Translating animal sounds

If you think that animals sound the same across the globe, think again.

Did you know that in German, frogs sayjpegIn German, horses say -wiehiehie-In German, roosters say 'kikeriki'

Leave us a comment with your favourite animal translations!


Oxford to Deptford – by Mattia Cattaruzza, Yestrans Relationship Manager


I left Oxford in July with my degree in hand and my head held high – I had survived the experience, enjoyed myself along the way, and I was about to take the next step in my life. My head wasn’t held high for too long, though. The next day my bubble had been burst, and the sense of achievement from the previous day had been partially replaced by emptiness, loneliness and uncertainty – feelings shared by many a university graduate, I imagine.

Maybe I somehow thought that my degree would be handed to me together with a couple of job offers and some useful test results telling me which future I would be most suited to. It didn’t. In fact, to everyone’s surprise, we weren’t handed anything at all. The official piece of paper came through the post some weeks later, and that was that. So what next? Along with countless others, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. All I knew was that I wanted to use my languages and interact with other people on a daily basis. During my year abroad I tried teaching, which was a fun job while it lasted, but in the long term, it wasn’t for me.

During one of many browsing sessions in search of my future at the start of 2015, I had found Luke Trinder, Yestrans director and former member of my Oxford college (Lincoln), and he kindly talked to me about the translation industry and how he got into translation, eventually setting up and running his own successful business. The business was doing very well, but Luke felt there were problems with the fragmented translation industry and believed that, with someone’s help, he could simplify how clients interacted with translation providers and create a more personalised approach to this relationship.

Intrigued by the idea of improving and potentially changing how translation services are provided, I kept in contact with Luke, mulling this potential job over, pushing it slightly to the back of my mind during my exams but never quite letting it out of my sight. After my exams I spoke with Luke a few times, and we decided that September would be a good time to start.

Since my first day, things have progressed quickly. At the start I was heavily involved in the translation and proofreading, of which there are substantial amounts as summer fades into autumn, and Luke gave me ongoing training in building strong relationships with clients at the same time – this would eventually become my main role within the business. Once I had been given the appropriate training, it was time for me to get started on building those new client relationships and familiarise German-speaking businesses with Yestrans.

It has been a very stimulating experience so far – stressful at times, and at others a little dull (legal and medical texts, you know who you are), but for the most part it has been enjoyable and rewarding, and I am continually building ever-stronger relationships with our clients. I speak German on a daily basis – a big plus side to this job for me – and I hope to be travelling to German-speaking Europe in the not-too-distant future in order to continue strengthening the Yestrans brand abroad.

By Mattia Cattaruzza, Yestrans Relationship Manager



A Day in the Life

Luke, founder of Yestrans, lifts the lid on what it’s like to run a translation agency and talks about a typical day at Yestrans.

I walk to our office which is in the Albany in Deptford, an amazing community and arts space. I love being based here and the fact that our office rent supports the work that happens at the centre. The Albany recently got some new resident chickens which have been rescued from a battery farm and they’re a cheery addition to the building.

Luke Trinder, founder of Yestrans

Luke Trinder, founder of Yestrans, with some of the chickens at The Albany

Having said hello to the chickens, my first task of the day is usually to allocate new translation jobs to our German to English translators. We work with a team who are experts in their individual fields including specialists in legal, medical, marketing and financial translation. I still do a lot of hands-on translation myself but it’s a great feeling to have such a solid team to work with as well.

Every translation we deliver to our clients is really thoroughly proofed. We use the ‘four eyes’ principle as it’s called in Germany, which basically means that all copy is proofed by at least one other colleague. We also do monolingual review, which is when we review the English version of the text on its own to make sure it reads well and makes complete sense to a native English speaker. Taz, my business partner, often does this as she’s based in the office with me and it’s good to be able to discuss any amends to the copy.

Once I’ve caught up on job allocation and proofing, I usually have time to do some translation work myself. This week we’ve been working with about six key clients and jobs have really varied. I’ve translated an environmental impact report and am now working on website copy for a large German visitor attraction which wants to appeal to the UK and USA visitor markets.

I take a break at lunch time and sometimes eat in the Albany café or maybe go to a local café like London Velo which does amazing coffee – this keeps me going through the afternoon.

I’ll usually receive a few emails from our translators throughout the day. Most of the team works remotely but I’m always around to help with any questions – in fact I love it when translators ask me questions. It’s much, much better when translators collaborate and talk when they get stuck on something. Sometimes you might not be sure which term to use, or you want a second opinion on an ambiguous translation, and it’s always best to get a second opinion.

We’ll be having a keen intern working with us soon so I’m getting ready for his arrival and preparing his projects. He’ll be sharing the office with me and Taz and will get to do everything from liaising with our clients in Germany through to learning about invoicing and business admin.

Throughout the course of the day, I send completed translations to clients and catch up with emails about new projects, and my day generally finishes with an afternoon deadline or sending translations to our colleagues in different time zones if deadlines are tight. Sometimes I’ll stay late in the office and sometimes I’ll take some work home with me. I don’t work late every night though; often Taz and I will drop in to somewhere local like The Job Centre – a bar on Deptford High Street – on the way out.

I’d love to hear about where you work from and what your day involves – let me know in the comments if you’re based somewhere unusual or if you’re translating anything particularly interesting.  I’m always looking for new coffee and lunch recommendations in Deptford too!

Why good translators ask questions

Question markCuriosity has always been a virtue when it comes to translation. After all, it’s a profession that attracts many a talented linguist with an inquisitive mind motivated by the daily challenge of finding le mot juste. To find the right words for each translation, translators work with a range of terminology resources, such as dictionaries, glossaries and text corpora. They also research the subject matter of the texts they translate through various channels such as the Internet, books and journals. Yet, despite these resources, there are times when a translator might need to ask you questions about the text that he or she is translating for you – and that’s usually a good sign. Here are a few reasons why.

It could be that the text you are having translated contains terminology unique to your organisation. Acronyms are a case in point. Common acronyms, such as GDP, FIFO and IPO, rarely present a problem. But, if your text contains acronyms that are used exclusively within your organisation, chances are that the translator will need to ask what these mean in order to come up with appropriate ways of translating them.

If your organisation operates in a niche area, it’s likely there will be a number of highly specialised terms and concepts relating to your work. Before deciding how best to translate these for the benefit of your target readership, the translator might need to clarify the exact meaning of certain terms and concepts in the context of your organisation’s activities. By taking this approach, potential misunderstandings can be avoided.

Sometimes, a translator will also want to get in touch if there are various viable options for translating a key term. For example, the German term “Fracht” can be translated into English as “freight” or “cargo”. When handling, say, the translation of a corporate brochure for a logistics company, a translator might want to ask which option the client prefers.

Another possibility could be that the text to be translated appears to contain a mistake, such as a typo or a missing word. Where this is the case, a reliable translator will check what the author actually meant to say rather than hazard a guess in the translation.

In a nutshell, a good translator will carefully read your text, and, if something isn’t clear, he or she will ask. Translators earn their living by communicating messages from one language into another as effectively as possible but, ultimately, no one knows what you want to say better than you do. That’s why it’s definitely worth making yourself – or, if necessary, someone else in your organisation – available to answer questions from the translator while your text is being translated. By asking questions to clarify any relevant points in your text, a translator can ensure that the message conveyed by the translation is precisely the message you want to get across to your audience.

Curious to learn more about the virtues of asking – and answering – questions? Ask us!

How MOOCs can benefit translators – and translation buyers too

Academic capIf asked which attributes are typically expected of translators, most people would probably say that outstanding language skills are a must. And, of course, they’d be right – professional translators dedicate many years to perfecting their proficiency in at least one foreign language as well as their command of their native language. But translators also have to be knowledgeable about the various subjects associated with the texts they translate. This means they need excellent research skills and a willingness to learn new material relevant to their areas of specialisation. It’s precisely because of this occupational need to combine linguistic prowess and subject-specific knowledge that MOOCs, the latest development in e-learning, are such a welcome opportunity for translators. But what is a MOOC?

MOOCs – or massive open online courses – enable anyone with an internet connection to take courses in subjects ranging from computing to medicine. Usually free of charge, MOOCs are offered by universities from all over the world, including institutions such as Harvard, Yale, MIT and Stanford. The courses are delivered in conjunction with external providers such as Coursera, edX, iversity and FutureLearn. This is great news for translators looking to keep up to date with the latest developments in their areas of specialisation or even develop new specialisms through independent study. For example, a translator who focuses on IT or software localisation might choose to take, say, a software engineering course on edX to become more familiar with the latest thinking in that field. The even better news for translators is that it’s often possible to find a number of MOOCs on a particular subject in different languages. For example, Coursera currently has a French MOOC on finance by HEC Paris and another course on finance by the University of Michigan in English.

The exponential growth in the number of MOOCs over the past few years has given translators a great way of keeping up with the latest ideas and terminology in their areas of specialisation. What’s more, they can do so at minimal cost and in multiple languages too. But MOOCs don’t just benefit translators. Translation buyers can now look forward to having their texts translated by professional linguists who, at the click of a mouse, can access the latest thinking in a huge variety of subject areas with tuition provided by experts from the world’s leading universities.

Have you ever taken a MOOC? Tell us about your experience!

What’s in a name? Getting your brand on the road to success in a foreign market

traffic conesThe road to getting your brand established in a foreign market often requires you to steer your way past the pitfalls posed by linguistic and cultural differences. Failing to take these factors into account when marketing a product internationally can harm your brand’s credibility among consumers. So, when moving your brand across the language border, it’s definitely worth giving some thought to how your brand or product names might be received by consumers in your target market. After all, as many companies have found out the hard way, a name that has a delightfully evocative ring to it in one language may – when introduced to speakers of another language – mean something else entirely.

Take the example of American Motors, which – in light of the social unrest in early 1970s America – decided to abandon the name “Rebel” for its mid-size car in favour of the name “Matador”, which was meant to suggest virility and excitement. This appeared to make sense – at least as far as English-speaking consumers were concerned. But when the company introduced the car to the Puerto Rican market, it seems the name was less well received among the country’s Spanish-speaking consumers. Why? Turns out that, in Puerto Rico, the word “matador” can be taken to mean “killer” – a rather unfortunate connotation for Puerto Ricans concerned about safety on the roads.

Another example – also from the car industry – is that of the Rolls Royce Silver Shadow. This luxury car was originally supposed to be named “Silver Mist”, but when the company realised that the word “Mist” in German means “manure”, it was concerned that this name might not appeal to consumers in the lucrative German market. Ultimately, Rolls Royce chose the name “Silver Shadow”. A wise move, as it turns out: the Silver Shadow went on to be one of the most successful models ever produced by the company.

As these automotive anecdotes show, it pays to do some research into the language and culture of the country where you plan to do business. If your brand or product name would cause confusion, embarrassment or offence in the foreign market, you’ll need to consider adapting it.

Have you encountered any odd-sounding brand or product names that really ought to have been more suitably adapted for the target market? Let us know!

How I DIDN’T become an interpreter – Luca Dini, Editor-in-Chief of Vanity Fair Italy

We are delighted to bring you this post by guest Luca Dini, about his love of language and how the academic steps he took to indulge it, actually led him onto a different path. Translated from the Italian by our visiting team member Giulia, who was inspired by his words. If you’re inspired too, you can follow his Italian blog here.

The initial impact had been that of the Language Lab and, thinking about it now, it was significant. It was the summer of 1983 when I set foot for the first time in that cubbyhole with scraped chairs, room dividers made of plywood and huge tapes that the meticulous technician entrusted you with against his better judgement; it was as if they were his own sons. It was on the first floor of the grey, shallow building that had once been a jute sacks factory, among the suburban traffic of via D’Alviano and the motionless cranes of the already declining boatyards of Trieste.

I had gone there to apply for the admission test, and to collect at the administrative office what little preparatory materials there were available – at the time you couldn’t apply online; you couldn’t do anything online: you had to be there in person, everything travelled by word of mouth and on the stencil and via train – so I had taken advantage of that occasion to do a bit of training at the Language Lab. I was dreaming of entering the School that at the time guaranteed (and maybe it still does) the best linguistic education of the entire Italian university system – the legendary (at least it was for us “language nuts”) School for Interpreters and Translators of Trieste. It was believed to be the only possible springboard to the famous simultaneous translation booths of that Parliament that seemed so out-of-sight and noble – and I was finding out with surprise that it wasn’t much more well-equipped (and was even less attractive) than my High School, where Professor Sisti made us repeat French nasal vowels at the record player, “Le vent était violant”, while, outside the window panes plastered with play dough, the snow covered Urbino’s red roofs.

That was the first of many times that I verified that you can’t judge a book by its cover, and that it doesn’t matter how many electronic boards you own or how much money you have or how many clothes there are in your closet; the things that matter are your will, your work and your “hunger”.


The hunger had begun more or less ten years earlier. It all began at the time when I used to pass my summer afternoons at the Roman architect’s holiday home, and his children had an Irish au pair, Sally. I envied them so much not because they had three houses; not because at lunchtime they could have mustard, which in my house was forbidden; but because they could understand Sally when she called them from the window for tea break saying “cumwoshyrrandz”. I had that sentence so impressed into my mind that, when I began studying English at Middle School, it didn’t take long for me to figure it out: “come wash your hands”.

Only people who love languages like I did and I do can understand this. It’s the sleepless night before your first trip abroad as a child (Yugoslavia, Postojna Cave). It’s the “cummontappeltoo” dictated by your mum and written with a pencil on a piece of paper just to ask the neighbours’ French relative, “What’s your name?” It’s the happiness of finding out that there’s a new special option to study two foreign languages at your Middle School. It’s the natural choice of continuing your studies at the Language College. It’s loving the dictionary. It’s the enthusiasm of the first experiences as an exchange student (although they were certainly all happy experiences): 14 years old: at Pierre’s, a little jerk from the French Savoy that switched off the television when Italy won the football championship; 15 years old: at Andreas’ – a bearded alcoholic from the German Saarland who talked incessantly about the “cruel Italians” who used to eat birds during the Second World War, but gave me an absent look when I, exasperated, replied “extermination camps, does that ring a bell?” (because we language nuts are xenophiles, but also patriots); 16 years old: at Andrew’s, in the Hampshire countryside, where I found an extraordinary family that has become and will always be like a second family to me. It’s the utter happiness felt during your first fluent conversation in a foreign language. It’s discovering, and beginning to use, words such as “vachement” and “weltschmerz”. It’s the translated words you find written in tiny handwriting in between the lines of the Agatha Christie books in the original edition. It’s the worst travel and overnight stay ever, in Bologna, in an ugly boarding house (worse than the one for the military visit in Forlì), to do the Cambridge First Certificate exam. It’s the disappointment of not being able to pass my fourth year of High School in the USA.

And then you hear from the daughter of the other class’ English teacher about that legendary School. They tell you that it’s almost impossible to get in, that the admission test is lethal, but – partly because the hunger consumes and you know you won’t be happy if you don’t study languages, partly because you are at that age when you see only the glamorous side of a job, so you think that being a hostess means travelling, and being an interpreter means putting on headphones and helping people bring peace to the world – you decide that you have to try anyway.

So, after finishing school, you go on a pilgrimage to Trieste to apply for the test, you set foot in that Language Lab, you meet your first acquaintance – Luciano, who was to become one of my 5 best friends in the world – you go back home, you dedicate a couple of hours a day to the subtleties of French (which I knew better than English, so I thought I had more chance with it) and English (which I preferred), and in September you go back to Trieste for the admission test. Your sigh of relief when you recognize all the traps in the old French text: “tiré à quatre épingles”, which means “all gussied up”, but was translated by some as “pulled by four boars”, and “gare au cocher qui ose…”, which means “attention to the coachman that dares…” but the usual brave one opted for “the pig station”; and I swear it’s all true. You wonder who the hell the “vecchia procaccia” is in the Ignazio Silone’s passage for translation from English into Italian, and from the context you understand it might be the postman, but you are deceived by the feminine gender, so you translate “the old postwoman”; but it must have been a small mistake because two weeks later you call the University of Trieste to find out the results and you find out that there are clean and rigorous selections in Italy too. You will never again see those two or three losers that had told you “I’m recommended by a politician, it’s better for you just to give up – you can only get into the School if you know someone already”. When the administrative office tells you that you passed your exam in both languauges, well, that’s an unforgettable moment of pure joy, a bright future awaits you.


The Trieste experience – besides an initial misunderstanding with what would become my most beloved city, and a little incident along the way with a very strict and slightly crazy landlady who let pigeons into the kitchen but woe betide me if I tried to bring a friend across the threshold (later, I found out why: she was the old prostitute of the neighbourhood and didn’t like to chat) – was absolutely amazing. It’s a bit like developing a disease one day and finding out that you’re not the only one who has it, the next. Suddenly you find yourself among a group of people that compete in WhoHasTheBiggestDictionary and love holding discourse on phrasal verbs. You, an 18-year-old boy, find yourself away from home, among many other young students (foreign students included) as far from home as you are. You understand that Sundays without your mum’s roast are sad. The two weeks left before going back home seem infinite when you’ve run out of money, but you know the friends who still live with their parents – the ones that have lunch every day with their families, and sleep every night in a comfortable bed with clean sheets – miss out on far more things than you do.

But everybody who has experienced distance learning knows that. Besides wonderful friends, nights passed studying, nights passed talking, and meeting the love of my life, what else did Trieste give me?

Trieste, after four very stressful years (compulsory attendance, fifty exams plus the final exam, the viva and the specialist qualification; and when I say stressful, trust me on this, it’s not nice to be afraid of losing an entire year in five minutes during the simultaneous translation exam because you know something about milk quotas, but you don’t know the translation of “rennet”), gave me everything it had promised: a translator diploma and a degree in interpreting. I’ve done translation, I’ve loved translation, and I would love it again. I have studied and obtained a degree in Interpreting. I’ve trained in Consecutive Interpreting: it’s the kind of interpreting you use during negotiations, bilateral meetings and small delegations, and it consists of listening to part of a speech, taking notes, and then translating the entire part using your own personal and crazy symbols system (I still use some of the symbols), that can be read in every language, because symbols convey meaning, not words. I did Consecutive Interpreting professionally sometimes, and liked it a lot. A brief anecdote: at the end of a meeting in Friuli with a delegation of Spanish doctors I took a trip to the toilet, then, when I needed to get out, I realised I was locked in, so I took the emergency exit (the kind of exit that closes automatically behind you and you cannot open it again) and I found myself on a construction site, between stray dogs. I was behind a grating with my briefcase and the synthetic jacket I had bought for my first job, and I had to scream for the attention of a traffic warden who had me freed. But there wasn’t enough demand for Consecutive Interpreting. Everybody wanted – and still wants, I suppose – Simultaneous Interpreting with headphones. I liked that far less, because I am a perfectionist, and to translate into decent Italian I left an exaggerated décalage (the temporal shift between the original and the translation), so I was then forced to do exhausting run-ups, until I decided that it wasn’t the job for me. Laura Gran, my super-zen teacher, used to tell me: you’ll get used to it, it will become second nature to you, in Strasbourg we translate while knitting; it might be because I can’t knit, but I have never achieved that elusive “second nature”.

Even more than professional expertise, Trieste gave me an environment where, potentially, there were more unqualified teachers than qualified ones, but where motivation – the “hunger” mentioned above – was so strong that you could learn something useful even from the dullest lectures. It gave me the unforgettable English lectures of the terrible Professor Snelling, who told us that using one word fewer is better than using one word more. It gave me the pleasure of choosing the right words, playing with their musicality and their shades of meaning. It gave me the habit of communicating as if it were my second nature. It gave me the ability of knowing something about many different fields; of course it wasn’t a very deep knowledge, but I have almost never been completely in the dark. In other words, it laid – without my knowledge – the path towards my calling, even though I didn’t know it at the time: journalism. I know the same has happened to plenty of other people too, for other jobs.

So, with the sole exception of a tiring and useless English-Italian thesis-glossary on bridges made with prestressed reinforced concrete, that cost me a year and now lies untouched in the library of the beautiful new location of the SSLMIT, if I could go back, I wouldn’t change a thing.