Sometimes, just sometimes, it’s like the universe is sending a message. Or maybe that’s just me.

I’ve been writing this blog for a while now, and I stick to what I know best: written translation. I explore the ins and outs of translation quotations, organising projects and even delve a bit deeper into exactly how you can get the best translation for your project.

So perhaps a blog all about subtitle translation seems a little left field. But like I said. Sometimes, just sometimes, it’s like the universe is sending a message.

Do you even need subtitles?

Of course, I’m going to say yes, because I’m writing a blog about them, but when you really pay attention, subtitles are everywhere.

As always though, let’s start at the very beginning.

What exactly is a subtitle?

Well, officially, the term subtitle refers to “captions that are displayed at the bottom of a television or cinema screen and which transcribe or translate the narrative”. In short, if you cannot access the dialogue of a video for any reason, either because you can’t hear it or because you can’t understand the language, then subtitles exist to resolve that problem.

However, it’s not just your nightly TV watching or your monthly cinema trip that might cause you to encounter subtitles. Subtitles are becoming more and more prevalent on social media, including Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn.

If your business uses any of those platforms, then you might want to consider creating subtitles, and possibly subtitle translations.

Subtitles improve accessibility and reach

Subtitles dramatically improve the accessibility of your videos. Let’s take a look at the dynamics of video watching on social media.

Fun fact: approx. 85% of videos watched on Facebook are watched without the sound.

Actually, I’m surprised this isn’t a higher number. Think about it, when are you using your smartphone? On your commute? On your lunchbreak? While holding on to a sleeping baby? (This last one is an example directly from my own life with both of my children as tiny babies…)

These instances all have one thing in common; it’s highly inconvenient to have a video suddenly blare out sound. Instead, it was a godsend that I was able to check out product reviews with subtitles, while doing some non-essential shopping at 3am (again, me with both my children as newborns…). Product review videos without any subtitles were immediately ignored, in fact.

It’s also important to acknowledge that some of your audience may not be able to access the sound on your videos due to hearing impairment, and subtitles are a necessity for them to access your video content.

Where should you start with adding subtitles to your video content?

Hopefully my points above have shown you the importance of using subtitles on your video content and you’re convinced that they’re necessary.

So where do you begin?

First, you’ll need to decide on how you want to subtitle. Do you just want to subtitle the spoken word? Or is it relevant to work in a closed captions style, which takes into account background noise and speaker changes? Or is it sufficient to create subtitles of the audio track only?

My recommendation would be to use closed captions if you’re in any doubt. As seen above, the overwhelming majority of videos are now watched without sound, which means that background noises are also going to be missed.

How do subtitle translations work?

The process of creating subtitle translations can happen in one of two ways.

You can:

  • Create an English language template, then translate.
  • Ask a professional subtitler to subtitle directly into your target language.

Each of these methods has its advantages. If you are already creating English subtitles to improve the accessibility of your video, it can be quick and easy to create translated versions in as many languages as you require.

If you only need the video for release in one other language, it can be a faster process to have it subtitled directly into your target language.

A quick chat with one of our Project Management team can help answer any questions you might have about this process.

So tell me, is the universe sending you a message that you need to start looking into subtitles and subtitle translation?

It’s been a while since I last posted on this blog, so I thought I’d go back to basics for my first post. It’s been a common theme that my main aim is to simplify translation orders, demystify the industry and provide translation buyers with tips and tricks to ensure that they request and receive the right service.

For me, asking for the right service and it being delivered is a large part of what makes a successful translation, but that feels like a topic for a future blog instalment.

If this sounds helpful or relevant to you, don’t forget to check out my Ultimate Guide to Translation, my explanation of why translations are charged in words, and my tips on working with an agency as a new customer.

combine harvester

What are technical translation services?

Technical translation services is a true umbrella term, covering a multitude of options.

There are honestly thousands of industries that require technical translation services, and I would humbly suggest they’re not just automotive and agricultural companies. I shared a short insight into some of these industries in a previous post, if anyone out there is interested.

In addition, there are many different document types that I would consider as requiring of technical translation services too, and again, I don’t just mean instruction manuals. Documents such as RFQs, technical specifications and technical reports all require a translator with experience dealing with specific technical vocabulary.

Technical translation services are used in industrial or scientific settings. Basically, if you don’t think your average Joe on the street would understand the content without additional explanations, you need it.

graduate translators

What qualifications does a professional translator have?

As a general rule, a professional translator will be a native speaker of their target language, i.e. the language that they are translating INTO.

As a minimum, many translators will have built up their language knowledge through a BA program of study in their chosen source language(s), i.e. the language that they are translating FROM.

Yet, it is the work that follows their translation studies and qualifications that is often the most relevant for translation enquiries. Some translators choose to complete additional study in a specific technical area, for example, allowing them to confidently deliver technical translation services.

Other translators start out working in a technical field and use their pre-existing language skills to assist them in crossing over to a new career path in translation.

different kinds of screws

Technical translation services need an expert translator

So there you have it. Although any translator worth their salt would be able to translate your document and use their skills to render it into your target language, it really is worth finding a technical translator who is experienced in your industry.

If you rely on technical translation services to sell your product, help users engage with it successfully or provide training to staff around the world, you definitely require a professional translator.

If this has struck a chord with you and you would like to hear more about how we can help, please give our friendly team a call or request a quotation through the submission form.

If you were to ask Google how many languages there are, it would tell you that there are somewhere in the region of 6500 languages spoken in the world today.

If you were to ask us, you might expect a translation agency to have a more precise answer than that. But it’s actually a much trickier question than you might think.

There are the obvious ones we all already know about. English and Mandarin Chinese for example, both have over a billion speakers. And then there are the surprisingly popular ones you may never have heard of, like Bhojpuri, which has somewhere in the region of four times as many speakers as Swedish.

But languages such as those are really obvious and easy to identify. They are clearly distinct and millions of people speak them every day.

Even if we stick to such criteria – being clearly distinct and having millions of speakers – it isn’t a simple question to answer.  This is because we don’t actually have any set criteria for determining when a way of communicating becomes classed as a language.

What is a language?

Let’s look at Nigerian Pidgin. The first question we have to ask is what is a ‘pidgin’? And is it a language?

Technically a pidgin is a simplified form of language used to allow two groups who do not share a common language to communicate.

But when it stops being used for that purpose, and starts being spoken as a primary means of communication within groups, does that not make it a language?

A Creole is defined as a mix of a European language and a “local” language, most commonly African languages spoken by slaves when they were transported to the West Indies. So one could argue that a creole is a language in its own right. But at what point does a pidgin become a creole? And if over 30,000,000 people speak a pidgin, as is the case for Nigerian Pidgin, is it still not a language? It certainly has no national recognition as a language, but it does have unique words not found anywhere else. So I think you could be forgiven for accepting that it is indeed a language.  But equally you might forgive someone for claiming it isn’t.

So that gives us some idea as to why we can’t really know for definite how many languages there are – but we’ve only really scratched the surface.

What about variations within a language?

For a variety of social, political and economic reasons, a creole language can begin to drift more towards one of the original languages from which it is descended. But what that inevitably leads to is a number of different dialects within a creole. How different must they be to be considered their own language?

The linguist William Stewart suggested a continuum from “Acrolect”, the most socially prestigious variety, down to “Basilect”, the least so. But these distinctions are clearly arbitrary with many communities speaking various varieties of the creole in question depending on context, and often in original tongues as well.

As an example, in Guyanese Creole the phrase “aɪ ɡeɪv hɪm wʌn” and “mɪ bɪn ɡiː æm wan” are equally correct and mean exactly the same thing.

But you probably noticed that these are written in phonetic characters, which naturally leads to the question of whether a language needs to have a written form. And if not, how do you represent it in a digital format? The use of phonetic typology is not an effective way to communicate.

We’ve mentioned dialects with Creoles, but what about dialects in more standard languages?

Are dialects languages?

While fewer and fewer people are speaking them with any consistency, there are still up to forty dialects in the UK alone that would be difficult for a non-local to understand. Many of them use different spellings and word structure and would be almost impossible to represent digitally. However, it is unlikely that these would be classed as languages. Even two hundred years ago, when they would be almost unrecognisable to a modern English speaker, they were still classed as part of the same language.

And if that isn’t confusing enough, we then have methods of communication such as Silbo Gomero. That is only a language in the loosest sense of the word.

It has no words.

It uses differences in the pitch of whistling to communicate. So does that class as a language?

Let’s assume for a moment that we can all agree on exactly what makes a method of communication a language. Nevertheless, this doesn’t actually solve the confusion as there are some languages that have died out and subsequently been revived.

Does a language need to have native speakers to be considered valid?

How about extinct languages?

Take Cornish for example. It’s commonly accepted that the last native speaker of the Cornish language was Dolly Pentreath who died in 1777. But in reality there is no way of knowing if people were speaking true Cornish, or simply English with a heavy sprinkling of Cornish dialect mixed in that long ago.

What we know with certainty is that by around the year 1800 no one was speaking it any more.  However, after a concerted effort there are now around 3000 people with some ability in the Cornish language, and 500 or so fluent speakers.

How about the many different forms that make up Latin? Does contemporary Latin count, and if so how about Medieval Latin, or even Classical Latin?

And if Latin does count, then how far back do we have to take English for it to count as a separate language? There are people perfectly able to converse in Middle English, or even Old English. How about old Norse?

And then once we’ve decided against trying to find out if ancient languages count, how do we deal with newly created languages?

What about fictional languages?

What is a language?  Does Elvish count?

Tolkien’s Elvish has unique grammar, vocabulary, and even an alphabet of its own. And there are people who can speak it. Does that mean it counts?

How about Klingon?


So, if we go back to the original question of ‘how many languages are there?’, we can see that even the proposed answer of 6500 is nothing more than a guess based on a huge number of assumptions.

What we can say one thing for certain though. Here at STAR we have worked from 61 source languages, and translated into 89 target languages.

We haven’t yet been asked to work in a language we couldn’t translate into or from.

So when it comes down to it, does it really matter how many there are?

European companies that rely on the translation of documents have been put in a somewhat difficult position recently. With all of the uncertainty over what the post-Brexit landscape will look like it is uncertain how things will play out for them.

The English language in post-Brexit Europe

The first question on the minds of anyone involved in post-Brexit translation is precisely how relevant the English language will continue to be in the EU and around the world.

Let’s attempt to answer this question in a more precise manner. The European Union lists itself as having twenty-four official working languages, however figures indicate that at present the number of people speaking one of those working languages, whose second language is English, is immense – in fact, there are twice as many people with English as a second language compared to native English speakers.

So, for the short term at least, translators dealing with the post-Brexit world do not need to worry about the English language becoming obsolete; even if it were to gradually decline in popularity, this would gradually take place over many decades. In the past it could have been argued that French would rapidly become the dominant EU language for translators to consider after Brexit, however the addition of a number of member states to the EU from Eastern Europe, such as Poland and Bulgaria in 2004, cemented English as the primary language for communication within Europe.

We must also carefully consider the effects that a falling pound may have on translators and translation services, as this can cause a great deal of concern and instability within the industry.

financial implications post-brexit

Financial implications of Brexit

Brexit, when considered alongside the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, has at times caused dramatic drops in the value of the pound.

Why is this important?

This could potentially cause companies to need to look for translation partners in new countries. Fortunately recent market surveys seem to indicate that the Coronavirus issue has been something of a global leveller with many worldwide economies tumbling, somewhat offsetting the decreasing value of the British pound due to Brexit. This can be added to the fact that translation services offered by UK-based companies are generally somewhat cheaper compared to those from the US and other English speaking nations. As a result of this, the UK looks set to continue to be the leader of translation services in a post-Brexit world.

There are also a number of factors that may work in favour of UK-based translators after Brexit. Despite the seeming finality with which Brexit dates are reported in the media, nothing happens immediately; there are huge swathes of time after Brexit has taken place during which many of our intertwined laws have to be carefully considered and negotiated.

Even though the UK now has a Brexit “deal” in place, there will undoubtedly be years of new work for translators and translation organisations generated by the legal industry, as they decipher and disentangle the tens of thousands of laws and statutes that the UK and the EU share.

The red tape that these new laws and interpretations generate will be difficult for any non-specialist translator to navigate.

The wider world post-Brexit

Another factor to consider is that there will undoubtedly be more trade in the UK with companies outside of the EU in the future. Whether this is due to successful deals made by the British government or sheer force of necessity, new markets will emerge overseas that will certainly require the services of translators to ensure that business is able to flourish in the post-Brexit landscape.

These new deals will all come with their associated regulations, and effective translation will be an integral part of any potential success.

Of course there is a definite danger of the UK becoming isolated; however, the UK has to continue to survive and the only way to accomplish this is to trade overseas, thus ensuring that the services of local translators will be in high demand for businesses in the UK wishing to trade in new emerging markets and vice-versa.

In the short term at least, it appears that the market for translation is actually growing. If we carefully consider industries that directly benefit from translation services after Brexit, market reports demonstrate that cross-border trade between the UK and the EU has actually slightly increased due to foreign organisations taking advantage of the pound, which is currently relatively weak.

Buyer confidence does not appear to have been greatly shaken by Brexit negotiations, and this is a promising sign that future trade with the EU will continue at the same – or increased – levels as before Brexit, regardless of any new regulations and requirements that are put in place.

The impact of Covid-19

One thing worth considering is the significant impact Brexit has had on the global economy, and this, coupled with on-going global issues related to COVID-19,  means there is no doubt that global growth will slow dramatically in the future.

Global trade growth has been slowing for about a decade now, and this trend is set to continue at an increased pace.

Whilst initially this may seem sobering, it is worth considering that businesses, organisations and individuals wishing to buck the trend of reduced growth will have to seek new marketplaces in order to continue profiting from a changing global landscape, and translation services will continue to be required.

New legislation in the UK

Now that Brexit is a done deal, obviously it is difficult to predict exactly what changes to laws and statutes will be made that could affect the translation industry directly. However, at STAR we are still able to continue to offer our translation services as we always have.

As the laws that have bound the EU and the UK for decades continue to be unravelled, there is a chance that new laws could affect any sector.

However at this juncture it seems very unlikely that anything dramatic will take place that could affect UK-based trade. The one thing we can rely on is that English language translations will remain in high demand for the foreseeable future.

It is clear that businesses dealing with physical goods and shipping will have a number of obstacles to circumvent, but it appears that those offering translation and other digital-based services will continue largely as normal.

Preparing for the future in the post-Brexit world?

Firstly, you need to be keeping an eye on any newly enacted legislation that may have an impact on your business. People and organisations have already been caught out by changing laws, and you do not want to find yourself looking at a significant loss by simply being unaware.

Secondly, do not be afraid to look for business opportunities elsewhere; with new markets emerging now that Brexit has passed, you should look further afield to places that are priced in currencies other than GBP. If you are motivated to expand your client base in new directions, you can rise above any hiccups and issues that may result from Brexit in the short term, leaving you well placed to take advantage of the changing economic landscape in the future.

You absolutely should not let a  difference in language stop you from growing your business.

Thirdly, and most importantly, you should look to develop a mutually beneficial partnership with an experienced translation partner.  They will always be best placed to advise you on any of the subtleties regarding language that you may not be aware of. It is also likely that they have already dealt with the problems you are looking at and can save you vast amounts of time and money.


Translators are well placed to help reshape the EU as it goes through changes and asks many questions in the wake of Brexit.

Whilst it is too early to draw definite conclusions about how the post-Brexit translation landscape will look, initial signs are promising.

As long as you attempt to innovate and explore new markets as they appear, and stay abreast of news and information from the EU and around the world, you are ideally placed to capitalise on the uncertainty, and use the turbulent times we are facing as a stepping stone to even greater success.

There are many risks ahead but also a tremendous number of new and exciting opportunities to be explored.

If you’d like to talk about how partnering with STAR can help your business grow, we’d love to hear from you.

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.