with you.... but I'll make a note of any gems.

jeudi 14 juin 2012

Making a monkey out of the tour guide

Some years ago I was part of a group of tourists on a coach tour of Rome. The specialist "city guide" had been told it was a German group with a few English speakers. Unfortunately for her, it was precisely the opposite and she was left struggling in a language in which she didn't feel at ease. So we toured St Peter's and on several occasions she referred to the "apes" on carvings or bronzes which she told us  were the symbol of the Medici family. Well I looked long and hard, but I really couldn't see anything remotely resembling an ape. What  did notice, after a while, was a large number of bees.....
Not quite the same symbol.

lundi 11 juin 2012

caught napping

The ability of certain students to put their faith in a machine translation, even when it flies in the face of all reason, never fails to amaze me.
This example is from a paper written by a lad who had been studying English at school for at least six years:

"We nap"

It made no sense in the context in which he'd written it, so I had to work backwards. "a nap" - a short sleep -  can be translated into French as "un somme"  (not to be confused with une somme: a sum of money, for example).
Nous sommes : we are, but the student obviously typed "nous somme" and that is precisely what the software translated : garbage in, garbage out.

samedi 9 juin 2012

Out of office reply

You may have seen this before, but having started on the theme of "what happens when you trust a machine" I remembered reading this in the Daily Telegraph a couple of years ago.
Since the mid 1960s roadsigns in Wales have been in both English and Welsh. In this case the text was sent by e-mail  in English to the in-house translation team for Swansea Council. What came back in Welsh was printed on the sign. However, it actually means
 "I am not in the office at the moment. Please send any work to be translated."
Welsh sign has out of office message

Funny, but not life-threatening......  unlike the bilingual pedestrian sign spotted in Cardiff in 2006 which told pedestrians to "look right" in English, and "edrychwch i'r chwith" ("look left") in Welsh.

jeudi 7 juin 2012

Tinkering with Tolstoy

Oh dear, oh dear... apparently the people who make the Nook - a rival to the Kindle, felt the need to remove all reference to the competition from their electronic versions of certain classics and appear to have used an automated "find and replace" function which produced the following when applied to War and Peace:


  • 'When the flame of the sulphur splinters Nookd by the timber burned up, first blue and then red, Shcherbinin lit the tallow candle...'
  • 'Captain Tushin, having given orders to his company, sent a soldier to find a dressing station or a doctor for the cadet, and sat down by a bonfire the soldiers had nookd on the road.
  • 'Believe me,' said Prince Dolgorukov, addressing Bagration, 'it is nothing but a trick! He has retreated and ordered the rearguard to nook fires and make a noise to deceive us.'
  • 'Fly to a brother's aid whoever he may be, exhort him who goeth astray, raise him that falleth, never bear malice or enmity toward thy brother. Be kindly and courteous. Nook in all hearts the flame of virtue. Share thy happiness with thy neighbor, and may envy never dim the purity of that bliss.'
  • 'It was as if a light had been nookd in a carved and painted lantern and the intricate, skillful, artistic work on its sides, that previously seemed dark, coarse, and meaningless, was suddenly shown up in unexpected and striking beauty.'

mercredi 6 juin 2012


It really is alarming just how many "professionals" have an unprofessional approach to translation: many thanks to Ian for this gobledegook from  a "compatible" printer cartridge carton:

"DO NOT THROW AWAY YOUR EMPTY CARTRIDGES - Give evidence in a border planned for that purpose".

The original language is French: answer in the coment below (for when you give up trying to work it out: go on, you can do it.....).

mardi 22 mai 2012

She is tipsy

A mistake in translation is not always immediately apparent - out of context "she is tipsy" is perfectly acceptable English. However, when you know that the "she" in question is a ten year old girl who has drowned in a swimming accident at a lake and the words are spoken by the mother of one of her young friends then it becomes clear that there is a problem. I had to use the dictionary myself to solve this one as I didn't know that in French "être parti" means to be "well away" after consuming alcohol. Instead of looking for the verb "partir" and then conjugating it in the correct tense, the pupil in question obviously found "tipsy" given as a translation for "être parti" and just copied it into their work: "she's tipsy" instead of "she's gone".

samedi 19 mai 2012

a corny translation

Just to prove that translation bloopers are not restricted to language learners but can also be committed by those who translate for a living when they pay insufficient attention and guess at the meaning of a word rather than asking a native speaker to confirm their understanding. Brits will know the name James Herriot - he published a series of autobiographical books about his experiences as a vet ( veterinarian for transAtlantic readers) in the Yorkshire Dales. I purchased them in French translation as a gift for my French sister in law and so it was that I stumbled across the passage in the first book in which James goes to be interviewed by his future boss, Siegfried Farnon, who is out when he arrives. When James falls asleep in the garden whilst waiting for him, he has a nightmare in which he is confronted by a Siegfried who speaks with a "corny German accent". The translator decided that "corny" must mean the same as "Cornish" (despite the lack of an initial capital) and thus translated the sentence as "avec un accent allemand de cornouailles" i.e. with a German accent from Cornwall - whatever that might be: especially nonsensical as the scene is set in Yorkshire. Elementary principle: the translated text must make sense in the target language. If it doesn't make sense you need to check your understanding of the original.

mercredi 16 mai 2012

All that glisters......

Another mistranslation caused by a mis-spelling in the original French:
"It is gold of question" .....

answer tomorrow

lundi 14 mai 2012


Thanks again to Mel for today's example of failure to choose the relevant homonym from those listed in the dictionary.

Many different mailmen must be considered.

Answer in the comments tomorrow.

jeudi 10 mai 2012

a Mongolian proud

Here is a puzzle submitted by my colleague (thanks Mel): in describing a TV commercial a student said that the actor "floated up to heaven in a Mongolian proud". I suspect that should read "sky", rather than heaven: the French use the word "ciel" for both, but can you work out what a Mongolian proud is? There are several mistakes in the way the French word was put into the translation software - but anyway, don't these programmers (and students)  know that adjectives are generally placed before the noun in English?

Answer tomorow in the comments: if no one posts it first - do feel free to reassure me that I'm not talking to myself!

mercredi 9 mai 2012


Woeful ignorance of the grammar and spelling of their mother tongue afflicts many of the youngsters I teach or whose exam papers I mark. I spent some time trying to work out what was meant by "undersheet" which occured several times in one batch of exam scripts where the students are allowed to use the dictionary (which is giving them rope with which to hang themselves in my considered opinion). The subject was "dress codes in the workplace" and the candidates wrote things like « one is more undersheet in casual clothes". I'll post the answer tomorrow if you haven't worked it out by then....

mardi 8 mai 2012

Ozone nappies

I think this one is self explanatory: although perhaps for those across the Pond it should read "ozone diapers"..... yes, the French word for nappy or diaper is actually "couche culotte" but the pupil in question obviously didn't read that much of the dictionary entry and so translated the ozone layer as the ozone nappy.

lundi 7 mai 2012

Welcome: bienvenue

Welcome to the world of the English teacher in France. I've been here a while and have been doing the job for a couple of decades. Over this time I have collected many examples of what I call "abuse of the dictionary":  howlers I have found in pupils' homework which are generally due to the misuse of that useful tool - the English-French dictionary. My colleagues have begged me to share these gems with an wider audience, so that is the purpose of this blog.
To start the ball rolling, one from way back.
On being asked to describe a photo of a bride at a shotgun wedding, whose tight dress clearly showed that she was in the family way, one pupil wrote: She is loud speaker.

Remember, you are looking for a mistranslated French word.
The solution is in the comment posted below.