Natural Evolution or Cause for Irritation?

Having been in the language business for 30 years, I realize, as I’m sure you do, that languages have a natural tendency to evolve. They change, sometimes rapidly. They are living organisms. Take the last 10 years of IT terminology that will surely make it into the next edition of Webster’s – “blog”, “spam” (I’m thinking that one should be in there already?), “phishing”, etc.

Of course, I welcome new terminology when it’s needed. Otherwise we would all be saying things like “I read ‘that thing’ you put on the Internet, you know, ‘that thing’ you wrote the other day….” or “I hate checking my email. I get so many unsolicited, unwanted emails from people I don’t know trying to sell me something or looking for a date.” (Think of how much ink the word “spam” has saved when you look at that last sentence.)

What I REALLY don’t like, however, are people who use the idea that languages evolve and change to just be lazy and completely ignorant of the basic grammar we were all taught in school. At least everyone in my generation was taught those rules. Given the alarming increase in poor spelling and grammar of recent college applicants as evidenced by college entrance essays, I’m not so sure the standards are still as strict as they used to be.

For example, I have noticed an alarming increase in the number of people who pronounce the “t” in the word “often”. Please look it up, the “t” is silent.

And here’s a short list of the most obnoxious violations as I see them. At least, I personally find these the most irritating.

  1. There is NO SUCH WORD in the English language as “irregardless”. It’s “REGARDLESS”.
  2. The word “nuclear” only has three syllables “NU-CLE-AR” – come on people, you can do it.
  3. You don’t put “assesories” into your home. You use “accessories” to decorate. The first “c” is a hard “c” – please pronounce it “AK-SESSORIES”. I hear that one pronounced wrong all the time on HGTV. You would think a decorator would know better.
  4. Please don’t’ feel “badly” about something. That means you don’t know how to feel about something in an efficient manner. The correct phrase is “I feel BAD about that”.
  5. I personally get irritated by the word “utilize”. It’s a perfectly good word, but it just means “use” so please use “use” instead of “utilize” – otherwise you sound pretentious. (Sorry, I know that last sentence is awkward).
  6. I hear the word “SUPPOSEDLY” pronounced many times “supposably” – that’s not a word. Please take note.

And finally, I was watching a commercial the other day for a popular language-learning software. One young woman said when her clients found out she could speak Spanish “….they looked alleviated”. I’m sure she meant to say “relieved”, but maybe they actually left the room so her problem with them was “alleviated”.

When in doubt, LOOK IT UP. Let’s keep our language healthy so it can grow and change, but still be governed by basic good grammar.

Why You Need a Translation Company

I have been working in the translation industry for 30 years. During that time, I have seen Americans transition from completely ignorant about foreign languages (unless they took language courses in high school or college) to at least partially literate about the subject. When I first started, there was not a week that went by without someone requesting the translation of a catch phrase or a slogan for a product – some of which were puns or had double meanings in English. I would try to explain to them that it would just not make sense in the target language and more than once I had someone reply “Well, can’t you just translate the words?” as if their target audience would magically understand a string of nonsense words just because it made sense in English.

My family and I took a short drive through part of Canada for a day once since we live close to the border. We stopped for carbonated beverages, and when we got home, I showed the empty bottle to my daughter, who had studied French. “Live the experience” in English had turned out to read “Get experienced” in French….not exactly what the company had in mind. Today, when I explain to a client that a certain phrase or concept will not directly translate, they understand and either come up with alternative text or tell me to let the translator have some latitude with the translation.

The act of translation is not an innate ability, although some people have a talent for it. Like any other activity, it needs a bit of practice, experience, training, etc. Just because a person is bi-lingual or tri-lingual does not automatically make them a good translator. I have had clients send me critiques after the fact of a translation we completed for them. These critiques are usually done by the client’s in-house personnel who speak the language in question. After reviewing the client’s concerns, nine times out of ten the complaints are the result of simple terminology preferences and the original translation was fine. Once in a while, the criticism stems from the fact that the reviewer may have grown up speaking that language, but he/she has never actually written formally in their native language and has poor grammar skills.

Back before everyone could desktop publish simple documents and everything had to be typeset on photographic paper with specialty equipment, I got a request from a printer to typeset a handbook for a local juvenile detention center. The booklet was in Spanish translated from English, and the printer indicated that one of the employees of the detention center had translated it. I’m not a native speaker of Spanish, but I do have a college degree in the language and I have been proofreading translations for 30 years. I identified at least 20 errors in spelling and grammar on the first page alone. I told the printer that his client could either pay us to retranslate the job, or I would have to turn it down. He was a bit frustrated with me, but I was not going to put our company name on a product – even though we didn’t translate it – that was written by someone obviously partially illiterate.

Many bi-lingual people advertise their services as translators because they figure it’s a good and easy way to make a living without any idea about the basics of translation. Their translation are usually literal, awkward and obviously not written originally in the target language. I once threw out a bargain book I bought at a bookstore because as I was reading it I thought “this thing has been translated”. It was a professional publication, but the text was terrible. There are people who have a working knowledge of several languages and they believe they can actually produce polished, professional translations in all of those languages in practically any subject matter. These are the people you need to avoid at all cost and these are the people a translation company weeds out.

For the sake of your company’s image, you should never let your neighbor, your nephew, your co-worker or your friend translate your corporate literature for you and assume you will get a good, usable product that reflects well on your organization. You wouldn’t go to a dentist for a broken leg even though he has some medical training, so please leave your translation needs in the hands of the professionals, and give us a call.

Desktop Publishing Points to Ease Translation Issues

Graphic Design Our foreign language translation firm works on several different computer platforms and in all sorts of software programs when working with clients around the world.

We continue to encounter several issues that can cause higher rates for our clients due to additional time to “fix” files before they can go through translation.  Only a few quick changes can make the translation and formatting process go smoother, quicker and cheaper for you.

5 formatting suggestions to help your projects move faster:

  • Use tabs, not the space bar, to align type.
  • Word-processing programs may not print on an image setter with the same line and page breaks as on your office printer. The best solution is to save the document as a .pdf file. as well as providing the original document
  • Delete extra blank pages and any clutter, such as unused type, boxes, and art, that remains on the pasteboard.
  • Provide a proof usually a pdf of the most current version of your document.
  • Place copies of your document, fonts, art, and photos in the same folder so that files link properly.

We hope this helps your translation project run smoother!

List of new Simplified Chinese Characters to be announced

April 15, 2009 by  
Filed under language

Chinese Dictionary According to Window of China in a recent article - the People’s Republic of China will be issuing a modified list of simplified Chinese characters.  This is in hopes of standardizing a language written by billions internationally.

China first introduced the simplified character in 1956.  The process included decreasing the number of strokes for each character to make it easier to learn.  In 1986 the official count of simplified characters was 2,235. 

Many people have felt that the symbols have been oversimplified, which have made the characters more difficult to understand.  This new release is intended to help solve this confusion. 

Don’t expect the new characters to be fully restored to traditional Chinese as that would require an entirely new education for the Chinese people.  Although many Chinese people see the traditional Chinese characters as a way to preserve their culture.

What do you think?   

Resetting your translation can be embarrassing

Hillary Clinton Translation MistakeJust ask Hillary Clinton how embarrassing it can be. She recently presented a gift to the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and got the translation of the word “reset” all wrong. 

The translation Clinton’s team chose was “peregruzka” which actually means overloaded or overcharged rather than reset.  Oops.  When trying to impress or create a better relationship, it is better to get the translation just right otherwise the well intended gift could be an insult.

The same principle can be applied to translating your business documents.  Don’t take a chance with a translation in Bablefish or on  It could be a gaffe that you could cost you dearly. And there may not be a reset button you could push.