Category Archives: Translation

Emails in the bath

News flash:

I interrupt my translation of a bathroom catalogue to bring you this:

Whilst researching a technical word for something or other, I stumbled across an English version of a publication for the very same company that I am currently translating for.

The sentence reads: [Company name] Email makes baths, shower trays and whirlpools scratch-resistant, abrasion-resistant, hygienic, easy to clean and stain resistant.

Great Scott! Which loonhead translated this?? Had they had their brain removed or something? What on earth made them think that “email” would be some sort of  selling point?

It is easy to misread sentences – or even misunderstand them… but surely one might stop and consider that if the logic seems a bit wonky one is not thinking straight? It does sometimes happen that the original author was writing the piece after a beer too many/a row with their partner/too much sun – in which case the translator should go back to the source [client/agency/author] and ask what it is supposed to mean.

In this case, dear reader, Email in German does not mean e-mail – it is the humble coating on bath tubs: enamel.

An irony in this tale is that yesterday I picked up a bathroom catalogue from a local shop – not for background knowledge – but because I am thinking of a few improvements for my bathroom. As I flicked past all the gushing verbiage to find the pictures, specifications and prices, I wept inwardly. Nobody actually reads these finely crafted words… which is probably why the previous translator got away with his/her bath email… nobody noticed.

My life is wasted, I tell you. Wasted!

Colourful words

Recently, I have been involved with two translations that could be said to be rather colourful.

The first required an actual colour scheme. (Mine is not to ask why… I just followed the instructions…I am a translating machine….)

All foreign words and names had to be red (lots) , all abbreviations and acronyms yellow, (and there were lots and lots!), all my queries for discussion with the proofreader turquoise, and mistakes in the original text pink. It looked more like a rainbow than a translation.

The second was dealing with a subject area that could be termed “sensitive”. I was very careful and politically correct in my choice of words to avoid any offence. I wasn’t sure, however, whether to laugh or cry when I found that an acronym used for an organisation had a rather unfortunate meaning in English (I warned the client, but it was too late – this was the registered name) and a website had a URL which didn’t quite spell an offensive English word – but certainly sounds like one if you were to say it out loud.

Oh whoops.


Mrs Tiggywinkle interrupts her high-level translation work to bring you the  latest news from the cutting edge of intercultural co-operation and understanding.

The sentence currently under construction reads thus (in translation, obviously):  “In addition to some people who are frequent visitors, there were many first-time guests at the XXX, some of whom were visiting for the first time.”

Yes. Well, I suppose first-time guests would be visiting for the first time… or am I missing something here? And who exactly were the first-time guests who were on a repeat visit, I wonder?

I do not mind spending my sunny Saturday afternoons translating screeds of verbiage… (no, no, really, I don’t mind at all…) but it would be nice if it at least said something half-way intelligible.


A jimjams sort of day

I think today is a Jimjams sort of day. It is 3 pm and I am not dressed yet. I completely forgot about the clocks going forward an hour so, once I had finally twigged, half the morning had already disappeared.

I am humungeously busy with work – (proofread a German hotel website today, translate a brochure on cruises in the Antarctic, and translate half a company newsletter – to try and keep ahead of the deadlines) whilst my computer makes funny noises. I think it may be dying – but am hoping it will cling on until Wednesday when it can breathe its last and I can breathe some sort of sigh of relief … about the deadlines I mean, not about the prospect of having to spend money on a new one.

I feel as if there are various levels of irony at play here: I am working like crazy to earn the money that has been thin on the ground in previous months only to find that when I’ve earned it, I’ll be spending it in an area I hadn’t budgeted for. I suppose it could be worse, so mustn’t grumble (anymore). (Although just before I stop, it would be nice to have a day off soon – translating all this touristy stuff about luxurious cruises, comfortable hotels, delicious meals, etc. is a bit galling when I haven’t had time to go to Sainsbury’s for a month. I’m down to my last tin of tuna…)

Anyway, I was just thinking I should perhaps get round to getting dressed when a second thought hit me: why bother? I’m not going anywhere, and I’m not expecting anyone, so I might as well save the time (all 5 minutes of it!) and expend it on my translations (or blog, if I’m honest.)

If anyone knows about computers and whether the sound of the fan (?) going into overdrive (a bit like a washing machine on spin cycle) is A Bad Sign, do please let me know. If it is a death rattle, I’m not sure whether it will make me feel any better but I may be able to make some contingency plans to tide me over until I have time to race down to PC World to buy another (sob…)

A good idea?

I have had a tiring week one way and another. It all came to a head on Wednesday when my computer was soooooo sloooooowwww it took about 5 seconds for each character to register on the screen – and searching the net was completely out of the question (this is something I do several times an hour to research terms, etc.). A document that should have taken about 2 hours to translate took about 6 hours.  I had 20 minutes before the deadline to research the final obscure term (the doc was all about pensions) so I raced round to Mrs Cupcake’s. She was in her kitchen knee deep in a hundreds of cakes she was producing for a big event the following evening. She kindly swept her desk of all papers (an unnecessary act) and let me use her laptop.  The term I sought was particularly stubborn (although Mrs C’s computer was a dream to work with – so smoooooth, so fast) and so I had to literally make up a translation…. not a solution I ever feel happy with… particularly when I feel slightly unsure of the subject matter to boot.

I belted back to my place to meet the 4 pm deadline. By now it was 4.02. An email arrived at 4.06 from the project manager asking when I would be sending the document. I phoned to say it was on its way, apologising for my tardiness. (In case you hadn’t realised, when they give a deadline in this game, dead is the operative word.)

I felt completely stressed by the day (not to mention the pressure I had been under to produce umpteen thousand words over the previous few days… including Sunday…wah. [Can you turn up the volume… I can’t hear those lamenting violins very clearly…] and thought I might go for a little walk to clear my head. As I passed by my bed, I thought a ten minute rest would be a good idea first.  Four hours later….

That evening of course I could not get to sleep at a “normal” time. I was still awake at 4.30 am. Humph. Similar repeat last night (Thursday).

Now it is Friday evening and I have a mountain of work to get through for Tuesday. I’ve negotiated an extra two hours on the deadline – and I’ll need every minute… so why am I spending precious moments blogging about my plight? Well, dear reader, I’ve just poured myself a glass of wine to drink while I tackle the transcription of an interview about a poor chap who at the age of 20 in 1985 became a paraplegic – literally from one day to the next.

I’m now wondering if the wine is a good idea….

Too much information

This morning has been spent wiping the tears of hysteria from my cheeks. I have been translating a badly written tourist text for a place that shall remain nameless. Usually, when doing such documents, I end up dreaming of holidays and wishing I were a thousand miles away from my computer. This morning I was not in the least bit tempted to part with my cash to visit the place in question. It sounded very dull “with extensive views over the …er….pharmaceutical factory”. Get me on the next plane over there…not!

The poor unfortunates that do visit this area are told that they will eat their picnic lunch in a room provided with tables and chairs.  ” Auch Toiletten sind hier für das kleinere oder grössere Geschäft vorhanden. “* I’m afraid my British sensibilities balked at translating this in its entirety. My impression of our American cousins is that they are even more sensitive about such matters as they use euphemisms such as “bathroom” and “rest rooms” for fear of being too obvious. This German sentence,  as far as I’m concerned, is one of those things that can be quite happily lost in translation. I merely informed the tourists of the availability of the facilities.

* Toilets are also available for small or larger jobs

Wallpapering over the cracks

that have appeared before the year is yet three full days old..

The first lesson of the year is one your correspondent has noted several times before but one which she is yet to fully learn, it would appear.

In writing the long list of lovely things she would like to achieve/learn/explore/experience this year (which includes many things carried over from several, er, decades), she has this afternoon been reminded of why so many of these things remain on her wish list of life.

Mrs Translating Tiggywinkle would like to share with her long-suffering readers that achieving objectives does not only require writing them down and getting on and doing them but also removing the obstacles from their being achieved.

Today, while it was still light (it is now pitch black), was a bright, sunny yet frosty day – just perfect for a walk. Mrs Tigg thought this would be an admirable way of starting out in the way she means to go on this year in the way of taking in an increase of exercise. Until, that is, that she remembered with horror that despite having told her customers that she was unavailable until January 4, she had in fact cracked on December 30th and promised to translate about 5 hours’ worth of press releases for tomorrow. Tomorrow is going to roll around, well, tomorrow and the evil has had to be faced. Poo and piddle.

As previously mentioned, it is now pitch black outside and below freezing. Not really conducive to a pleasant, bracing walk.

It’s a bit of a dilemma: not to take on the work would mean less income in a period which has been a bit draughty on the pecuniary side but taking on work when friends and family are relaxing means that Mrs Tigg has fewer opportunities to socialise and do those things that she would actually *like* to do.

I must resolve to tease a resolution out of this. But right now I must go back and proofread the press releases that are attempting to persuade consumers to part with their cash to buy wallpaper.

Following the plot

Over the years, my gentle readers have endured my occasional rants about ridiculous deadlines, lack of information about the product I’m supposed to be selling in my translations and other general irritations and stupidities.

The other day I had this email exchange (adapted for this current audience – with free translation thrown in 😉 ) with one of my more helpful clients:

Client: Would you be interested in translating this website?

Kerensa: Yes, I would. It looks like my kind of text.

Client: Great. We’ve got some reference material in English you might find helpful.

Kerensa: Lovely. Reference material is always good – particularly if the end-client has particular preferred terminology.

Client: Unfortunately, though, the website is only available in German.

Kerensa: [slightly bewildered] No probs. [That’s because it hasn’t yet been translated… by me….]

10 years ago today

I began my freelance career as a translator. I was engaged on the basis of being a contractor – in that I was self-employed but would report to a specific office every day. To maintain my “employer’s” tax status, I was obliged to ensure that I did not receive 100% of my wages from one source, so I had to find other avenues of income, such as teaching German and doing translations for private clients in my “spare” time.

It was on a Monday morning that I stepped into a dingy upstairs office in a building in Fulham. I looked around for a vaguely familiar face – the senior translator who had tested my language skills in German, French and (ahem) Dutch.

(They are non-existent, dear reader, in Dutch… I had protested my ignorance of the language but he, half-Dutch himself, was having nothing of such wimpishness. He thrust a couple of dictionaries in my direction and placed a text in front of me and gave me 45 minutes to turn it into readable English. I had just made my poor brain recollect some rusty French… the little grey cells were completely exhausted. I squinted at the Dutch and tried to make as much sense of it as possible. Double Dutch, no doubt. Having started in the job, I was only once asked to translate a couple of newspaper articles from Dutch (on the Wobbly Millennium Bridge). This was somewhat easier as I had a head start on what the text was likely to say – and my half-Dutch colleague was there to provide a final polish to the finished product.)

On my first day, however, I did not know that my colleague’s start time was somewhat later than everyone else’s. He rolled in at 10.30 by which time I had already had a baptism of fire being required to translate some terribly nasty financial document in time for a CEO who was about to catch a plane to New York.  I barely had a clue of what I was dealing with – my other colleagues made sympathetic noises but not being Germanists they were unable to lend a hand.  Mr Half-Dutch himself arrived in the nick of time to proofread my half-baked attempt and rescue the situation. And thus began my tentative steps in the world of translation.

In the years since that day, I must have translated and proofread several million words and, as time has passed, I have managed to ease my way away from technical and financial texts, in neither of which I have any natural ability or particular interest, to embrace more creative texts, marketing, publicity and also education, HR and tourism.  As my regular readers will know, I am also sometimes persuaded against my better judgment to undertake other subjects (hair replacement systems, packaging, cosmetics, fitness machines); these can be seen as expanding the mind and bank account – or driving me to an early grave.

Four and a half years ago, I managed to escape the treadmill of my daily hour-and-a-half commute in each direction by buying a property in the Ancient Roman City and launching off into the freelance world proper.  I began by receiving assignments from the office in Fulham and curiously, as those began to decrease (on account of their repositioning to translate into foreign languages not into English), I had made enough contacts to keep me in enough work to manage to stay afloat.

This past year or so has been something of a challenge. Agencies have been making their in-house staff redundant and end-clients have been reassessing their need for translations. My assertion has always been that companies cannot sell to an international market if their customers do not know what they are selling. I am of course a lone voice in the wilderness and have absolutely no clout  or influence anywhere but although assignments seem to have decreased in number, they have increased in size –  so a sort of balance has been maintained. The euro has gained in value against sterling, which is good news for me as I am mainly paid in euros, so by hook or by crook, I am still managing to cling to the wreckage.

As for the future, all I can say is: watch this space!

Saturday evening reality

I have just arrived at my desk having eaten a very nice spagetti bolognese cooked with my temporary lodger, Tutti Frutti.  As I splashed in a generous glug of red wine left over from the bottle we opened last night, he mentioned how much he had enjoyed it. I told him that it was remarkably good value and on offer in the local supermarket.  That was enough for TF. He hot-footed it down there immediately and came back with another two bottles.

So, I am sitting here in a comfortable and mellow haze, wondering if I can really let myself loose on a text about skiing in Switzerland. Yesterday’s schedule went a bit off the rails and I didn’t get everything done that I had planned.  The spag bol was a bit on the spontaneous side. Should I plough on or risk leaving the work until tomorrow?

Decisions, decisions….

Edit: a couple of hours later. I really don’t think it is my mental state (I am entirely sober again now….)…I think the author must have had a few drinks him/herself before writing this text. It is littered with spelling mistakes, sentences that start off to explain a point and change mid-stream into sentences that start off (yes, exactly like that!). It is a speech to be delivered at an event – so not of international diplomatic incident ilk – but even so, it would be nice to know what the poor speaker is supposed to be getting at….. I’ll have to get hold of the client first thing on Monday morning to sort it out….

Night, night.