Language News

Habits & Customs that Completely Confuse Other Countries

Customs vary from country to country and foreign visitors are often left perplexed by the cultural differences. It’s easy to assume that because we celebrate certain traditions, everyone else does too. Whether these are annual holiday routines or country-specific cultural habits, every family has a few strange practices they’re used to.

Just look at tea. It’s seen as a stereotypically renowned British pastime, typically presented in ornate chinaware with a saucer. Cross the English Channel over to France, however, and the British would have a heart attack after seeing the French habit of drinking tea from a bowl.

Our infographic explores the way customs and traditions differ from country to country.

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Additional examples:

  • United Kingdom | Confusing Sing Taps - The UK is a modern country at the forefront of engineering, yet unlike most countries around the world, many sinks have separate hot and cold water taps. This means that visitors need to carefully navigate both freezing and scolding taps at the same time!
  • United States | Tax Not Displayed - To the confusion of many visitors to the USA, prices for most items are shown without tax, while the rest of the world includes it in the listed total price.
  • Australia | The Bush - Australians tend to refer to any large area of land that contains plant growth as the “the bush”, while most others differentiate between grasslands, woodlands and forests.
  • Turkey | Camel Fighting - In Turkey, spectators take delight in watching two camels fighting, but unlike cockfighting, the animals don't get hurt. Even still, agitated camels often discharge sticky, foul-smelling saliva very accurately.
  • Fiji | Your Every Day Drink - Guests to the Pacific island of Fiji are served strange earthy cocktail made from squeezing plant roots. The concoction is called Kava and is considered a narcotic in many countries.
  • Spain | Snatching the Goose - The Day of the Geese is a tradition in Spain that sees a greased goose tied high above a body of water, with young men competing to rip its head off in a show of strength.
  • United Kingdom | Law Abiding Citizens!? - Britain's are notorious for their drunken antics while abroad, so visitors often find it a stark contrast of behavior at how rigorously the majority of the British public treat the drink driving laws.
  • Venezuela | Late Eaters - People in many Western countries tend to eat dinner relatively early, typically between 5pm and 7pm. South American countries like Venezuela tend to eat much later in the even, often between 9pm and 10pm.
  • United States | Cars That Actually Stop - Visitors to the USA are often surprised by how respectful drivers and pedestrians act towards pedestrian crossing. Heavy fines for drivers who don't show that respect, will have that effect. Western visitors in particular, will find the roads in Vietnam very unusual. Due to the small number of traffic lights and pedestrian crossings, visitors are left to cross the roads in whatever manner they can, while hoping cars will stop!

The Greatest National Mottos Translated

To the outside world, national mottos are often used to describe the intent or motivation of the country in a short phrase, but they’re also intended to bring enthusiasm and a sense of patriotism to the people. National mottos can also have a deep meaning, often representing what a nation stands for or strives for, which is why you can find national mottos included on a country’s coat of arms, coins or banknotes.

Our infographic explores a number of countries and their choice of national mottos translated, from the Roman Empire’s ‘’Roma Invicta’’ meaning ‘’Unconquered Rome’’, to Moldova’s ‘’Limba Noastră-i o Comoară’’ meaning ‘’Our Language is Our Treasure”.

The Greatest National Mottos Translated

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Worlds' Most Translated Books

The best books have the power to touch people on every corner of the earth, not just the country they're written in, allowing readers to expand their horizons and discover new cultures and different ways of thinking. But if these books are to be enjoyed all around the world they need to be translated into different languages first.

To celebrate World Book Day we've created an infographic that takes a look at 50 of the world's most translated books, from The Alchemist (first published in Portuguese) to Wolf Totem (Mandarin). We hope that the list will inspire you to open your mind and find a book that speaks to you, whatever your mother tongue!

For a full list of the sources used to create this infographic please take a look at this Google Doc.




Las leyes sobre idiomas más extrañas del mundo

Con el Día Internacional de la Lengua Materna 2016 a la vuelta de la esquina (domingo 21 de febrero), The Translation Company echó un vistazo a todo el mundo, desde el punto de vista legal, para encontrar algunas de las leyes sobre idiomas más extrañas. Hoy en día, el debate sobre la libertad de expresión es más feroz que nunca antes, y es el momento más adecuado para echar un vistazo a las formas en que los gobiernos, del pasado y del presente, han tratado de promover un idioma a expensas de otro y, en casos extremos, han tratado de prohibir del todo algunos idiomas.

Las leyes sobre idiomas más extrañas del mundo

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As mais Bizarras Leis sobre idiomas do mundo

Com o Dia Internacional da Língua Materna de 2016 às portas (21 de fevereiro, Domingo), a The Translation Company fez uma pesquisa por todo o mundo para descobrir as mais estranhas leis sobre idiomas já criadas. Com o debate acerca da livre expressão cada vez mais acirrado, nunca foi tão oportuno examinar a forma como os governos, no passado e no presente, tentaram privilegiar um idioma em detrimento de outro, chegando em casos extremos a tentar banir idiomas completamente.

As leis de idioma mais estranhas do mundo


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World's Weirdest Language Laws

The Translation Company has taken a legal look around the globe to find some of the world’s weirdest language laws. With the debate around free speech getting fiercer than ever there’s never been a more appropriate time to take a look the ways in which governments past and present have tried to promote one language at the expense of another and in some extreme cases tried to ban languages altogether.

The World's Weirdest Language Laws - The Translation Company


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The Future of Machine Translation

Who needs human document translation services when there are machine translations? That is a question the professional translation services industry is increasingly grappling with. Machine translation programs are capable of learning. They make use of machine learning to render increasingly sophisticated and natural sounding translations. Many are saying it is a full-blown coup d’état. But let’s not get too enthusiastic. Claims that it is the end of the professional translation services industry as we know it are premature.

Machine Document Translation Services Are Improving

In traditional machine translation, a machine translator will use publically available translation data. It collects data for a range of different documents. For example, the machine will use documents already translated from English to French. Using this data, the machine will judge how to best translate a particular phrase or sentence from English to French. A machine-learning algorithm will crunch all of this kind of available data to detect patterns. This is how machines “learn” to translate. There is no denying that machine-learning translations are getting better. They are getting more adept at specialized translations, for example. This includes medical, legal, and technical translation services. Many machine translators can even receive human feedback. That means that if a human inputs a “better” translation, the machine will remember it and use it in the future.

But Are Machine Document Translation Services Good Enough?

According to consulting firm Common Sense Advisory, the industry still generates a lot of revenue. In fact, revenue generation in the translation and interpreting industry is approximately $37 billion per year. That means that in spite of the rise of machine translation services, human translators are still stealing a lion’s share of the business. That is because they offer a quality that machine translation services simply can’t offer.

The standard of machine document translation is generally acceptable. But machine voice translation services still have along way to go. There are notable limitations. “In a way, you have to make a compromise. You have to know whom are you talking to. You are talking to a speech recognizer, a machine,” explained Joseba Abaitua. Abaitua is a professor at the modern foreign languages department at the University of Deusto. He explained that when people speak slowly and clearly in short sentences, a machine can typically handle the translation. “The machine can start understanding you quite well. But if you start talking with a lot of colloquialism, then the whole system breaks down,” he added. For a complete critique of voice language translation apps, check out this BBC article.

The bottom line? It is unlikely that machines will ever usurp humans in the professional translation services industry. This is especially true when it comes to specialized translation services, like legal or technical. What machine translation can do is help improve the accuracy and efficiency of human translation.

Google Translation App Now Equipped with Word Lens

Google Translate is a handy tool known for providing convenient written translation services. However, a recent update of the popular foreign language translation services tool has greatly improved its capabilities. Thanks to technology powered by Word Lens, the foreign language translation services tool will also now be able to translate text in photos. Users will only need to hold their phone up to the text for the tool to work its magic. And it isn’t just an English translation services tool. Word Lens is compatible with a range of different languages, including French, Spanish, and Russian.

Word Lens: Improving Foreign Language Translation Services

Google acquired Quest Visual, the company behind Word Lens technology, last year. For more information about Word Lens, check out this TechCrunch Review. Essentially, if you want to translate text, you just need to place your phone up to the text. The translation will appear over the original text. It’s taking written translation services to a whole new level!

“The Translate app already lets you use camera mode to snap a photo of text and get a translation for it in 36 languages. Now, we’re taking it to the next level and letting you instantly translate text using your camera,” Google said in an official blog post. “It’s way easier to navigate street signs in the Italian countryside or decide what to order off a Barcelona menu. While using the Translate app, just point your camera at a sign or text. You’ll see the translated text overlaid on your screen — even if you don’t have an Internet or data connection.”

The Quest for Perfection in Automated Foreign Language Services Tools

Word Lens isn’t perfect just yet. It can manage clear, bold text OK. However, it struggles with stylized text or handwriting. Even if it can’t come up with a perfect translation, it can usually get the job done. However, it looks like Google hasn’t finished pulling tricks out of its sleeve just yet.

“With Word Lens, we’ve seen the beginnings of what’s possible when we harness the power of mobile devices to ‘see the world in your language,’” the company said in a statement. “We can incorporate Quest Visual’s technology into Google Translate’s translation capabilities.”

So, what is in store for Google’s foreign language translation services tool? Only time will tell, but it looks like we can expect improved translation services soon. It looks like the company will be expanding from written translation services into the visual realm. Many have also anticipated that Word Lens technology will be expanded to other languages. It is currently available for Portuguese, German, Italian, and French translation. It is also available for Russian, Spanish, and English translation services.

Bombay High Court Corrects a ‘Fatal’ Translation

When it comes to legal document translation, translation services need to get it right. High-quality, accurate legal document translation is a matter of life and death — literally. 28-year-old Sunil Ombase is all too aware of this. Because of a legal document translation error, the Indian man was sentenced to death for the murder of his son.

On Aug. 16, 2013, Ombase was sentenced to death for murdering his son and sister-in-law and attempting to kill his wife. According to the official police report, a fight broke out between Ombase and his wife, Sanjivani, the night of Dec. 31, 2013. As tensions rose, Ombase pulled out a knife and stabbed his wife. He then stabbed and killed his son, Swapnil, and sister-in-law, Pallavi, with the weapon.

A Legal Document Translation Blunder

During his initial interrogation, Ombase told police that he acted out of “rage and sudden provocation.” He said he was infuriated by his wife’s comments about his impotency and sexual incapacity. Though his wife vehemently denied these claims, under cross-examinations she did admit that she had provoked her husband.

However, her statement, which was originally translated in Marathi, was wrongly translated by the trial court. According to The Indian Express, the original translation read:

It is not true to say that. The accused did not have intention to assault me or to kill my son and sister, following my unwarranted comments.

However, the judges clarified that it should have been translated as:

As I provoked the accused, he assaulted me, my son, and my sister. He had no intention to kill us.

Professional Government Translation Services: A Matter of Life and Death

The High Court acknowledged that the crime was heinous. However, it did not feel that the death sentence was warranted, and commuted the original sentence. The sentence was changed to life imprisonment, plus 10 addition years.

“Even if the accused was not having intention to commit murder of the children, he inflicted knife blows on two innocent helpless children. [He caused] a bodily injury, sufficient to cause death in the ordinary course of nature. Therefore, the offence committed by the accused with respect to the said two children falls undoubtedly within the purview of Section 302,” the court ruled. “Considering the entire evidence on record, including the admission given by Sanjivani . . . we are of the considered view that it is not a case which falls in the category of ‘rarest or rare,’ where imposition of death sentence is imperative.”

The case ultimately illustrates the importance of high-quality legal translation services. Without proper government translation services, justice is at risk.

The 3 Best Translations of Russian Literary Classics

Russian English translation is no easy feat. It is especially difficult when translating literary giants like Tolstoy, Pushkin, Bulgakov, and Dostoevsky. What makes Russian language translation so difficult? Well, many major Russian literary figures are known for their experimental styles. But to accommodate the preferences of an English audience, translators often made conservative choices. They opted to mold the works into a more classic and traditional English version, killing the original feel of the text. Of course, many contend that this is a major translation sin. Russian literary master Vladimir Nabokov condemned translators who produced texts to please the public. Instead, he argued that translators should always stay true to the original literary text.

So, when it comes to Russian literature, which translations from Russian to English are the most authentic? The most literary? The best? Check out these shining examples of excellent Russian English translations of literary classics.

 Bulgakov’s “The Master and Margarita,” translated by Diana Burgin and Katherine Tiernan O’Connor. Bulgakov’s “The Master and Margarita” always manages to top the list of the best Russian novels. Written in the style of a kind of Russian magical realism, it is exciting and engaging. The problem is that when the novel was first released in Russia, it was censored by the Soviet regime. Two of the current four English language translations are based on this version. But this of course means the translation from Russian to English is incomplete. In contrast, the Diana Burgin and Katherine Tiernan O’Connor version is based on the complete Russian text.

 Tolstoy’s “War and Peace,” translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. Many English readers assume that Tolstoy’s style is classic, elegant, and straightforward. This is a result of a series of prim and proper Victorian-era translations done by Constance Garnett. While Tolstoy’s style of writing is clear, it isn’t classic. In fact, Tolstoy was a pioneer of unconventional narratives. In his masterpiece “War and Peace,” for example, he often ignored the rules of grammar. He tried to recreate the looseness of the spoken word. He often used idiomatic expressions that have no place in formal Russian. He is also repetitive, often using the same word a dozen times in the same paragraph. In one of the text’s most famous sentences, Tolstoy uses the word “round” five times to describe the peasant Platon Karataev. This choice was a deliberate one, used to create a particular rhythm and rhetorical effect. But translators such as Garnett have often chosen to “clean up” such passages. While the result is a text that is easier to read, it destroys the unique Tolstoyan style. Luckily, Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky’s translation preserves many of Tolstoy’s nonconformist choices. As a result, his unique style is accessible to English readers.

For a few fascinating examples of how the two preserve his style, take a look at this New Yorker article. When it comes to Russian language translation, Pevear and Volokhonsky are among the best of the best. They have translated a range of classics, from Gogol to Bulgakov. You can’t go wrong with any of their translations from Russian to English.

 Dostoyevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov,” translated by David McDuff. David Remnick said that “The Brothers Karamazov” is “the most polyphonic of Dostoyevsky’s novels.” He explained that it is “the one with the most voices, tones, and textures braided into the text.” It is also humorous, something often lost in early attempts at translation from Russian to English. There is also a stellar Pevear and Volokhonsky translation of this classic. But many experts say that the McDuff translation best preserves Dostoyevsky’s sense of humor. All in all, it is a lively read and a highlight of Russian language translation.


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