For those who like sounds, accents and/or languages and have 5 minutes for a bit of fun, here is a little game where you listen to eight short recordings and must guess what language it is from a choice of two or three each time.
I scored 6/8. How did you do?
There is no shortage of political or diplomatic incidents in international archives caused by mistranslations, often due to false friends. Some blunders, however, are comical rather than harmful.
One such example is cited in John Coleman-Holmes’s book Mâcher du Coton. As a Spanish speaker once started to address the delegates of a conference by saying “Please excuse me, I have a cold”, the French side suddenly burst into laughter. Curious as to the cause of this hubbub, the rest of the delegation tuned into the French channel, looking towards the interpreters’ booths. In a lapse of concentration, the Spanish-to-French interpreter had translated “Estoy constipado, perdónadme” as “Excuse me, I’m constipated”.
Mistakes (and painful embarrassment) happen to us all…
Europe’s motto, “united in diversity”, is reflected not least by its 23 official languages and over 50 spoken languages if we include all regional languages, and the mix of cultures and exchange of vocabulary from one language to the others. But how much do you know about our European neighbours, the origin of some everyday words, food and other aspects of culture that have been adopted across borders?
Here is a little quiz… (You can do this quiz in another language by choosing any of the official European language from the top of the page.)
Happy Europe Day! (9th May)
If you compile a list of idiomatic expressions from a given language and organise it by recurring themes, you will soon discover (or have confirmation of) some national obsessions. Here are a few British examples.
What a storm in a teacup! If making such a drama is his cup of tea, tea and sympathy are as useful as a chocolate teapot. I wouldn’t get involved in any of this for all the tea in China.
They make such an odd couple… He always complains of being under the weather and his perspective always seems to be that it never rains but it pours. When invited to a party, either he takes a rain check or he has to rain on everyone’s parade if present. She, however, is always as right as rain and happy to join the fun, come rain or shine.
One minute he’s stumped about this sticky wicket and the next he acts off his own bat without anyone knowing what he’s up to. This has now put the project on the back foot. It’s just not cricket, is it!
Want to know how to get as many Christmas presents as possible? Then read on…
Start in the Czech Republic or Croatia where presents are opened on St Nicholas’ Day (6th December). Next, travel to Sweden, Germany or Poland for Christmas Eve (24th December) and scoop your second load of gifts after dinner. Now hurry to France and be there early on Christmas morning (25th December) for more pressies. Then rush south to Italy for lunch, after which you can enjoy another round of unwrapping (then again, it might have happened in the morning or you may have to wait for the Three Wise Men’s delivery on Epiphany). Finally, go west to Spain in time for Epiphany (6th January) for a last session of surprises. Happy marathon!
Veselé Vánoce! – Sretan Božić! – God jul! – Fröhliche Weihnachten! – Wesołych świąt! – Joyeux Noël ! – Buon Natale! – ¡Feliz Navidad!
Festivals are explosions of culture that take place around the world, celebrating in all sorts of forms and colours, welcoming anyone who cares to join. At a higher humanitarian level, festivals bring harmony and peace; at an individual level, they are exhilarating and can bring a lot of fun.
As India has Holi, so does Spain have La Tomatina. On the last Wednesday of August in Buñol near Valencia in Spain, the population paints the town red. While the thought of wasting and playing with food is somewhat disturbing (even if the sacrificed tomatoes are allegedly of a quality unsuitable to the consumer), the festival makes for an opportunity to take fun and brightly coloured snaps.
Photos: jadwigasz, iwant2go2spain.co.uk, roughguides.com
With technology and social media invading our lives and the ability for anyone to publish anything online within seconds, we are getting used to seeing all sorts of styles and spellings and the use of the apostrophe in particular seems to have become optional, these days. Even Waterstone(‘)s dropped their apostrophe earlier this year! Who cares? Well…
“An apostrophe is the difference between a business that knows its shit and a business that knows it’s shit.” (Sam Tanner)
Happy International Apostrophe Day! (17th August)
Last week, a train company getting in the international mood of the Olympics was reported to have put posters up in the London area that showed a text in Arabic in which the letters were detached and back to front, making the text unreadable. A font change by someone who clearly can’t read Arabic is all it took.
Because my name looks French, people assume that I am French (which could be a mistake since names can be misleading, especially in the case of a woman). So when I send a thank-you e-mail to someone, I sometimes get a reply saying “Mon plaisir!”, a literal translation of the English “my pleasure”.
Unfortunately, literal translation rarely works. In this case, “mon plaisir” is suggestive of something personal that I’d rather not think about… Why do people randomly mention their pleasure to me? That’s not the sort of e-mails I want to see in my inbox.
PS: The right phrase is “(Tout) le plaisir est pour moi”. Nothing more, nothing less and nothing else.
“You get to despise politicians when you have to translate the rubbish they spout.”