Translation: to Bengali or not to Bengali?

Our production manager Sanjoy Roy highlights a common confusion about Bengali usage

Brick Lane Bengali street sign
The Bengali language is the language of Bengal, right? Well, not wrong – but it’s not as simple as that. In the UK there’s quite a lot of confusion about what Bengali is, so I’ll try to clarify that here.

First, let me illustrate the problem. I live in Whitechapel, in East London, which has one of the highest densities of Bengalis in the country. My father, who was born in Dhaka and grew up in Kolkata, is a native Bengali speaker. But when he comes to visit me in Whitechapel, he can’t understand what the local Bengalis are saying. Yet he has no problem reading the shop signs and street names written in Bengali. What’s going on? Continue reading “Translation: to Bengali or not to Bengali?”

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!

Chinese New Year fit for the credit crunch?

Yesterday saw the start of the Chinese New Year, celebrating the Year of the Ox. The festival begins on the first day of the first lunar month of the Chinese Calendar. This calendar far pre-dates the internationally used Gregorian calendar, with evidence of its use as far back as the second millennium BC.

Naturally London will be the scene for several New Year celebrations, including a parade, stalls and dances in central London on Sunday 1 February. Last year’s celebrations saw 50,000 people attend the grand parade and welcoming ceremony in Trafalgar Square. At WorldAccent, we have been busy with various posters and adverts expressing clients’ new year wishes – mostly written in Traditional Chinese for a UK audience.

Once the celebrations are over, what might this Year of the Ox bring us? The Ox is thought to signify prosperity but through fortitude and hard work.

Furthermore, according to tradition, the Ox is never extravagant. One contemporary interpretation of this facet is that an Ox is nervous of living off credit cards or being in debt. In the on-going credit crunch, perhaps this will truly be the year of the Ox?

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.


Welcome to the newest addition to our WorldAccent website. In this blog, I intend to talk about more than just professional translation. Of course, as a director of a translation company I have plenty to say on that topic, both from a strategic and a day-to-day fundamentals point of view.

But I am also an adopted Londoner of some 30 years. I am frequently captivated by the variety of thriving communities within London, their history and intermingling of languages.

What’s more, here at WorldAccent we view language not as separate but as a part of the wider world. Our everyday experiences both shape and are shaped by the language we use, and I hope to reflect some of this wider picture.

Translation is the key to language, and language is something that I personally find fascinating. I never cease to be amazed by its sheer diversity. I am always impressed, not only by the methods employed to translate these languages by our professional translators, but by the rapid switching between languages in the office around me.

Welcome to my blog, optimistically entitled “Making Sense”. I hope to bring you something interesting and fresh, and I’m sure that’s possible – after all, language is never stagnant.