Language facts: English
English is spoken as a native language by around 375 million people (250 million people in the USA, 180 million in India, 58 million in the UK, 18 million in Canada, and 16 million in Australia) and as a second language by around 375 million speakers in the world. English is the official language in 53 countries and enjoys special status in at least twenty plus more countries with a total population reach of over two billion. As for now, we can surely say Modern English stands its ground as the most popular and dominant language in international communications, probably even more so than Latin in former days. This is due to global historical development and possibly also the simplicity of English grammar compared to other world languages in addition to its significantly rich, extensive vocabulary (although it is said you only need to learn 2,000 basic words to start communicating in English). English is an official EU language and actual one of the "procedural", i.e. working, languages at the institution. English is also one of the six official languages of the United Nations.
Dialects and foreigners' nightmare...or nitemare?
Every language obviously generates various dialects through its use. And since English is the world's most popular language, the differences of speech in various regions are much more pronounced. Most of English learners can distinguish between British, American, or Australian English after only several lessons, the more experienced have no problem identifying dialects by sub-region (a New Yorker would definitely not pass as Texan, and Irish and Yorkshire dialect speakers wouldn't fool anyone they are from Devon). Typically as a foreign learner of Oxford or Cambridge English, in your first encounter with native British speakers you could be in for a rather shocking experience. Maybe even making you doubt the legitimacy of all that time and money spent on countless English lessons, as you feel like being spoken to in Klingon. Once the shock has faded though, endless English dialects and differences are actually something to be even enjoyed. Not so much in case of writing. Color vs. Colour, Center vs. Centre, and Neighbour vs. Neighbor. Interestingly, there was no standard for English spelling until the early 18th century and it was basically established with the publishing of the dictionaries of Samuel Johnson (Dictionary of the English Language, 1755) followed by the current British English and of Noah Webster (An American Dictionary of The English Language, 1828). It is worth noticing that the first attempts of spelling standardization followed soon after the printing press invention arrived in England in the 15th century. Nowadays, the difference between BrE and AmE emerges also in the world of computers, where PC keyboard layout differs.
English translation specifics
When we translate into English, it is important to know for which market documents are intended. Everyone knows that Queen’s English differs from US English in spelling. The examples above are well-known, others are more subtle differences such as use of past tense of verbs where UK English uses “-lled”, while US English uses “-led”. And which variant uses a period in “Mr”? Even simple things such as a writing the date differ.
As a result, sometimes it is worth contemplating whether texts should be published in different English language variants. In car manuals, for example, the British put their travelling bag in the boot and head for the motorway. An American would put his travelingbag in the trunk and get on the highway. And when it rains in London, children put on their wellingtons…
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Human translators inside your CMS?
Website localization. You know the process. Exporting the content, sending it to translators, importing the content, files, and files and more files resulting in chaos... monkey work with endless cut & pace routines. Or you employ machine translation plug-ins and make your peace with inevitably unsatisfactory errors and a lack of understanding by your readership. You can solve this dilemma with our free Stream Translation plug-in and integrate human, professional translation right inside your CMS!
No more file storms
All requests for estimates and online ordering are integrated in your CMS, on your web hosting platform or in other documentation systems. This eliminates the need for export of text content to separate file formats and loading text into TM solutions. The Stream Translation API transfers the text you need to translate straight to idioma’s translation platform, where it is handled by our project managers and native human translators. When translation is ready, we send the text back to you the same way, right into your own CMS – ready to publish.
We go beyond algorithms
Not only is translation done by humans, to make sure your translated content is perfect, we have also integrated a proofreading process in the localization cycle. Your pre-published content will be reviewed by our native proofreaders exactly as it will appear in its final form so they can correct and comment on text and layout errors. If text needs to be adapted, it will be updated on your site automatically, If illustrative material does not fit a certain country or culture, we will tell you. This way, you localize your website and improve your brand image at the same time.
Translation tips: When a jack is not a jack
Translation is not an easy task. Many people say that the best translation is when translated text exceeds the quality and understanding of the original text. We fully agree, but to get there is an uphill battle and a struggle unless we know what we are dealing with. In reality, there are hundreds of different ways that you can combine words to make up an intelligent expression that reflect the original meaning without getting into wordiness or veering too far off subject. We do this as a matter of course daily – actually round the clock.
Translating for industries is a continuous undertaking, and we do it in close to a hundred languages. We use translation memories, reference resources, and then we use glossaries – either ones we have made ourselves or those provided by clients. All of this helps, but there are times when we are at a loss, and then we usually ask.
Many of our assignments are additions to existing documents, where we translate out of context. This can be a nightmare to a professional translator.
Once in a while, we come across terms that simply cannot be translated unless we have references. As in this title “jack” is a good one. It has so many meanings, especially when it appears as a lone item. Even my good friend Jack agrees.
Many Jacks 1 Jack Jack
But there are many others. When clients ‘help’ and prepare projects in e.g. Trados, we often come across terms like “No” that can mean both Number and the opposite of Yes. It is of course also a Japanese style of theater, mostly performed by men, and it has even more meanings, e.g Nitric Oxide. Here we try not to guess, and we use the context to try to figure out the meaning, but it is undeniably a challenge.
Don't risk. Get reference.
This is why we always emphasize use of references. Original files as PDFs are most helpful, especially with pictures. Just think of another simple term like "cart". This being a reasonably old term, it has numerous different translations in any imaginable language. It can refer to a shopping cart, the horse driven variant, or something small and ‘fast’ that kids love for downhill races and band-aid use. Grandpas and other fellows use it on the golf course, some use it as a beverage carrier, and in Africa you can go on a Rhino safari in a Cart.
The above is a typical translator dilemma. For the Rhinos, you definitely need to emphasize some protective elements when referencing the “cart”; if you are dealing with a grocery store, you simply use the standard “cart”.
The core of this issue is reference. All translators need good reference that supports the text s/he will translate. Glossaries are a good help, a translation memory too – anything less is a risk of stating something imprecise or downright wrong.
Translation tips: Initial Capitals in English translation
Translating from and to many languages brings about lots of interesting facts, increases curiosity and reveals things most people would hardly think twice about. Well we do, so why not share some the know-how?
For instance, we regularly work with translation into English – who doesn't, to be honest :) – and handle both British English and English for the U.S. market. While it is common knowledge that U.K. and U.S. English differ slightly in spelling and also between certain expressions, the two tongues also have very different approaches to the use of Initial Capitals, i.e. the custom of capitalizing the first letter of every word in headers and sub-headers.
The British keep it subtle, Americans Like it Big
To roughly sum it up, people generally favor the use of initial capitals in the U.S., while in the U.K. there is a tendency to avoid them. If you open a newspaper from the U.S. and one from the U.K., this becomes obvious (well illustrated by the picture on the right). To a translator, the issue is trivial, but if you publish documents for English readers in general and there is no target market, it may be worth to reconsider the use of initial caps in headers.
Avoid international Caps schizophrenia
Having noted that Americans like to use initial caps in titles, while the British try to avoid them, for International English we recommend not to use initial caps, because it makes it difficult to balance the heading levels that should have initial caps and those that should not. It is difficult to keep respecting the rule and even more difficult to unify all headers throughout documents and between projects. Further, when writing International English text for a worldwide audience, it is easy to make mistakes if initial caps are used, which is another good reason for advocating the British preference. As to the general opinion of the British that initial caps usage appears ugly, we won’t comment. But let's admit that caps overuse can confuse and distract the reader, a fact that eventually will affect the level of understanding the context and slow down the reading speed. You really don't want your target text to appear that way to the reader – at least not if we talk promotional material.
When to use initial caps?
We do, however, agree with and encourage the use of initial caps in proper names, including product names and to some extent special part names, as well as in key phrases, e.g. catch phrases. This includes also titles (e.g. on book covers - as on the picture on the right).
The easy way out
If you are really stuck and can't make up your mind, there is always an easy way out: Simply capitalize all your headers and reduce the point size to avoid them dominating the content.
For other translation and localization tips, language facts and curiosities, keep tracking our blog!