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.....).