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.