How to achieve the best possible technical translation

Ensure you tell the linguist what you mean

It is important to give the translator specific and detailed instructions to avoid any mistakes – sometimes, embarrassing ones! For instance, in 1991, a competitive fighting game called Street Fighter II: The World warrior launched in Japan. It was a sequel to an arcade game released a few years before.

The translator didn’t know the context

When translation was done from Japanese into English, the translator only got the text. He had no idea of what was really going on on the screen. He (or she) had to translate the following sentence: “If you cannot overcome the Rising Dragon Punch, you cannot win!”. The Japanese characters for “Rising Dragon” were interpreted by the translator as “Sheng Long”. The translator thought a new character called Sheng Long was being introduced!

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The attention-hungry monster in our pockets..


The monster insisting

We love our smartphones

Why do we love our smart phones so much? It’s all to do with language and communication. While on our holiday in Cape Verde we noticed something strange. A lot of young couples spent their time gazing lovingly at their smartphones instead of at their partners.

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Tai Chi on the beach

She says tomahto and I say tomate: French v English

Here and there

Something that frequently catches out us native French speakers in English is the use of “here” and “there”. Well, it does me.

The other variation is “this” and “that”. We might be out walking the dog. My wife will say “Do you want to go this way, or that way?”

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Engineering – how the UK has shot itself in the foot

Last night, we went to see “Passengers”, a film about engineering! Two people are stuck on a huge spaceship on a 100+ year journey travelling to a colony planet. Basically, they are awake when they should be in hibernation.

Four things were particularly striking: Spoiler alert if you haven’t seen it!


Four main things struck us about the whole trip:


  1. There was an excellent ad by EDF before the film which is clearly focused on promoting engineering careers to women (their Pretty Curious campaign, see
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How native French speakers remember gender

Language challenge

My wife is a native English speaker, which means we often have debates of the “is it le or la?” variety when in France, or when translating into French. Questions like “How can a table be female?” are often asked. For English speakers, where all inanimate objects are gender – neutral, it can be hard to remember which it is. (I do often remark: “Huh! What about German, where it could be feminine, masculine or neutral?!”).

How I learned “le” or “la”

It’s a challenge to answer. Like most people whose first language has genders for nouns, I don’t remember being rote-taught the rules. I never chanted at school: “La table, le jardin, la pomme, le stylo”. It feels like I just absorbed it through my skin…

Don’t split the words

We did spend some time discussing this issue as native speakers of French and English respectively. Finally, we concluded that when foreigners learn French, they kind of separate out the article from the noun, eg “table (f)” or “stylo (m)”. But I never learned my vocabulary this way as a child. I learned the words as if the article was part of the word: “lestylo”, “latable” etc. So, because the article and the noun were never separated, it was easy to remember which gender it was. It became instinctive and automatic – as language should be.

I have tested this language theory on speakers of Spanish and Italian and it seems to be similar for them.

English doesn’t have genders

English learners usually just memorise the noun, as the article is always the same : “the”. This is why learning different genders is more of a challenge when you aren’t used to it.

So there’s the answer if you are learning French. Embed the vocabulary in your brain with the article as if it is part of the same word. Hope it helps!

If Trump doesn’t want to trade with the rest of the world, it suits us fine..

Trade is global, like it or not

Donald Trump has stated that it is his intention to restrict imports to the USA. In theory, that sounds fine – but supposing the rest of the world says, “OK Donald, same to you!” ?

I have recently bought something from China. OK, I didn’t realise it was in China, but the miracle of online shopping makes it easy. One or two clicks on Amazon (or was it ebay?) and I had bought and paid. Didn’t notice it was going to take a month to arrive at first…

Plus side for Europe

There are plenty of countries inside and outside Europe happy to take up trade opportunities that the USA lets slip.  Most speak English, but for those that don’t translation is widely available – although it’s obvious who has relied on machine translation.

Sell to French speakers

Someone rings up, wanting to sell to you. Do they say “Want to buy…..?” in any language other than English? What would you think if they asked in French? Or Spanish? Or Chinese? There’s a clue here to effective sales technique. You need to approach customers in their own language, not yours.

Sell in the right language

Supposing you want to sell to French speakers…not necessarily in France.  In Europe, French speaking countries are France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Monaco and Switzerland.

French further afield

What about countries in Africa- with hugely successful, growing economies? French speaking countries (ie where French is an official language) include Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic,  Chad, Comoros, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Congo, Republic of the Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritius,Morocco, Niger, Réunion, Rwanda, Senegal, Seychelles, Togo and Tunisia.

So if you are interested in expanding your exports, you could do a lot worse than target one or two of these countries. Also, there is a lot to be said for being able to escape the British winter and flying to one of those sunny places…