Sign that puts Italian translation off the rails!

Here’s a little something to put a smile on your face for a Monday morning. One of WorldAccent’s studio team recently returned from holiday, having swapped Italian typesetting for the Italian countryside.

As well as bringing back some delicious cake, he took a snap of this amusing sign from the door of his train compartment:

Italian to English translation on train sign

Yes, that English translation really does read:

In the event of declenchement of audible alarm evacuer the compartiment without precipitation and come into contact with the crew

No, we can’t work out how they managed that either. We’re just fairly sure it wasn’t a native Italian to English translation!

Incidentally, if you are intrigued by the idea of getting the train to mainland Europe (or even further), have a look at the informative and enthusiastic train information site, seat61.com. Travelling by train across Europe may not be the quickest way to get there, but it’s a lot less trying on your state of mind (not to mention being the low carbon option).

Why FIGS translation matters to business

Look up figs in a dictionary and it will describe a fruit or the tree that produces them. In translation and localisation the word has a quite different meaning. FIGS translation is simply an acronym describing French, Italian, German and Spanish translation.

This combination of languages opens any document or product up to a wide range of potential users. Turning to the strangely ever-useful CIA World Factbook, some plain economic facts bring this home all too clearly. Germany alone is the world’s 5th largest economy with an estimated 2008 GDP of US$ 2.8 trillion, more than a quarter greater than the UK’s equivalent output. France, Italy and Spain are 8th, 10th and 12th respectively on the same scale.

The numbers are even more staggering, with a combined GDP of about that of the United States, once you add in some of the other countries and regions where these are primary native languages – Austria, Mexico, Argentina, French-speaking Belgium, Switzerland, Quebec, Venezuela, the list goes on and on. There are also large numbers of people around the world who speak one of the FIGS languages as a foreign or second language.

As the FIGS languages use the Roman alphabet, they are relatively straightforward to use in a range of typefaces and on the web. This, combined with their large audience, makes these languages a popular choice especially when considering translation for a west European market. Many companies and organisations wanting to expand their reach are making use of FIGS translation and localisation services for their products, websites and documents.

After all, whether you are trying to win someone’s business or convince them of your point of view, there is no substitute for a stylish, well written translation in their native language. Everyone should give a fig about that!

Italian translation that plays with fire

Most products go through an extensive series of developmental steps before they get anywhere near our shelves. The design is tweaked this way and that, colours and their implications considered, the look and feel is refined.

Yet all too often, translation is entrusted to someone who speaks the language “quite well”, or even “knows a bit of French”. Of all places, this truism jumped out at me once again while browsing for a pasta sauce. An elegantly designed box had the following English translation of the Italian cooking instruction:

To be charitable, perhaps this is a deliberately quaint piece of English, calculated to conjure stereotyped images of an Italian chef. It certainly makes a native English speaker stumble half way through the sentence, something that a quick (and inexpensive) professional Italian to English translation would have solved.

Either way, the sauce was delicious (tomato with bacon and speck in case you’re wondering).

Think carefully before entrusting your hard work to a home-brew translation or, if you’ll excuse the pun, you may find yourself jumping out of the frying pan and into the (bubbly) fire!

Should Italian use English words?

No visitor to Italy can miss the stream of adverts using English phrases, or the now ubiquitous “il weekend”. Today, the BBC news site has a report on a study in Italy about the infiltration of English into Italian.

The study by the respected Dante Alighieri Society [website in Italian] shows that many feel it has gone too far. In fact, the authors call on Italians to reject what they dub “Anglitalianco”. How successful they will be remains to be seen, when even those stalwart defenders of their language, the French, have come to accept borrow words such as “le shopping”.

But the question that occurs to me is: how far should we “defend” a language? Language is a living thing, it grows and borrows quite naturally. English itself is littered with words borrowed from other languages and continues to adopt them. So is insisting on “fine settimana” instead of weekend resisting linguistic imperialism or being a stick in the mud? I don’t know the answer, but as so often with language, it’s a fascinating debate.

Little Italy alive and well in Clerkenwell

One of the great things about being based in Clerkenwell is its character. This area, just north of the City of London, is a maze of back streets and alleyways. In fact, Clerkenwell is the backdrop for Fagin’s gang of pickpockets in the book Oliver Twist as Charles Dickens knew the area well.

A decade or two after the publication of Oliver Twist, Clerkenwell became a centre of London’s Italian population, acquiring the nickname “Little Italy” somewhere along the line. This community has now largely dispersed, although I’m glad to say that a good number of Italian restaurants and the odd deli survive.

Another remnant is St Peter’s Italian Church which stands at the centre of what was Little Italy, just a few streets away from our office.

Hundreds of people still flock every year for an annual parade which has been held since the late nineteenth century to honour Our Lady of Mount Carmel. It is supposed to be the first outdoor Roman Catholic event that had been allowed in London since the Reformation.

What is without doubt is that this procession is spectacular, bringing a small slice of Italian street-life to London every July. Banners and statues are carried down the street, mingling with floats decorated to illustrate biblical and other scenes.



(Pictures © Alan Denney. For more images of the parade and a fascinating chronicle of ordinary Londoners over the last few decades, see Alan’s Flickr).

Perhaps predictably, the streets are not only filled with religous icons but also with aromas from the outdoor kitchens and food stalls that also spring up. You can get a metaphorical taste of the day from the pictures at the Italian Church website.

It’s easy to forget the influence of other cultures and nationalities on our city, and how many hidden gems such as this parade they contribute. I feel we’re lucky to live in a city that celebrates different cultures. London has been described as “the multicultural centre of Europe”, with over 7 million inhabitants speaking 300 distinct languages. We are renowned for our multiculturalism, and that is something we should be proud of.