There is no doubt that the business world has changed almost beyond recognition over the last nine months. The global pandemic and national lockdowns have changed the way that businesses have had to work. The benefits of translation services for businesses have never been so clear as they are now.

Sadly for a lot of companies, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced them to close their doors. But for those who have been brave enough and – let’s face it – lucky enough to be able to capitalise on them it has presented a number of opportunities.

Putting aside those who were already manufacturing products like PPE and hand sanitiser, there is one industry that has benefited more than any other from the new ways of working that have been forced on us all. [source]


I guess we’re all fully aware of how well Amazon has done this year. When your government forces the entire population to stay indoors, and then closes all the shops, you are faced with finding the things you need online. Most people are going to head straight for the most obvious supplier. What that means is that Amazon did amazingly well. Between mid-March and the end of June their stock prices grew by over $1000.

But it isn’t just them that have benefited.

The lockdown has brought a growing awareness of the negative environmental impact of big business. With clear water flowing in Venice’s famously dirty canals, blue skies over Delhi, and videos of wild animals wandering through deserted city streets going viral, it has forced a lot of people to consider the impact their previous lives had on the planet we all share.

What that has meant is that a host of new e-commerce businesses with a focus on sustainability have sprung up almost overnight.

Time to choose

With more time than ever before on their hands, and the entire internet at their fingertips, buyers have been able to choose a supplier who shares their own values. If you want to buy locally sourced products and have them delivered to your door then that is perfectly possible. But if you want to buy products that are made on the other side of the world directly from the people who make them in order to ensure they get a fair price for their work, then that’s possible too. It’s no longer a case of buying a bag of Fairtrade coffee from the local supermarket and congratulating yourself for helping.

You can buy coffee direct from the grower. You can buy it from a small family-run roasting house down the road that works directly with the growers. If you choose to, you can buy it from an ethically run business in Denmark. A business that sources beans directly from a grower in Ethiopia and ships to the UK.

Being forced to do everything digitally has opened the eyes of consumers to the fact that they genuinely have a choice. A truly global choice.

And that is where translation comes in.

coffee a product that transcends language

A global audience

It is estimated that over two billion people speak English worldwide. It is by far the most common language spoken, but sticking with the example of coffee from earlier, Spanish is probably the next language that springs to mind.

Spanish is the official language of

  • Puerto Rico
  • Argentina
  • Bolivia
  • Chile
  • Colombia
  • Costa Rica
  • Cuba
  • Dominican Republic
  • Ecuador
  • El Salvador
  • Equatorial Guinea
  • Guatemala
  • Honduras
  • Mexico
  • Nicaragua
  • Panama
  • Paraguay
  • Peru
  • Spain
  • Uruguay
  • Venezuela

– many of which are in the global coffee belt. With over 450 million native speakers worldwide, having a website that has both Spanish and English options for your coffee beans opens you up to a much bigger potential audience.

Where are your customers?

Even the most cursory online search, however, shows that the nations drinking the most coffee per capita are Scandinavian. [source] In Finland alone it is estimated that the population of 5.5 million people each drink the equivalent of 12kg of beans every single year. That is 66,000,000 kilos of coffee being consumed by a nation that speaks neither English nor Spanish. The potential benefits of translating your e-commerce website into Finnish are immediately clear.

The basic fact is that if you limit your language, you limit your potential customers. And in a world that is existing more and more on digital platforms, that is not sensible.

It might seem counter-intuitive to look to expand your market in the middle of a global pandemic, but, due to the restrictions on movement that have been put in place, logistics companies have significantly increased their capacity for door-to-door, contactless collection and delivery. It has never been easier to arrange for items to be shipped from anywhere, to anywhere at the click of a mouse.

The language of the Internet

There is no denying that English is the primary language of the worldwide web. Over 60% of the sites are in English, with varying amounts of information available in other languages.

What that basically means is that there is a competitive advantage available for anyone wishing to take it.

If you are competing with 60 sites in English, there are likely to only be 2 in German, 1 in Italian, and none at all in Swedish. With a population of over 83 million people in Germany alone, that is a potentially huge market waiting to be tapped by anyone with the courage to go for it.

Benefits of translation for marketing

You don’t have to dive straight in, though. You don’t have to commit to translating your entire digital presence. It is clear that video is currently the most effective medium for online marketing, and captions are essential for any video that is likely to be viewed on social media (over 90% of Facebook videos are watched with no sound), so why not look to have multi-lingual subtitles on your marketing videos?

At STAR we’ve been helping people make the most of the global opportunities that come from being able to communicate in multiple languages for many years now.

Why not get in touch? We can have a chat about how the benefits of translation can help you start to reach the potential you didn’t even know your business had.

You don’t get to be the type of person who lives and breathes translation without developing a love for the interesting nuances that make a language what it is.  And so it’s no surprise that the team at STAR have all sorts of obscure knowledge about how language is used.

We’ve looked at a few of these in the past, how adjectives are trickier than you think, and how idioms are actually traps to catch the unwary, but the one we’re going to look at today is possibly the best yet.

There is a grammatical rule in English that you were never formally taught. Yet you know exactly how it is appliedand when to use it. You can also spot it a mile off when people get it wrong.

Actually there are a few, but it’s probably best if we ignore that for the time being.

This rule is a bit special, because despite us all following it, no-one even knows for certain what it is.

It relates to dropping words, or parts of words, inside other words.

Yes, that’s right, we’re going to look at infixes.

The Context

I have no doubt that you are fully familiar with prefixes. A word, letter, or number placed immediately in front of another in order to change or clarify its meaning.

You can reverse the meaning of a verb by placing “un” in front of it.  You could tie your shoelaces, and then you could untie your shoelaces.

And I’m equally certain that you know all sorts about suffixes and how they are used. A morpheme added to the end of a word in order to form a derivative.

For example if I have a habit of being quick at doing things, I may untie my shoelaces quick“ly”.

So if a prefix comes before a word, and a suffix comes after a word, then I suspect you have figured out that an infix is a word or morpheme that sits within the body of another word.

an infix is a discrete unit of langiage that sits inside a a word

Now I’m not planning on talking about the obscure technical uses of infixes in chemistry, like the addition of “pe” into a word to signify complete hydrogenation – lutidine becoming lupetidine for example. Nor am I going to be looking at highly specific jargon.

Infixes around the world

There are fairly well accepted uses of infixes in lots of languages.  In some Spanish speaking Central American countries “it” is used as a diminutive infix to imply familiarity and affection in a name.  For example, Óscar would become Ósquitar. This probably derives from the Misumalpan language Ulwa spoken across Nicaragua and Honduras which uses infixes regularly.

In Samoan, infixes can be a repeated morpheme used as a unit of stress. So “atamai” meaning “clever” or “smart” becomes “atamamai” meaning “wise”.

In Chamorro, a language used by the indigenous people of the Mariana Islands, infixes are extremely common, and used for a number of purposes.  For example, “tristi” means “sad”, but “trumisti” means “becomes sad”.

However, interesting though this is, it isn’t what I promised you at the beginning.  That was to look at how we use them in English without ever being taught them.

The reason for that, is that in English, infixes are usually expletives.

They are swear words. Or substitute swear words dropped into the middle of other words in order to intensify the meaning.

Are you serious? I hear you ask.


Expletive infixes in English

The most interesting thing about these expletive infixes is not that they exist in the first place, but that despite usually not being exposed to them in language until adulthood, new examples can be formed easily and consistently across native English speakers.

That suggests that there is indeed a linguistic rule that is being followed and that the placement is not arbitrary.

However, there is some debate about what that rule may be.

James McMillan, in his paper “Infixing and Interposing in English” suggests that they are placed at a syllable boundary, usually just before the primary stressed syllable of the word.  Thus absolutely becomes abso-bloody-lutely and not ab-bloody-solutely.

However, this doesn’t quite explain the phenomenon completely.

For example, if we were to follow this rule unbelievable would be unbe-bloody-lievable. Clearly the correct usage here is un-bloody-believeable.

John McCarthy, in his paper “Prosodic structure and expletive infixation”  suggests that what actually matters is the metrical stress of the word, and the infixation occurs at the point where the least restructuring of the word needs to be done to accommodate it.

If we look at the words unbelievable and irresponsible we can see they have the same number of syllables. The have identical stress patterns, and the first syllable of both is a separate morpheme.  However, the infix location is clearly different.  What he proposes is that the first complete rhythmic unit of unbelievable is “un”, but of irresponsible it is “irre”.  So while we would say un-bloody-believable, we would not say ir-bloody-responsible, but irre-bloody-sponsible.

What this actually means is that, if he is correct, as native speakers of the English language, we have an innate understanding of the basic repeating rhythmic units of the language. These are known as prosodic feet and form the basis of poetic metre.

But that is a subject for a whole other article.

When you think about it, adjectives are amazing things.

A word that changes the meaning of another word.

If you read the words “a cat” you immediately create a mental image of a cat, however if we add in an adjective, it can completely change that mental picture.

A stuffed cat.

I’d be willing to put money on the fact that first time round your mind’s eye didn’t picture a stuffed cat, but now it does, and when you go back to the first example, the cat by itself, you still see an example of the taxidermist’s art.

So when adjectives are so powerful, and can so completely change the way we perceive the written words they relate to, it’s probably fair to say that it is important that we get them right.

If we’re looking to translate a phrase from one language to another and we get the adjective even slightly wrong it can have fairly big consequences.

It’s probably not lifechanging for you not to know that my imaginary cat is long dead and stuffed, but it could be if you were given the wrong information about the inbuilt safety systems of your new car.

So now we’re all in agreement about how important adjectives are, let’s look at a few ways people can be caught out.

translating adjectives well matters

Articles as Adjectives

Technically articles are adjectives. “Cat” is less specific than “A cat”, or “The cat”. You’re probably fully aware that different languages have different rules for articles. In English we only have three articles, ‘a’, ‘an’, and ‘the’.

‘A’, and ‘an’ are both derived from the Old English “An” meaning one. A thousand years ago we had “se” (masc.), “seo” (fem.), and “þæt” (neuter), but they were all eventually superseded by “þe” which gave us “the”. However other languages retained a lot of the variation that we in English have lost.

Some languages have two forms of definite article (masculine and feminine), some three (masculine, feminine, and neuter). Sometimes these change according to whether the noun is singular or plural, and sometimes based on whether the noun refers to an animate, or inanimate object.

For example in the Algonkian language of Ojibwe the word “mitig” has several different meanings. When animate the word means tree, but when inanimate it means twig. Similarly in Kurmaji, “dar” used as feminine means tree, but the same word with a masculine article means wood – the sort of mistake a non-native speaker makes all the time.

But there is way more to adjectives than just articles.

Adjective Placement

The way different languages use adjectives can vary massively. Where is the adjective placed in relation to the noun it belongs to? What order are your adjectives written in? These things matter, are often not particularly intuitive to the non-native speaker.

In French, most adjectives are placed directly after the noun they relate to. For example “une robe rouge” translates as “a red dress” despite literally saying “a dress red”. Most French speakers will forgive a mistake like this, but when it comes to commercial translation ‘good enough’ is not actually good enough. It has to be right.

However, we mentioned that not all adjectives are placed after the noun in French. Some are commonly placed before. You’d be forgiven for thinking that the English phrase “A new dress” would translate to “une robe nouvelle”, but you’d be wrong. In the case of that particular adjective, it should be positioned before the noun, and not after it.

In some cases the meaning of the adjective even changes depending on its placement.

Une robe chère” is an expensive dress. But “chère Céline” is not expensive Celine, but dear Celine.

As if that wasn’t confusing enough, there are some French phrases that look very much as if they are simple adjective noun combinations, but actually have specific meanings in English.

Mon petit ami” does not refer to my small friend, but to my boyfriend.

Every language has its own special use cases and subtle nuances that may not be familiar to a non-native speaker.

However, even when translating to and from English we shouldn’t be blasé.

Adjectives in English

Our use of adjectives is not as simple as you might think. While we usually place adjectives before the noun they relate to, that is not always the case. When using linking verbs (commonly the verb ‘to be’) the adjective goes after the noun.

“The red dress” becomes “The dress is red”.

But also when utilising set phrases such as “heir apparent” or “poet laureate”.

Indefinite pronouns are another example of postpositive adjectives. We wouldn’t refer to “strong somebody”, but “somebody strong”.

There are even examples where changing the position of the adjective from before to after the noun actually changes the meaning of the sentence in English.

“Are you a responsible person?” does not have the same meaning as “Are you the person responsible?”

The difference is subtle, but it is clear to a native speaker.

Now let’s take a quick look at adjective order.

Order of Adjectives

You may or may not know that we have set rules in English that we all follow, albeit unknowingly, when it comes to the order of adjectives.

It goes like this.

Opinion, Size, Physical quality, Shape, Age, Colour, Origin, Material, Type, Purpose.

I could say “He drives a strange, old, green car” and it would make perfect sense. But if I were to swap the adjectives around and say “He drives a green, strange, old car” it would sound a little jarring to any native speaker.

“A long, thin, Japanese, cooking knife” makes a lot more sense than “A cooking, thin, Japanese, long knife.” Which, let’s be honest, makes me sound insane.

The only real point here is that every language has many varied, and subtle rules that govern the use of adjectives. And non-native speakers are likely to get at least some wrong from time to time, however well they know the language.

That is why at STAR we always ensure that our team of translators always work into their native languages.

If you’ve got something to translate, why not get in touch and we’ll make sure it’s done properly.

A good translator needs to be knowledgeable and experienced in their profession. But, more than that, the qualities of a good translator include great attention to detail, research skills, and a good emotional and technical understanding of language. Good translators often work independently, so they should have no trouble doing this, and possess a good deal of common sense.

The Key to Good Translation

A qualified and experienced translator is the key to good translation. Without a good translator, there’s no guarantee that your content is conveying the same tone or intent as it originally did. In extreme cases, there is also no guarantee that it even has the same meaning as it did in its original form! And when your business services depend on accurate translations, this isn’t a risk you can take. So knowing what qualities to look for in a good translator is important.

Are qualifications a quality of a good translator?

Do Qualifications Matter?

One of the easiest ways of finding a good translator is to look at what qualifications, programs, or certifications they have. But, qualifications don’t necessarily always tell you everything about a person, including what personal and professional skills and qualities they possess. Additionally, not all countries offer programs to prove your worth as a translator.

For instance, translators in some countries can earn the status of ‘certified translator’ or ‘sworn translator’. Certified translators are often needed to translate identity documents for government bodies. But, unfortunately, unlike these countries, the UK does not have an official system of certified translators. So businesses have to rely on other methods to find out whether an individual is a good translator.

Does Personality Matter?

There is no one type of personality that suits being a good translator. This is both a blessing and a curse. It means that there are lots of people who have the abilities and skills necessary to be a great translator. But, it can be hard to narrow down your search when you have so many options.

The Most Important Qualities of a Good Translator?

A good translator should have good research skills, and the ability to write creatively in their target language. They should also have a good attention to detail. Without a good attention to detail, there’s more room for mistakes in their translations. Tiny changes to content can completely change its meaning, including moving and changing punctuation. It’s less likely that a translator will miss any small details like this if they have good attention to detail.

Good translation isn’t just about accurately interpreting words. It is also about interpreting and conveying the correct tone and intent of your original content.The ability to write creatively will mean that your translator is able to accurately recreate the tone and spirit of your content, especially if this requires slight changes. If your translator has a flair for creativity, they will be able to do this with no problem.

Other Qualities of a Good Translator

Most translators work independently when translating work. So, a good translator will have to be able to easily work and motivate themselves when working alone. Research skills tie into this. When someone works independently, they won’t necessarily be able to rely on others to find information and answers. This also requires a level of initiative. If a translator struggles to motivate themselves when working alone, they may struggle to accurately translate content.

Paired with these qualities, it’s important for good translators to have common sense. If something has been translated but doesn’t make sense, or doesn’t have the same spirit and intention as the original content, it’s important that they pick up on this. It goes hand in hand with attention to detail. But rather than translating something word for word, they must have the common sense to make adjustments for the flow and benefit of the content as a whole.

Is Experience Important?

The more experience translators have, the more opportunities they get to develop these qualities. Experience will also naturally help any translator to develop their understanding of the languages they speak. Plenty of experience in translating services will demonstrate that someone has the theory and the knowledge of the languages necessary for accurate translation. It also means they are likely to be aware that translation is more than just a word for word rendering. They’ll be capable of recreating the spirit, tone, and intention of the original piece as though it was originally written in the target language.

So, although there’s no particular personality that makes a good translator, there are a few key qualities that will help. A good translator needs the ability to research terminology and concepts in depth. But they also need a great attention to detail, and a flair for creativity. The best translators will often have the right qualifications and experience. But they will also be able to work independently, with great attention to detail and emotional intelligence.

In simple terms, translation is the process of rendering written content from one language to another language. But, not every translation will be as good, or as accurate as another. Good translation relies on having a qualified and experienced translator who is capable of achieving the following.

The translated content must be accurate, with the same meaning and intent as the original, with no errors or omissions.

But, it must also replicate the correct tone and spirit as the original content.

The Most Important Aspect of Translation 

Perhaps the most important part of a good translation is to have the same meaning and effect as the original content.

In any language, small changes can completely alter the meaning of content. In a business setting this can be detrimental, especially if you are translating important information or statistics.

So, before anything else, a good translation must have the same meaning as the original content.

Without this, you could unconsciously be saying something completely different once your work has been translated.

Technical accuracies are inevitably linked to the accurate meaning of a text. These are another key part of a good translation.

This applies to even the smallest detail in your content.

Not only do each of the words need to have the correct, accurate meaning, but all of the grammar needs to be correct and in the right places. Missing out small things like this can completely change the meaning of your content.

So, a good translation requires attention to detail as well as a complete and in-depth knowledge of both languages.

Hand in hand, technical accuracies and an accurate meaning will result in a good translation. But, there’s even more that goes into the process.

Tone of Voice

A good translation will capture the same tone and spirit as the original content.

This is especially true in content that is being translated to be published. Tone is just as important as meaning in many ways.

A translation that has the same tone as the original content will ensure that your words have the exact same effect on any of your readers. You don’t want original content to be inspiring and moving but translated content to be dull and unmotivating.

Plus, a translator is almost never the author of the original content. So, a good translation will replicate the tone and voice of the author that is being translated.

This can take a degree of skill. So, you’ll need to invest in a good translator.

The Translator

To achieve a good translation, you need a good translator.

The best translators will be able to do everything we have mentioned here.

Choosing a translator with plenty of experience and qualifications means that you are more likely to get a good translation. Some businesses may consider using just anyone that can speak the target language. But, doing this can result in inaccurate translations. Or worse, ones that are technically accurate but that don’t reflect the original intent and tone of your content.

A professional translator will have the experience and ability to replicate your content exactly as it should be.

In some situations, it could be hard for a translator to get a technically accurate translation whilst keeping the exact same tone and meaning. But, a good translator will know just how to strike the right balance.

Good translation, if all of these factors are achieved, does not seem like a translation at all. In fact, it will seem as if the content was originally written in your target language.

A good translation could be read by a native speaker with no indication to them that the content has been translated. Communication with readers in the target language should feel natural and easy with a good translation.

A good translation doesn't feel like a translation at all

Why you Need Good Translation

Good translation matters. Especially when global interconnectivity is an important part of your business.

As different parts of the world become more interconnected, it’s important that communication is as easy as possible. And the most successful businesses will be the ones that have the best translations.

So, in summary, achieving a good translation requires a number of layers.

It needs to convey the same meaning, tone, and spirit as the original content. This is important both to preserve the mark of the author. It is also important to serve the same purpose as was originally intended.

Your reader, ideally, will not be able to tell that they are reading a translation. A good translation is imperceptible to its audience. And a good translator can guarantee that.

Most people use idioms in their daily conversations without thinking. But these expressions can seem like utter nonsense if you aren’t a native speaker of that language, so translating idioms can be tricky.

A lot of idioms don’t translate easily across languages. And trying to translate them can have some hilarious results.

You usually need to know the meaning behind the idiom before you can truly understand what it means. But this can pose some interesting problems for people who are working in a different language.

What is an idiom?

Idioms are sayings or expressions with a meaning that differs from the literal meaning of the individual words [definition].

For instance, the English idiom ‘speak of the Devil’ means ‘the person we were talking about just showed up’, rather than to literally speak of the Devil.

You can see why this would be confusing for someone who doesn’t know the meaning of the phrase.

This is because you can’t get the meaning of an idiom from the expression alone – you need to know the context surrounding it.

Generally idioms offer advice or reflections that can be applied to the situations they’re used in. So, not only are they interesting linguistically, but they offer some great insights to the culture and societies in which they are used.

English idioms

These expressions can be applied to pretty much every area of life. But the best way to see that is to look at some of the best idioms from our own language.

Here are some common English idioms and their real meanings.

  • ‘Let’s cross that bridge when we come to it’ – we will deal with that problem when it happens
  • ‘The ball is in your court’ – it’s up to you to decide
  • ‘To bite off more than you can chew’ – to take on more than you can handle
  • ‘Hit the sack/hay’ – to go to bed or to sleep
  • ‘The cat’s out of the bag’ – to reveal or find out a secret.

It’s pretty likely you’ve heard someone use these idioms if you’re a native English speaker. But, when you stop to take the phrases literally, it’s easy to see why non-natives could get confused.

Are idioms universal?

Just because people speak different languages doesn’t mean their experiences are entirely unique.

Idioms can describe universal experiences. So, are there any universal idioms that are used in every language?

The answer is yes and no.

Some idioms can be applied globally, and have versions of one another. But they don’t use the exact same words.

Others will only make sense in their own culture, and will sound like complete nonsense to any non-native.

Let’s take a look at a few of those ‘universal’ idioms that can be applied to the same situations.

Idioms in different languages

One universal situation that is described by idioms in most languages is a job that is easily done.

In English, you might hear someone say “that’s child’s play”, “that’s a piece of cake”, or “as easy as ABC”. So, even within one language there are multiple idioms to describe this situation.

A French version of this idiom is: ‘c’est un jeu d’enfant’. Literally, this means ‘it is a child’s game’, so is really similar to the first English idiom above.

In Chinese, we have 举手之劳 or jŭs hŏu zhī láo. This can be translated to mean ‘the effort of raising a hand’.

The Germans also use hands in their idiom – ‘das schaffe ich mit links’, meaning ‘I can do that with my left hand’.

The words are not that important when translating idioms such as these. It is the meaning that matters. One can often be substituted with another.

Let’s take another example

Another situation that has idioms in a lot of different languages is bad weather.

In English, we might say ‘it’s raining cats and dogs’ if we see a storm outside. This means it’s horrible weather, or raining heavily.

French has a similar saying: ‘il fait un temps de chien’. This roughly translates to ‘it’s dog weather’, but means the same as the English idiom above – the weather is foul. However the French are as likely to say ‘il pleut de cordes’, literally, it’s raining ropes.

The Welsh also have an idiom for this situation, but they move away from dogs and cats. ‘Bwrw hen wragedd a ffyn’ translates to mean ‘raining old ladies and walking sticks’ and is commonly used to describe heavy rain.

Even though these idioms are all different, it’s easy to understand the situation they refer to. Most countries have their own versions of similar idioms.

But, translating idioms is harder if you don’t know the surrounding context. Let’s take a closer look at some idioms that don’t translate across linguistic borders quite as easily.

Translating Idioms - Raining Ropes?

French idioms

One great French idiom is perfect for describing anger or losing your temper is ‘avoir la moutarde qui monte au nez’. This literally translates to ‘to have mustard up your nose’. It’s easy to see how this could be confusing to a non-native.

Another pretty strange sounding French idiom is: ‘avoir un poil dans la main’. This literally means ‘to have a hair in one’s hand’, but is used to mean someone is being lazy.

A more romantic choice is ‘un coup de foudre’. This literally translates to mean ‘a lightning bolt’, but is actually used to mean love at first sight.

German idioms

Another language that has some great idioms to consider is German. ‘Eine Extrawurst bekommen’ roughly translates to mean ‘get an extra sausage’. But this idiom means that someone is asking for or getting special treatment.

A fun German idiom is: ‘da steppt der Bär’, which translates to ‘the bear dances there’. This is used if you want to say a party will be great fun.

And ‘Tomaten auf den Augen haben’, literally means to have tomatoes on your eyes. But this is used to describe someone who is being blind to their surroundings.

Chinese idioms

China is well known for its idioms and wise sayings. They are known as ‘chengyu’ in Mandarin. Translating idioms, or chengyu into other languages is particularly tricky.

‘马马虎虎’ (mǎ mǎ hū hū) literally translates to ‘horse horse tiger tiger’. But this phrase as a whole is used to describe something that is average, or in English “run of the mill”.

Another great Chinese idiom is ‘骑虎难下’ (qí hŭ nán xià) which translates to mean ‘riding a tiger is difficult’. This idiom is used to describe hard situations that cannot be stopped halfway through.

‘民以食为天’ (mín yǐ shí wéi tiān) is another Chinese idiom that can be used in many situations. This literally means ‘people regard food as heaven’, and is used to emphasize the importance of food.

Welsh Idioms

Although Wales is just next door to England, they still have plenty of idioms that don’t translate well to non-natives.

For instance, ‘Rhoi’r ffidil yn y tô’ literally means ‘putting the violin in the roof’, but is an idiom used to describe giving up.

Fel cynffon buwch’ translates to mean ‘like a cow’s tail’. This idiom is used when someone is later than everyone else.

And ‘A’i wynt yn ei ddwrn’ translates to mean ‘with the wind in his fist’. You can use this saying to describe someone who is out of breath.

Russian Idioms

Russian is another great language for fascinating idioms. Let’s start with ‘Остаться с носом’ (astat’sya s nosam). This translates to mean ‘stay/be left with the nose’, but is used to describe someone who was tricked or duped into something.

‘Когда рак на горе свистнет’ (kagda rak na gare svisnit) can be translated to mean ‘when the crawfish on the mountain whistles’. This essentially means something is never going to happen.

Another great one is ‘Дать зуб’ (dat zub) translates to ‘give a tooth’. This idiom means that you are 100% certain about something. You are so sure that you would give your tooth.

Spanish Idioms

Finally, let’s look at some Spanish idioms that sound pretty strange when translated into English.

One great Spanish idiom is ‘Estar en la edad del pavo’, which means ‘being in the turkey age’. This sounds like complete nonsense if you don’t know what it means. But it actually refers to being in your awkward teenage years.

Another Spanish idiom related to age is ‘ser del año de la pera’. This translates to mean ‘being from the year of the pear’, and means to be very old.

Estar sin blanca’ literally translates to ‘to be without white’, but this common phrase actually means to be broke or poor.

Translating idioms

The trick to translating idioms, of course, is knowing when there is one in front of you. Translate an unknown idiom literally and there’s a good chance you’ll be barking up the wrong tree. But any translator worth his salt will not only be able to recognise these neat little expressions but seamlessly work their meaning into the target language too.

To be able to accurately convey the sense of the idiom is one thing; finding an equivalent phrase in the target language which also reflects the original tone and sentiment presents more of a challenge.

At STAR, our teams work into their native language so that each and every translation benefits from the translator’s inherent understanding of their language and its idiomatic nature. We pride ourselves on finding linguistically elegant solutions to these types of issues

and, as a result, providing translations which hit the nail on the head, every single time.

Today’s topic is a slightly unusual one as it’s all  technical authoring for maximum translation benefit, or more simply, writing for translation.

You might already be looking at me with a puzzled expression. Surely, translation happens AFTER you’ve written the text, not before or during?! Well, yes and no.

I’ve touched on this before in my blogs about reducing translation costs and understanding translation memory software, as well as the blog about optimising your content for translation.

Today I’d like to look at it in slightly more detail, as well as introducing a STAR Group tool that could just simplify your technical writing process.

Writing clearly and concisely

This should be an obvious one.

In any technical authoring task, your number one objective should be to write clearly and concisely. Keep your sentences short. Avoid jargon and overcomplicating your subject.

This does not change when you are writing your document for translation.

It just becomes more important.

Looking at potential fuzzy match percentages

I discuss fuzzy matches a lot in these posts, and I always try to avoid jargon. However, I appreciate that the whole concept of a fuzzy match might feel like an alien language.

Today, I’m going to try and give you an example.

Translation memory software works on the basis of analysing similarity between two units of language; usually a sentence.

Using a fuzzy logic algorithm, it breaks down the sentence into its component parts, i.e. words, punctuation marks and numbers.

It looks at each one of these component parts, checks whether it has moved or disappeared from the sentence and combines the results from each component analysis to create a fuzzy match percentage.

That’s about all the explanation I can give you. No, seriously, don’t ask me any further questions on this. Computer science is not my strong point! Plus, every company uses different weightings in the algorithm so they will all get slightly different numbers.

So let’s look at an example.

Loki the cat


I have a cat; his name is Loki.

I have a dog; his name is Rover.

My dog’s name is Rover.

If we consider the first sentence to be already translated, what do the two examples tell us about potential fuzzy matches?

Factually, both subsequent sentences have the same meaning. You possess a dog; you call him Rover.

There are two changes between sentence 1 and sentences 2/3:

  • Dog not cat
  • Rover not Loki

Comparison of sentence 1 and 2: 75% (classed as a fuzzy match)

technical authoring fuzzy match

Comparison of sentence 1 and 3: Less than 30% match (this will be classed as new words)

technical authoring no fuzzy match

Every agency will have a different breakdown of costs between fuzzy matches and new words, but the principle is the same. New words cost more.

If your entire document contains similar issues, costs will be significantly higher than they need to be.

Avoiding errors

We’re all aware that texts that contain errors are more difficult for the reader. Either grammatical errors in long, tangled sentences, or perhaps a sentence that is littered with typing errors.

Both of these also cause issues for the translator. Potentially it is an issue that is amplified by the fact that they are not native speakers of your language and might find it harder to untangle or decipher the mistakes.

It might take the translator longer to complete your translation project and they may be less willing to work on your texts in the future. As well as there being a risk that they will misunderstand part of your text.

So, how does this affect your costs?

I’ve not come across any agency that imposes cost penalties for texts that contain multiple errors, though they may suggest carrying out an additional proofreading step before translation.

The costs come from misunderstandings that lead to further proofreading steps and incur additional costs to correct errors.

Another concern is for subsequent projects where errors have been corrected. Instead of being able to reuse material as pretranslation, your latest project will be considered as fuzzy matches only. This will add a sizeable percentage increase to your technical translation quotation.

Introducing MindReader

This blog is not really about selling, so I’ll keep this section brief. Even with the best of intentions, it can be difficult to write consistently. It’s more likely that consistency issues will only be found at a proofreading stage or that they might slip through the net completely.

For this reason, the STAR Group has developed authoring tools to help; MindReader and MindReader for Outlook.

Like any tool from STAR, the principle is that you only work on content that is new. Think of it a little bit like autocomplete on your mobile. Just start typing your sentence, and the tool will provide suggestions from elsewhere in your document.

If you want to reuse them, you can. If you don’t, you can ignore them.

It can help with consistency in your technical writing, which will improve clarity as well as bringing down potential translation costs.

If it sounds like something you could be interested in, contact one of our team today.

I hope this blog has been useful in giving you some tips for improving your technical writing and lowering your translation costs.

If you want any further information about this, or to discuss a potential project with one of the team, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

If you know anything about the STAR Group and its history, you’ll know that one of our earliest customer partnerships was formed with the car giant BMW for automotive translation, way back in the 1980s.

Our first Asian subsidiary was formed in Japan in order to support BMW and Mercedes with automotive translations into Japanese.

Now, I don’t say any of these to brag, though I think they are impressive. I say this because I want to highlight that these translations are a key part of the work we do here at STAR.

Our Middle East office based in Cairo works almost exclusively on automotive translations for customers such as Renault and Daimler.

It’s in our DNA, if you will.

Today I wanted to look at the range of automotive translation projects that we work on for various clients and highlight some areas that you might not have thought about.

automotive translations of car manuals

The obvious one – technical manuals

Automotive translation = car manuals, right?!

In a way, yes. Automotive translation and car manuals are an obvious pairing. It is a legal requirement that car manufacturers provide translations of car manuals and other safety information to protect drivers and third parties.

Today, many large car manufacturers use machine translation engines and human post-editing to for these automotive translations. Car manuals often use simpler language and are highly similar to previous versions.  Because of this they are the ideal material for machine translation.

automotive translations for car mechanics

Slightly less obvious – training materials for mechanics

Hopefully this is not completely out of left field when it comes to automotive translations. Anyone that works on cars in any capacity will need to be familiar with the systems that they use.

As an example, in recent years, the rise in popularity of hybrid and electric vehicles has led to a corresponding increase in training manuals.

Christiani, a technical vocational training specialist based in Germany, chose STAR to work on the translations for their training materials on the subject of alternative drive systems and high-voltage batteries.

Similarly, if you are launching your brand into a new geographical area, you need to make sure that the workshops that support your dealerships are familiar with your cars and their workings.

Rolls-Royce, who really need to no other introduction, chose STAR for their automotive translation project to localise materials for new markets in Russia, China and Japan.

automotive translations for OEMs

Sometimes over looked – Original Equipment Manufacturers

It’s easy to rattle off a list of car manufacturers. Their logos are actually everywhere and we can’t escape from their marketing efforts. They are on billboards, on the television and even on the roads as we drive past others.

Yet, these names do not manufacture every component in their cars. This is where the OE manufacturers come in.

Components like spark plugs, shock absorbers, batteries and brake pads are often supplied by other manufacturers. And unsurprisingly, they also need automotive translations.

STAR has worked with TRW aftermarket and ZF on automotive translations for their website and marketing campaigns.

automotive translations for marketing

Not super obvious, yet hugely visible – marketing translations

Marketing materials that require automotive translations are a large part of the work that we carry out for our customers.

Content creation is a buzzword in marketing nowadays and the automotive industry is no different.

Translation suppliers often offer marketing translations in a separate category. However, in my opinion, there are few cases where marketing translations do not require some kind of specialist knowledge.

Yes, marketing translations require creative flair but they also require accurate terminology and an understanding of the technologies involved.

STAR has a long-standing partnership with several digital agencies who outsource translations to us for their automotive customers.

We have worked on the automotive translations for regular press releases. Also point-of-sale collateral, Google adverts and YouTube videos among other things.

automotive translations for HMI

The one you might not have considered – HMI

HMI stands for Human Machine Interface, and I have to confess, this is my favourite one of the five.

If you’ve read any of my previous blogs, you’ll know that I have a thing for engineering and technology. I love the fact that this job gives me an insight into how certain things work.

STAR has been working with VW for over 8 years on their in-car and app texts.

These automotive translations are slightly unusual as they usually take the form of software strings.

If you have a newer car, you are probably familiar with on-board sat nav systems. Also interactive sound systems, or you might even be able to sync your phone and your car.

Our translators have had to consider which voice commands you might use to interact with your car. They also need to consider all of the other options that you might use. It’s an automotive translation task that takes two translators several hours a week. It has also resulted in a few informal office polls for what we might say in a similar situation!

looking for automotive translations

Have you ever spotted an automotive translation?

As the end user, you probably haven’t noticed automotive translations, and that’s how it should be. If you notice that a text is a translation, something has gone wrong somewhere.

Companies spend billions worldwide on automotive translations. One of the main aims is that every text sounds like it was created in that language. Aside from the cost of poor translations that cause delays, there are safety implications to documents containing terminology or factual mistakes.

Companies in the automotive industry need a translation supplier that they can trust. They need one that has the global expertise to support wherever and whenever you need it.

If you have an upcoming automotive translation project, speak to one of our team about how one of our bespoke translation workflows can help you. Alternatively, fill in the form below and we’ll be in touch.

For those outside the industry, a quotation for translation services can be a tricky business.

I can well remember my first week on the job here at STAR. I went home mentally exhausted every night from the sheer scale of new things I needed to learn. One of which was the lingo.

Fuzzy match, internal repetition, translation import: my head was spinning from the new information.

Years later, these terms are now a part of my personal lexicon. It’s easy to forget that I didn’t always understand exactly what they meant.

So, today’s blog will take an in-depth look at quotations for translation services. That way you, a potential translation purchaser, can be sure that you know what you are buying. Also more importantly, that you are getting what you asked for and what you needed.

How do quotations get priced?

It’s not unheard of to receive a quotation for translation services that breaks its prices down per page. Even sometimes a flat fee per project. However, the industry standard is to calculate prices on a per-word basis.

Just to catch you out, these can be listed as a per-word price, such as 0.25GBP or as a price per thousand words, such as 250 GBP. Both mean exactly the same thing. It largely comes down to personal preference on dealing with zeros or decimal delimiters.

The quotation for translation services will work on the number of source words, i.e. the number of words in your document before it is translated.

There’s a simple reason for this: transparency.

A quotation for translation services bases its costs on the word price because this is the most transparent way of calculating the cost of a document.

The translation services supplier can use the word count to estimate how much time the project will take to complete. This way you will know the cost of the translation before it is started.

It is for this reason that the translation supplier will ask you to provide an editable file.

Although it is possible to estimate word counts, in PDF format for example, it can only ever be an estimate, not a fixed quotation.

In this case, your supplier may suggest that your quotation for translation services be based on target words, i.e. the amount of words in your document after translation. Again, they will be able to provide an estimated cost for the project, but not the exact number.

confused face

What are the different categories listed?

Although every translation supplier will treat quotations and word breakdowns in different ways, there are four main categories of “word types” that you might see on a quotation for translation services.

Before I go into the explanations of each category, I need to add that translation memory software analyses text in sense units, usually sentences. This means that each sentence will be categorised and the word count will be created based on how many words appear in the sentences in each category.

New words: sentences that the supplier has never translated for you before.

Fuzzy words: sentences that are similar to something the supplier has translated for you before.

Internal repetitions: sentences that appear multiple times within the document for translation. (The first occurrence of these sentences is counted as either new or fuzzy).

Pretranslated words: sentences that the supplier has already translated for you in a previous project.

For a first translation request to a new supplier, you will not receive any fuzzy matches, because the supplier has no reference material to use for your quotation for translation services.

Over time, particularly if you send similar material for each request, you should see your quotations for translation services rapidly decrease as the amount of translation memory leveraged increases.

How long might it take to complete the translation?

Again, every translation supplier will come up with a slightly different answer to this question. Broadly speaking however, it is possible for a translation supplier to suggest an accurate turnaround time when they send you the quotation for translation services.

Some companies will suggest a specific delivery date, some will suggest a turnaround time given in working days.

At STAR, we fall into the latter camp. We know that your translation project might not be ready to start immediately, so by giving you an estimated turnaround in working days, you can be sure that this will still be valid in two days, two weeks, or even two months.

We base our turnaround times on two factors. The time required to complete the project, and when our best translators can start working on the project.

For every translation project, you want to be sure that the translator working on the project has experience with the subject matter and ideally, with the customer’s previous projects. It is not always possible for the supplier to start on your project straight away, and we factor this in to our quotation for translation services.

For this reason, we might not always be the fastest, but we believe that if a job is worth doing, it should be done right.

waiting for a translation delivery

But what if you need it by a certain time?

If you need your translations delivered by a certain time or on a certain day, please let the translation supplier know in advance.

We can factor this into our quotation for translation services, and will plan accordingly. Equally, please tell us if the project is less urgent. (We love it when you say that). But seriously, we want the best people to work on your texts and sometimes a day or two extra makes all the difference.

Why are different languages more expensive?

There are a few factors that can influence your quotation for translation services. Language combination is one of them.

Put simply, it comes down to supply and demand.

Certain languages have greater numbers of speakers. This means that there are greater numbers of translators (often there’s also a greater demand for translations into those languages).

Translations between Western European languages, usually with English in the pair, are far cheaper than translations into Asian languages.

Another factor to consider is the cost of living in the country where your supplier is. Translations into Scandinavian languages are usually more expensive. This is because the cost of living there is so much higher than in the UK.

Both of these things can affect the price listed on your quotation for translation services.

additional charges

Why are there extra charges?

Extra charges and how to avoid them appearing on your quotation for translation services is definitely the topic of another blog post, as I’ve got lots to say on the matter. But for now, I’ll restrict myself to looking at what sort of charges might appear and why.

The most likely charge to see on a quotation for translation services is for DTP (Desktop Publishing). In plain English, it’s work on the formatting and design of the document.

If you are unable to provide an editable version of your file, the translation supplier might add an additional charge to recreate the formatting so that your translation exactly matches the original text.

Additionally, if your document has a very complicated layout and the target language will take up a lot more space than the source language (expansion), you might see a charge on your quotation for translation services to work on the formatting after translation.

For identity documents, certificates and in certain legal contexts, you might see additional charges for legalisation. We recently looked at legalisation following new advice from the ATC, essentially, it provides a sworn statement that the translation is a true and accurate version of the original and ensures that it will be accepted by official bodies around the world.

The final additional charge to mention is the rush or express charge. These are admittedly pretty rare, but not unheard of. If you require a longer translation to be done by the next day or over the weekend, some translation suppliers will charge a rush fee (usually a percentage levy).

A bit more clarity?

Hopefully by the end of this blog on understanding your quotation for translation services, you feel a little bit like me at the end of a couple of weeks at STAR…

Like the mists are clearing and that all this jargon is not quite so impossible after all.

Hopefully… Maybe?

If you’ve still got questions, you can always contact one of our team – they’re happy to help and can discuss your potential translation projects in greater depth.


When it comes to buying translations, a key consideration is your choice of supplier.

Should you entrust your project to a freelancer? Should you choose a larger agency with locations all over the world, or a smaller company that has very narrow specialisms?

There’s no correct answer to this.

In the same way that I can’t give a translation quote over the phone because I haven’t fully analysed the source texts, I can’t give a definitive answer to that question.

The only thing I can say? It depends!

What do our customers need from us?

Aside from blog writing, my role at STAR UK is varied. Lots of it relates to supporting colleagues, but my main focus is on our customers.

I’ve been pondering this question a lot recently, and my answer is not as simple as “words in another language”.

Our customers need us to help them communicate. We’re not selling words on a page; we’re selling a means of sharing information.

Helping our customers define what result they want from their translated content is the first step in delivering top-quality translations.

The same is true when it comes to choosing a translation supplier. Freelancers, small agencies and global corporations all have different benefits and each one will be the correct choice for certain types of customers and projects.

Let’s look at each of the options and what they offer the translation buyer.

freelance translator in office

Why choose a freelancer?

For many businesses, working with a freelancer is the perfect way to source your translations. In many ways, they offer the best of both worlds.

You are working closely with one supplier who learns all about your company, becoming almost as familiar with your product offering as your other employees, but is not salaried and therefore only invoices for the work they complete.

Freelancers are usually a cheaper option because they have smaller overheads and are often able to be flexible and offer evening or weekend work to accommodate urgent requests.

However, one freelancer can only deliver a certain volume of translation, and in one, perhaps two, language combinations. In addition, you have to find the freelancer yourself, and it can be difficult to judge quality when you don’t speak the language.

If you find that your translation requirements are growing, working with an agency might be the next logical step.

small translation agency

Why choose a small agency?

With a small agency, you still retain the ability to develop personal relationships. Most agencies will offer you a dedicated project manager who will become familiar with your translation orders and any specific requirements that you have.

Smaller agencies are often specialised in a certain industry or language area so have become experts in their field. They also develop close relationships with their freelancers and will try to ensure that the same resources work on your projects.

However, smaller agencies are simply not equipped to deal with very large scope projects, such as those that require localisation to many, many world languages, or those that include millions of words a year.

global translation agency

Why choose a global corporation?

Global corporations can offer scalability for projects – they already have solutions in place for customers ordering millions of words of translation, and they often have a network of locations around the globe, allowing them to offer the majority of world languages.

They are able to offer a 24/7 service and can more easily deal with tight turnarounds or unusual requests.

However, in such companies, the volumes involved with certain translation projects can require increased levels of automation leading to that personal touch being diminished or lost. In some cases, corporate processes can get in the way of flexibility.

Which is right for you?

Each one of the three options listed above is the perfect choice for a different kind of customer and hopefully this article will be useful to help in making this decision.

Here at STAR UK, we fit somewhere between small agency and global corporation. We have a team of 4 full-time project managers and we pride ourselves on the personal relationships that we develop with our customers.

Yet as part of the STAR Group, we belong to a network of over 40 offices with nearly 1000 employees. We work with some of the biggest names and can handle your project, whether it is one tagline for a new product, or a technical manual to be translated into 20 languages.

If you have a potential translation project and you’d like to see if we’re the supplier for you, please chat to one of our team.