How not to get trapped by a translation app

Please welcome Christine Camm, an expert French-English translator whom I met recently via social media. Despite my being bilingual English-French myself I’ve often wondered how the hell professional translators manage to sleep at night, given the ridiculous differences between these two lingos.

And … how English speakers, in particular, manage to destroy whatever co-comprehension there might remain considering that the Brits still feel the French will understand their English provided that they shout it loudly enough, and the French think anyone living from the White Cliffs of Dover northwards is a totally unhinged rosbif who probably needs not only French lessons but also to stop shouting and get a life.

Christine takes up the story with a charming anecdote … 

A young London couple, Carol and Simon, start planning their next short holiday

“Let’s go to Paris,” suggests Simon.

Carol raises one eyebrow and instantly pictures the two of them on a boat, gently floating along the Seine past Notre Dame, sipping champagne and grabbing that all important click of the sun setting behind the Eiffel Tower against the deep blue Parisian sky. The air is warm and accordion music is gently playing.

A harsh reality check brings the eyebrow down and both eyebrows knit together in a complicit reminder that neither of them speaks French.

Wanting to go to Paris and get the most of it, Carol’s eyes sweep upwards to the right as she remembers an advert for a translation app for her new smartphone. Her mouth widens and the words burst out of her mouth as if in a rush to reach Simon’s ears before he changes his mind.

“Let’s do it!” she blurts out.

Pleasantly surprised, Simon starts clicking away at his keyboard and comes up with a romantic weekend getaway from London to Paris for two. In five clicks their mini-break is booked.

His words “Your wish is my command” are lovingly bestowed on Carol, whose jaw drops in happy surprise whilst her fingers simultaneously flick a message to her BFF with the news.

The reply is almost instant. “You can’t go on a bateau-mouche! It’s a boat full of flies! Look . . .”

article about English - French translation

A boat full of flies…

The next text shows the translation of bateau-mouche to be boat-fly and she even wonders if it’s a new type of boat-drone that will take off from the water and give her a cool aerial shot of the Eiffel tower.

Peering over Carol’s shoulder, Simon is shaking his head from side to side and exhaling heavily in despair. “It’s the name of the type of boat for tourists that take you along the Seine, Carol!  Good grief girl, don’t you know that?”

“Perhaps we should learn a bit of French before we go?” suggests Carol.

“No need” retorts Simon “just download that app you found the other week.  We can hold our phone out and it will do all the translation for us.”

The following month…

The sun is beating gently down on two figures strolling along the bank of the Seine: Carol and Simon are walking hand in hand to their boat ride.

After a long, admiring silence of appreciation for the moment, Simon is the first to speak: “This is marvellous. Let’s have our meal on the boat – that would be amazing!”

Carol looked into his eyes and he could feel her hand squeezing his in blissful acceptance.

Later, at dinner…

“Voilà?” utters the waiter as he deftly pours champagne into each of their glasses. “Vous voulez un oeuf avec la salade?”

Perplexed, Carol wonders why he is asking them if they’ve had enough already.

“Enough? Enough?” she repeats, “Oui, oui” she answers feeling proud she managed some French there, looking at the plate full of lettuce. There was clearly enough there!

The waiter slides away discreetly only to come back with a dish of hard-boiled eggs.

“Huh?” I said “enough” she retorts.

“Oui, un oeuf” nods the waiter, pointing at an egg, proud of himself for having communicated successfully with this rosbif.

She thrusts the word ‘enough’ on her phone app in his direction with the translated word assez for him to read.

article about English-French transaltion

Is un oeuf enough?

Seeing Carol’s face all confused, the waiter realises something wasn’t right.

“C’est clair – il y a un problème?”

“Claire?” pipes up Simon, “No, this is Carol”, a little too fast for Carol’s liking.

Suspicious of hearing the name Claire, Carol wonders if Simon has been here before with a secret girlfriend. The previously blissful acceptance seemed to be going pear-shaped.

The waiter, sensing something was awry backs off, leaving the guilty egg on the table.

“Who’s Claire?” she demands.

Nothing was going to be right for Simon now. He reaches for Carol’s hand but it’s not there any more. In fact, she is already standing up, a murderous gleam in her eyes.

If only they had paid more attention to their French lessons at school

The poor, innocent victims of not being able to understand enough French even to enjoy the humour of a misunderstanding, Simon and Carol disembark and take separate trains back to London.

We all pause for a flashback to the dark, classroom days of chanting the verb être a million times then never really using it like that in real life.

Oh the horror!

Many teachers were taught to teach French like that, and now I cringe at the very thought of how many people will have been put off the fun aspect of learning French.

The damage was done, though. And many decided that French was “not for me, nah. I’ll stick with the app, merci!”

Translation apps would struggle with the above story – despite being carefully chosen to include idiom in context, complex sentence structures, multiple adjectives and compound words, to mention but a few. Much as translation apps are evolving, learning a language in realistic situations and learning to cope in even the simplest of conversations will never be replaced digitally.

article about english - french translation

Translation app is not ‘appy.

The French language is as rich in metaphors, similes and beautiful cultural connotations as the English language is. If only we had all been able to appreciate this right from the beginning rather than learning just for an exam, maybe we would have loved our language learning more.

As for Simon and Carol…

…They decided to learn to speak French. Lo and behold, they ended up in the same French class! This time around, nothing was lost in the translation app and they went back to Paris and enjoyed talking with people in French.

As a novice writer, Simon found out that through learning French, he enriched his own English writing skills.  He found that there were hundreds of French words already in his head without him having ever known. He learnt how to bring them into his own writing to enrich his understanding of visualising descriptions, and to build in more worldly cultural references so creating a better experience for his readers.

Christine Camm, article on French - English translation on How To Write Better with Suzan St Maur

Christine Camm

Christine Camm is English and lives in the South West of France. As an international teacher, many know her as the person who gets them speaking French confidently. She spent the past 30+ years teaching multiple languages internationally, and helping other teachers ensure their learners got the best experience.

Whether you’ve already started learning some French, but just aren’t getting to move on and speak confidently, or you want to learn but are overwhelmed by the huge amount of material and courses out there, Christine can help you.

“If French is a language you have regrets about not continuing,” says Christine, “try my free Masterclass. This reveals the 4 steps you need to unleash those confident, meaningful French conversations.”



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Sep 13, Grand Remembrances

Today is Grandparents Day in the United States. Being a Grand is a special honor. I feel very blessed that my wife and I have two grandchildren. We were able to visit them today. Yes, we are still being cautious with the coronavirus, but we also find it very difficult to not see them when they live so close. So today we did drop by to visit Jacob (age 10) and Sophia (age 7) along with their parents. We brought donuts and caught up with them. Our grandchildren are still pretty young and this is a precious time in their lives – and ours!

I wish I had known my grandparents better. We never lived in the same place. Dad was a career Air Force pilot, so we moved around a lot. But we did get to see them once in a while when they would visit us, or we them.

A Plague of Giants

There are five known magical ‘kennings’ or types: air, water, fire, earth, and plants. Each nation specializes in of these kennings, and the magic influences the society. There’s a big pitfall with this diversity of ability and locale–not everyone gets along.

Enter the Hathrim giants, or ‘lavaborn’ whose kenning is fire. Where they live the trees that fuel their fire are long gone, but the giants are definitely not welcome anywhere else. They’re big, they’re violent, and they’re ruthless. When a volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate, they take the opportunity to relocate. They don’t care that it’s in a place where they aren’t wanted.

I first read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books and loved them (also the quirky The Tales of Pell), so was curious about this new venture, starting with A PLAGUE OF GIANTS. Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Elemental magic, a variety of races, different lands. And it’s all thrown at you from page one.

But this story is told a little differently. It starts at the end of the war, after a difficult victory, and a bard with earth kenning uses his magic to re-tell the story of the war to a city of refugees. And it’s this movement back and forth in time and between key players in this war that we get a singularly grand view of the war as a whole. Hearne uses this method to great effect.

There are so many interesting characters in this book that I can’t cover them all here. Often in books like this such a large cast of ‘main’ character can make the storytelling suffer, especially since they don’t have a lot of interaction with each other for the first 3/4 of the book–but it doesn’t suffer, thankfully. And the characterization is good enough, despite these short bursts, that by the end we understand these people and care about what happens to them.

If there were a main character it would be Dervan, a historian who is assigned to record (also spy on?) the bard’s stories. He finds himself caught up in machinations he feels unfit to survive. Fintan is the bard from another country, who at first is rather mysterious and his true personality is hidden by the stories he tells; it takes a while to understand him. Gorin Mogen is the leader of the Hathrim giants who decide to find a new land to settle. He’s hard to like, but as far as villains go, you understand his motivations and he can be even a little convincing. There’s Abhi, the son of hunters, who decides hunting isn’t the life for him–and unexpectedly finds himself on a quest for the sixth kenning. And Gondel Vedd, a scholar of linguistics who finds himself tasked with finding a way to communicate with a race of giants never seen before (definitely not Hathrim) and stumbles onto a mystery no one could have guessed: there may be a seventh kenning.

There are other characters, but what makes them all interesting is that they’re regular people (well, maybe not Gorin Mogen or the viceroy–he’s a piece of work) who become heroes in their own little ways, whether it’s the teenage girl who isn’t afraid to share vital information, to the scholars who suddenly find how crucial their minds are to the survival of a nation, to the humble public servants who find bravery when they need it most. This is a story of loss, love, redemption, courage, unity, and overcoming despair to not give up. All very human experiences by simple people who do extraordinary things.

Hearne’s worldbuilding is engaging. He doesn’t bottle feed you, at first it feels like drinking from a hydrant, but then you settle in and pick up things along the way. Then he shows you stuff with a punch to the gut. This is no fluffy world with simple magic without price. All the magic has a price, and more often than not it leads you straight to death’s door. For most people just the seeking of the magic will kill you. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Ahbi and his discovery of the sixth kenning and everything associated with it. But giants? I mean, really? It isn’t bad enough fighting people who can control fire that you have to add that they’re twice the size of normal people? For Hearne if it’s war, the stakes are pretty high, and it gets ugly.

The benefit of the storytelling style is that the book, despite its length, moves along steadily (Hearne is no novice, here). The bits of story lead you along without annoying cliffhangers (mostly), and I never got bored with the switch between characters. It was easy to move between them, and they were recognizable enough that I got lost or confused. The end of the novel felt a little abrupt, but I guess that has more to do with I was ready for the story to continue, despite the exiting climax.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy with fun storytelling and clever worldbuilding, check out A PLAGUE OF GIANTS.

The post A Plague of Giants appeared first on Elitist Book Reviews.

The Artwork Of Gary Choo

Gary Choo is a concept artist/illustrator based in Singapore. I’ve know Gary for a good many years ( 17, actually ), working together in animation studios in Singapore like Silicon Illusions and Lucasfilm. Gary currently runs an art team at Mighty Bear Games, but when time allows he also draws covers for Marvel comics, and they’re amazing –

The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo

To see more of Gary’s work or to engage him for freelance work, head down to his ArtStation.

The post The Art Of Gary Choo appeared first on Halcyon Realms – Art Book Reviews – Anime, Manga, Film, Photography.