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 about 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 writing 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 automotive giant BMW, 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 automotive 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 so they are the ideal material for machine translation.

automotive translations for car mechanics

Slightly less obvious – training materials for mechanics

Hopefully 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 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.

Marketing translations are often offered in a separate category by translation suppliers, yet, 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, 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 bit of a geeky fascination for engineering and technology and 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 will be familiar with on-board sat nav systems, perhaps the interactive sound systems, or you might even be able to sync your phone and your car.

Our translators have had to consider which are the most obvious voice commands you might use to interact with your car, as well as all of the other options that you might use. It’s an automotive translation task that takes two translators several hours a week – along with 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.

Billions are spent worldwide on automotive translations and one of the main aims is that every text sounds like it was created in that language. Aside from the cost of inaccurate 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, and 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, quotations 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 and 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 so that you, a potential translation purchaser, can be sure that you know what you are buying, and most importantly, that you are getting what you asked for and what you needed.

How are quotations priced?

It’s not unheard of to receive a quotation for translation services that breaks its prices down per page, or even one that gives you 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, and 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, and the customer is able to 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, but broadly speaking, 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 and 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 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.

Once again, STAR UK is proud to announce that we have been successfully audited and retain our ISO 17100 certification.

Well done them, you might think. But what does it have to do with you as a translation buyer?

We know that it can be difficult to choose a translation partner. An initial Google search gives a multitude of translation companies, all of whom offer similar services.

How can you choose between them?

Many translation buyers are not linguists and have no means of judging the quality of the translations that they provide.

So, how do you judge?

Do you choose the cheapest? Do you choose the supplier with the most convincing website? Friendliest project manager?

I’m sure there will be people out there who have chosen based on these criteria. And there’s nothing really wrong with that. Each one is a valid consideration.

However, I would suggest that first on your list should be whether they possess the ISO 17100 certification. Then you can move on to other factors.

Why is ISO 17100 important?

Translation companies that are certified as conforming to the ISO 17100 standard are able to effectively demonstrate that they have processes in place to ensure that they deliver a quality translation service that meets the client’s specifications.

ISO 17100 supersedes the now-withdrawn EN 15038 standard that was published by CEN, the European Committee for Standardisation in 2006.

Previously, translation companies that wanted to demonstrate their commitment to quality management sought certification to ISO 9001 (Quality Management) which did not address certain issues that were specific to the translation industry.

What does the ISO 17100 standard apply to?

The ISO 17100 standard applies to translations, i.e. written content. It is worth noting that it excludes interpreting services, as well as post-editing of text from machine translation. Both of these are covered under other standards, some of which are still in development.

What are the key concepts of ISO 17100?

The ISO 17100 international standard has two key concepts: to define a standard process for translation service providers to follow, and to define requirements for the resources they use.

I try to avoid jargon in this blog, so I’ll simplify it further.

Translation companies must follow a standard process and they must make sure that the translators they use are capable of delivering a good translation.

What are the required skills and qualifications?

The full ISO 17100 specification document can be found here. It lists all of the core competences that a translator should have.

It comes down to having knowledge of the source and target language, of translation theory and of any translation tools such as glossaries and translation memory software.

The translation company must ensure that every employee or third-party supplier who works on projects that comply with the ISO 17100 standard has the relevant qualifications.

There are three options:

  1. Has obtained a Masters degree in translation, linguistics or language studies
  2. Has obtained a Bachelors degree in translation, linguistics or language studies and has the equivalent of two years’ full-time professional experience in translation.
  3. Has the equivalent of five years’ full-time professional experience in translation.

Possessing one of the above ensures that the supplier has the skills needed to deliver a translation that meets the customer’s requirements.

What is the process for projects?

Every project should be coordinated by a project manager who is responsible for ensuring that the process is followed.

The project must then be translated and checked by a separate reviser. Optional further steps include a monolingual review of the target language content, proofreading of the target language content and finally a check against any project specifications to ensure that it complies with the client’s project brief.

The reviser must also comply with the qualification requirements listed in ISO 17100.

What the translation agencies responsibilities?

When you buy translation services from an agency that complies with the requirements of ISO 17100, you know that they have processes in place to deal with recruitment of qualified staff, they have project workflows in place to deal with various customer requirements, as well as any terminology or correction requests, and that the translations they deliver have been worked on by at least two qualified and experienced translators.

And once you’ve established that, then you can pick the quotation from the nicest project manager, if you so choose.

It might seem like we are constantly banging on about this – but it really is important. When it comes to translation, you need to make sure you’re working with the experts.

Specialised technical translation is one of the key areas of our business. Although our team are familiar with other specialist areas, the majority of what we do falls under the heading of specialised technical translation.

So, I hope I can be allowed to say that we know what we are talking about.

But what does it really mean in practise?

You know the drill by now, I hate jargon and buzzwords. Specialised technical translation feels like exactly one of those phrases.

All that it really means is the translation of the really nitty gritty technical stuff where the person on the street goes glassy eyed and starts shaking their head. It’s all relative, of course, but most of us could confidently pick a screwdriver out of a toolbox, though we might struggle a bit more to find the stork beak pliers from a bag that contains only pliers.

As translators, we’ve all accepted that if we work on specialised technical translation, we’ve filled our heads with knowledge that we may never put into practise. Example: I can confidently explain the inner workings of a concrete pump, and yes, I am fun at parties…

machinery directive - eu flag

The EU Machinery Directive

A lot of the work that we do for our clients falls under the requirements of the EU Machinery Directive (Directive 2006/42/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 May 2006).

We’ve actually written an entire blog post dedicated to the directive, seeing as it is linked to so many of the projects that we do day-to-day.

The aim of the directive is to ensure that machinery placed into the EU market or put in service in EU states has a common safety level. A key part of this is ensuring that documentation for the machine is available in the correct languages.

In fact, it is a requirement that machine documentation is translated into the official language of each country in which the machine will be used or sold. You can see why it therefore has such an effect on the number of translations that are commissioned.

Yet, regulations aside, specialised technical translations can be a sound business investment as it enables you to place your product in front of new audiences.

specialised technical translation of textbooks

Not just technical manuals

Although on initial consideration, specialised technical translation may lead you to think of technical manuals, there are many other document types that will also require a technical translation specialist to work on them.

Regardless of whether the text is a product specification or a sales-focused marketing piece for the company website, the technical details in the translation must still be correctly translated. We’ve listed some common document types below that require specialised technical translation.

  • Articles/journals
  • Brochures
  • Feasibility studies
  • Internal communications
  • Manufacturing and engineering articles
  • Marketing communications
  • Material safety data sheets
  • Patents and patent applications
  • Product labelling, packaging and catalogues
  • Product specifications
  • Regulatory documentation
  • Service, maintenance and policy manuals
  • Site surveys
  • Software strings
  • Technical reports
  • Textbooks
  • Training materials
  • User and operating instructions
  • Website translation

heavy plant machinery toy

Not just about heavy plant machinery

Specialised technical translation relates to any documentation concerning machinery or tools in the engineering field. This could be heavy plant machinery such as a concrete pump, or it could be something small like a cordless screwdriver.

In the last year or so, we’ve worked on many specialised technical translation projects and some of them may be for machines you didn’t realise existed:

  • A machine for peeling potatoes
  • A machine to print, fold and glue cardboard boxes for packaging
  • A 3D laser scanner to detect concrete thickness during tunnel construction
  • High-end coffee machines
  • Injection-moulding machines
  • Tool-dispensing vending machine that can automatically reorder stock as it gets low
  • Central lubrication systems for use in extreme manufacturing conditions

Smaller isn’t always simpler

As you can see, we work with many clients who work on a far smaller scale than agricultural machinery, for example, but this does not make the translations any simpler.

In recent years, there has been increased use of computers and robots in production lines – it has enabled technology to make significant jumps forward, but the documentation linked to these machines is increasingly complex and it all requires specialised technical translation.

How do we make sure that we deliver top quality?

To quote another recurring theme of the blog, quality comes from using qualified, native-speaker translators working in pairs to deliver translation and review. When it comes to specialised technical translation, however, a key element is specialist knowledge.

Our translators all work on their CPD to develop their personal knowledge bases, and some of have even completed Open University courses in engineering topics that are relevant to their translation work.

So, if you have a specialised technical translation project in the pipeline, and you’d like to discuss it with us, talk to a member of our team.

Alternatively, fill in the form below and we’ll be in touch.

Or, why the French don’t use preservatives in their food, and why Germans don’t give each other gifts.

When translating one language to another, there are certain traps that professional translators will likely be aware of that others may not be. These linguistic traps are known as “false friends”.

A “false friend” is a word in a language that has a correspondingly similar word in a different language. However, those words do not have the same, or even vaguely similar, meanings. When translating one language to another they feel as if they are an easy substitution, but they are not. They are a trap, and one that can end up with you writing something very different than what you originally intended.

Similar words in different languages

There are huge numbers of words in different languages that both sound the same and have the same meaning. In English more so than ever, as the language has adopted words from many different languages over the centuries.

The German word “Freund” is obvious to an English speaker. As is the French word “hôtel”, but this obvious familiarity is what causes the problems.

When an inexperienced translator works with a language that they are not perfectly fluent in and comes across a word in the source language that seems to have an obvious synonym in the target language, it is easy to assume they must therefore have the same meaning.

This can lead to some fairly spectacular mistakes in translation.

Let’s look at a few of these false friends:

In the UK, when one person likes another, they may decide to give them a “gift”. As you are almost certainly aware a gift is an item or service given without any expectation of payment. Often given as a sign of affection.

In German, however, if one person were to give another a “gift” then it would most certainly not be a sign of affection! The word “Gift” in German means “poison”. The actual word you would be looking for is “Geschenk”.

In the UK, “preservatives” are often added to food in order to ensure it can be safely stored. Things like sugar, salt, alcohol, or vinegar can act as preservatives for food and have been used for as long as we have been recording such things.

In France, however, the word for an additive that helps prolong the life of a foodstuff is “conservateur”.

The French word “préservatif” translates directly into English as “condom”. Definitely not something to add to your food!

In England, a “gem” is a precious stone, however in Sweden “gem” can be a humble paperclip. The correct word in Swedish is “pärla”.

In England, embarrassment is a short-lived thing. It is a feeling of self-consciousness or shame, usually caused by something that has happened to you in public.

However, the Spanish word “embarazada” means something very different. It translates directly into English as “pregnant”.

In Italy the word “morbido” means pleasantly smooth and soft, certainly not the obviously English equivalent.

The list of false friends is extensive and there is no way we could cover them all here. Words like “fart” and “slut” in Danish, “barf” in Farsi, and “pasta” in Portuguese have all caused problems in translation for many people.

But while it is amusing to look at false friends, there is a slightly more serious side to it.

Costly fails in global branding

Some global brands have had serious problems when they have been caught out by inadvertently using poor translations. I’m not talking about the well-known Chevy Nova story, as that appears to be nothing more than an urban myth, but genuine examples.

When Ford released the Pinto worldwide, they had no idea the name had a very different meaning in Brazil. There, “pinto” is an insult that roughly translates as “small penis”.

Ford also failed to notice that their campaign describing the precision bodywork of their cars was telling Flemish speakers that all of their vehicles came with a high-quality corpse.

The Mitsubishi Pajero did very badly in Spanish-speaking countries as “pajero” is a pejorative used to describe someone who masturbates frequently. The car was renamed the Montero.

And it’s not just cars that have suffered.

When Coors translated its slogan “Turn it loose” into Spanish they failed to notice it was a common term for having diarrhoea.

The fact is, all translators make mistakes from time to time. Which is why here at STAR UK we have systems in place to ensure that these types of errors won’t be made by us. Our translators, whether in-house or freelance, all have higher education qualifications in languages and translation, they work into their native language and most importantly, everything we do is checked by multiple people before it goes out the door.

If you have something important to translate, why not give us a shout?

That way we can hopefully save you the embarrassment of companies like the now bankrupt American airline Brannif International who spent a fortune inadvertently instructing their Spanish-speaking customers to fly naked.

In December 2019, the Association of Translation Companies (hereafter ATC) released new guidance for the usage of their stamp when producing a certified translation.

It was quickly followed by a press release highlighting new research that was initiated by the ATC and which looked at the lack of standardisation in how UK public sector organisations accept certified translations as well as what the ATC calls the “diverging practices” followed by producers of certified translations in the UK.

The research in question is a dissertation written by David Gray as part of his Applied Translation Studies and Interpreting Masters from Leeds University. The full paper can be read here:

As ever, this blog aims to lay out all the information a translation buyer might need in order to make an informed decision. We’ve read the research and pulled out the key points, and along with information about how we offer certified translations, we have compiled a short guide that hopefully gives you all the information you need. This article mainly focuses on the requirements for certified translations into English.

What is a certified translation?

A certified translation is required when official documents are needed in a different language. The official documents have a certain legal status – for example, as a proof of identity.

Why does my translation need to be certified?

The translation of an official document obtains the same legal authority as the original document; therefore, the translation must be a true and accurate rendering of the original text.


When might I need a certified translation?

Certified translations are required for legal identity documents such as birth, marriage or death certificates. In some cases, qualification certificates also require a certified translation.

A certified translation is also required for documents submitted as evidence for a court case.

A muddled situation

The published research into certified translations in the UK spoke with government bodies, in order to find out their requirements for documentation, as well as with translation agencies and freelance translators in order to ascertain how they usually deal with these situations.

Of the seven government bodies surveyed, none had published any guidance on their own websites, but did refer to other pages with guidance on this issue. Although, the two other pages that can be found on the website issue conflicting instructions on obtaining a certified translation.

Among the translators and translation agencies, there were some differences in how they dealt with certified translations though all agreed on the need to use qualified translators, and including a statement or stamp asserting the quality of the translation.

What is the process for producing a certified translation?

When you contact a translator or translation agency about a certified translation, they should first ask you what you need the translation for.

Although the responsibility for meeting the requirements for documentation and obtaining the correct level of certification lies with the translation purchaser, not the agency, the agency or translator should be able to advise on the best course of action.

If the translation is from English to another language for submission at a foreign government body, you will need to check the requirements stipulated by this official body. Every country has its own set of rules relating to certified translation and failure to comply with these could lead to your translation being rejected.

Once you have discussed your project and agreed exactly what you need as part of the certified translation, the translator or translation agency will take a copy of your original document for their records and so that they can carry out the translation.

The translator or translation agency will complete the translation work and will provide the translations in hard copy format. The certified translation should include a copy of the source text, the translated document in a format that mirrors the original layout as well as a certification statement.

What does the certification statement need to say?

As the ATC-commissioned research indicates, different governmental bodies in the UK request different things. However, in order to cover as many of the requirements as possible, the statement should mention that the translation is a “true and accurate translation of the original document”. It should include the date as well as the name and contact details of the translator or translation agency who carried out the translation.


Do you need an affidavit/notary statement or apostille?

In certain cases, greater levels of certification are required. This may be the case when your certified translation relates to documentation for a court case, or for certain official foreign bodies.

Legalised translation

If you require an affidavit or statutory declaration for your translation, the translator must swear an affidavit in front of a magistrate or solicitor. This will state that they carried out the translation, are qualified to do so and that it is an accurate rendering of the original text.

Notarised translation

If you require notarised translation services, the translator must visit a Notary Public. Similarly to an affidavit, they make a statement attesting to their qualifications and their ability to carry out the translations. The Notary Public checks their identity and attaches a notarial certificate to the certified translation. It is important that the notarial certificate does not endorse the quality of the translation itself. It can only confirm that the translator’s identity and qualifications were verified by them.

Translation with apostille

An Apostille is a document in the UK issued by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). It verifies the authenticity of the signature on an official document and ensures that it will be recognised as an official document in all States that have signed the Hague Convention of 1961.

Usually it is the original document that bears the Apostille. Translations cannot be sealed with an Apostille stamp unless they carry a declaration endorsed by a Notary Public, in which case the Apostille refers to the notarial certificate, not the translation itself.

I hope that by the end of this post, things are slightly clearer for you. There is a lot of information to digest, however, the principle of a certified translation is simple. Certified translations should be carried out by a qualified, experienced translator and should be accompanied by some kind of statement attesting to the translation quality.


References: (accessed 21 Jan 2020). (accessed 21 Jan 2020)