Facebook and B2B : does it actually work?

Nicole : February 21, 2013 10:53 am : Business, Freelancing, Technology

Like many (most?) of us these days, I have a Facebook profile, and I’m also connected to several pages. Some are to do with the charity I work for, but I also have a page for Awendan. However, they are at polar opposites: the charity page has upwards of 2,000 likes; daily content and stories posted; and we once got more than 200 shares on a single post. In contrast, Awendan has single-figure likes and I admit that I rarely post stories – sometimes a shared post from another business page or otherwise it’s a feed that pulls through my tweets.

I think the key word there is ‘tweets’. As far as translation related things are concerned, I interact a lot more on Twitter than I ever will on Facebook. The #xl8 tag is always busy and I find Twitter much better suited to business sector interactions. When it comes down to it, I prefer to keep personal and business streams separate and Facebook is hard work in that respect.

Facebook is much better if it’s your personal, individual customers you want to communicate with; the charity page interactions are 95% with individual donors and supporters, rarely our corporate sponsors. Many of the local craft and handmade small business pages that I like are very successful because they’re personal and talking with the people that visit them at fairs or buy their crafts. Even the big corporate juggernaut brand pages are all about B2C interactions – and they have a huge budget to throw at Facebook advertising or campaigns to boot.

For our industry sector, much more long-term value comes from B2B marketing or communications and for freelance businesses of our size Facebook just requires too much work and too much budget for little return in the B2B sector. I’m now considering whether to close my Awendan page altogether and stick to Twitter!

Do you have a Facebook page for your freelance business? Does it work for you?

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Does “mot-dièse” signal desperation from the Académie?

Nicole : January 27, 2013 12:35 pm : Culture, France, Organisations, Technology

The news has hit this weekend that the Académie française, the venerable institution tasked with preserving and enriching the french language, has coined a new official term to combat the social media titan “hashtag”.

The hashtag and its concept has spread far beyond it’s best known home of Twitter; now you can find it on Facebook and other social media like Pinterest to mark a post or picture as belonging to a particular topic (even though it doesn’t work the same way on these platforms as it has been designed to on Twitter) – but you also see it used in blog post titles, comments, in fact almost any form of internet communication now can contain a hashtag form of a quip or one liner.

The Académie française hates this sorts of pervasive, all-encompassing Anglicism and so now they have released a new term to be used in official circumstances (although no doubt they’d prefer everyone used it).

There’s just one small problem with the new term mot-dièse that the internautes have had no hesitation in pointing out.

The word dièse actually refers to the musical notation for ‘sharp’; ♯  – which leans left. It is not the same as the hashtag symbol ; # which leans right.

In French # is called croisillon and my dictionary has the following entry (bold mine):

Symbole, également appelé carré, chemin de fer, octothorpe ou, abusivement, dièse, utilisé pour divers emplois en informatique, en téléphonie ou en typographie (peu usité en typographie française).

So my dictionary actually notes that dièse is an improperly used term for #, which makes what the Académie have done all the more absurd! Are they now so desperate to halt the tide of Anglicised techno-speak that they release an official term which contravenes the correct usage of the language they’re so obsessed with purifying? Granted, mot-carré is already in use for a type of word puzzle, and mot-chemin de fer or mot-octothorpe don’t exactly roll off the tongue; but surely the supposed authority on the french language could do better than this botched job.

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“10 Mindful Minutes” – a mantra for freelancers

Nicole : January 13, 2013 1:01 pm : Culture, Freelancing

I’ve just watched “All it takes is 10 mindful minutes” – a TedTalk from Andy Puddicombe, and I think it’s one worth watching for all freelancers out there.

A former Buddhist monk and founder of Headspace, Andy aims to bring meditation to the masses by stripping back the mystery element and showing us how it’s relevant to our everyday lives.

A couple of quotes stood out of the talk for me,

When did you last take any time to do nothing? And when I say nothing, I do mean nothing – so, that’s no emailing, texting, or internet. No TV, no chatting, no eating, no reading – not even sitting there reminiscing about the past or planning for the future. Simply doing nothing.

I think this is really relevant to work-from-home freelancers – let’s be honest, if we give ourselves a ten minute downtime tea break, what do we end up doing? Checking emails, reading that article we saved for later, watching a TedTalk…. and then, should we have some time without a project on the go, we’re more than likely either reflecting on our past work or planning for how our business will develop.

Which leads into quote number two…

We’re talking about our mind. The mind, our most valuable and precious resource, through which we experience every single moment of our life. (…) This is the same mind that we depend upon to be focused, creative, spontaneous, and to perform at our very best in everything that we do. And yet, we don’t take any time out to look after it.

This really resonates for a linguist freelancer, and no doubt many others whose business revolves around creativity – designers, developers…

In today’s world where there is so much information being flung at freelancers from the internet; where we have an ever increasing range of software to make our working lives easier and our brains softer; where there are constant pinging demands on our attention – I think it is more important than ever before to take 10 mindful minutes each day. Look after your brain – it’s your freelance business’s most valuable resource.

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Neuroscience locates the site of word meanings

Nicole : January 4, 2013 6:05 pm : Bilingualism, Education, Languages, Research

Back in November I picked up this article in New Scientist : Mind-reading scan locates site of meaning in the brain and I never got round to blogging about it. Now it seems that this research has been expanded by another team, as there’s a new article out this week; Take a peek inside the brain’s filing cabinet.

In both sets of studies, neuroscientists have used fMRI scanning to look at which areas of the brain light up when the subject is shown images that they will associate with a given word. Both articles pick out animals to illustrate the examples; in November’s article it was a horse, and in this month’s a butterfly.

The findings are very interesting, and show that the same sets of neurons seem to activate for words in similar categories. New Scientist focuses on the potential of this for applications in mind-reading machines and in establishing contact with brain-damaged or locked-in patients, but one part of the November article in particular made me wonder if it doesn’t also have repercussions for language learning.

The system was still able to identify which animal had been named, despite being trained with patterns generated for English words. For example, the word “horse” and its Dutch equivalent “paard” gave rise to the same brain pattern, suggesting that the activity represented the word’s meaning – the concept of a horse.

The Dutch study used eight bilingual participants for the test, but the January article cites Jack Gallant’s work mapping the 1,705 most common nouns and verbs in English. The image below is a screenshot of the neural map he’s developed – if you click through it takes you to the interactive version, but be warned you probably need Chrome for this to work properly.

Neural word map

If these areas are the same across all people and all languages as the studies seem to have found, then surely the implication for language learning, more than ever, is that visually-based, ‘learn by association’ methods are going to produce the best results? Whether that’s being immersed in the native environment or learning through a programme like Rosetta, the emphasis is on looking at images and learning through association which words and parts of the sentence relate to which elements of the image and how.

I wonder how long it will be before the academic system finally listens to the wider evidence and moves away from the endless grammar lectures and learning by rote?

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2012 Review: Language Gaffes

Nicole : December 31, 2012 1:49 pm : Culture, Humour, Languages, London2012, Translation

Well it’s that time of year when the 2012 reviews and roundups proliferate, so I thought I’d do a quick one on the language and translation errors that made the headlines in 2012.


Westfield Arabic banners
Credit BBC News July 2012

I posted at the time about some of the mistakes that made the headlines leading up to the Olympics, such as the illegible welcome signs in Arabic, which had been printed backwards (left to right, as with Western script, rather than right to left) and also had the characters spaced apart. This came shortly after the South Korean flag was displayed prior to the North Korea vs. Colombia women’s football match, causing a less than slight diplomatic incident.

It turns out I completely missed the garbled comments Mitt Romney made prior to the Olympics, largely triggered by the G4S fiasco. Most of the focus was on his criticisms of London, but some journalists did highlight his comment that he’d “spent a great day in the backside of Downing Street”. A great reminder that although we might seem to speak the same language, sometimes there’s a gulf as wide as the Atlantic between American and British English.


Signage always seems to be a problem when it comes to producing translations… the latest this year in a long history of Welsh bilingual signage mistakes directed drivers to “follow the entertainment”, due to the translation of the wrong sort of ‘diversion’.

Penn an Wlas

Meanwhile, closer to home, Land’s End came under intense criticism for removing the Cornish “Penn an Wlas” from the entrance to the site. The timing could not have been worse, as it came just before the start of the Olympic Torch Relay, although the site vociferously denied it was anything to do with that.

Social Media

Poor François Hollande had barely rearranged the presidential office before he was being lambasted on Twitter for a silly mistake. In a letter attached to a congratulatory tweet sent to Barack Obama on winning a second term in office, the Twittersphere quickly noticed that in an attempt at the personal touch, Hollande had signed off the letter “Friendly, François Hollande”. Such a simple mistake, and I’m sure if he’d signed off with the French sympathique or amicalement the sentiment would still have been picked up in Washington.

Another French figure; Laurent Joffrin, the editor-in-chief of Nouvel Observateur, was also caught up in a Twitter firestorm when he sent a follower this rather indignant reply:

Laurent Joffrin tweet

It actually happened in 2011 but it made our headlines in 2012 in a BBC article about the rise of ‘tu’ amongst French Tweeps, and it’s fitting because I think 2012 has been the pivotal year for how we use social media.

Last Laugh

Finally, it almost beggared belief that the official paper of the Chinese Communist Party would so utterly fail to suspect a hint of irony when they picked up satirical publication The Onion’s piece naming North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ‘sexiest man alive’. But, it seems that they read it as gospel and as a result suffered being the butt of a global joke when they reproduced almost the entire article.

There’s probably many more that I’ve missed – feel free to add them in the comments!

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“The Book Farm” & how to buy secondhand language books

Nicole : December 20, 2012 11:52 am : Books, Culture, Languages, Secondhand

I’ve just been away to visit family in Warwickshire, and while I was there we went to a favourite local haunt of theirs; Astley Book Farm, which bills itself as ‘the largest secondhand book shop in the Midlands’. Well, I’ll agree with that. I’ve posted before about my obsession with trawling secondhand bookshops for hidden treasures, but I’ve never had so many shelves to scour as at the Book Farm.

There are shelves for all the usual genres and topics, an area for rare and first edition books, new arrivals, and sale items – indeed a whole separate barn with everything at 50p! There’s also a small sofa area where you can get a coffee and a piece of cake – apparently this used to be a self-serve coffee machine and a tin of biscuits with an honesty box, but the demand has meant they’ve now introduced a serviced café. All around the place there are little touches that show the character of the place – the front of the coffee bar is decorated with the paperback covers of children’s books, for example – while in the toilet it’s a wall of crime and thrillers. As the rooms are in a network of converted barns, the beams are still in place and you might chance to look up and see a stack of dusty hardbacks propped in the angle of a join.


As always, the languages section is almost at the furthest corner of the place! I have amassed quite a collection of reference books from my secondhand missions, but there is a knack to it. After all, you need to know your reference material is still relevant, so I usually steer clear of any fast-moving topics, such as technology. Normally, I wouldn’t stray much past the last couple of decades for dictionaries but this time I did pick up a bilingual FR<>EN dictionary of commercial & financial terms published in 1955. There’s over 50,000 words and phrases and on scanning through, many of them are still in common usage so I decided it was worth the £4 price tag. My second find was much more recent and well into the ‘safe zone’; the new Penguin dictionary of Abbreviations (2000), for just £2.75.

My third find highlighted another issue with secondhand language books which I hadn’t come across before. I’m learning Mandarin at the moment, so I was keen to pick up any books on this topic. There were two course books on learning to read and write Chinese – as the course I’m on primarily involves learning through speaking and listening, these were of particular interest. One of the two books was from the 50s and appeared to deal primarily with the traditional character forms, only giving reference to the development of the simplified system. As this latter is now standard, that’s what I wanted to learn so the second book, an extended 1982 reprint to include the simplified characters and the pinyin romanisation, was the one I went for. The book is actually the first in a series of exercise books so I may yet be on the hunt for the sequels!

So, to sum up – for a successful haul of secondhand reference books the key factors are:

  • What’s the publication date?
  • Is the content still accurate or relevant?
  • Are there any cultural or historic changes in the topic that you should be careful of?

Secondhand reference books are usually vastly cheaper than new, particularly for specialised subjects, and when chosen carefully can be just as valuable – I added three fiction books to my three reference books and paid just shy of £20 for the whole haul – so it’s well worth an hour spent trawling the shelves and considering the options. Happy hunting!


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Language skills & SMEs

Nicole : December 2, 2012 7:12 pm : Business, Europe, Languages, Research

I was flicking through the news the other day and a headline from the BBC caught my eye; Foreign language skills cost Scottish businesses“. In fact, it should really have read ‘LACK of foreign language skills’, as the article was discussing the findings of the British Council’s Language Rich Europe survey and the likelihood that Scottish businesses are missing out on global trade opportunities because of their attitude that ‘English is enough’. The article’s angle was on education and with a Scottish view, but I was interested to find out the report’s overall view.

I have to say I wasn’t very impressed with the LRE website or the results of the report given there; it seems like a very brief overview and the charts and abbreviations are insufficiently explained. However, they do cite their sources, one of which is freely available and contained exactly the type of research I was hoping to find.

The eXport factor: British SMEs’ approach to doing business overseasis a couple of years old, but I think its findings are still valid in 2012. There were a couple of points in particular that stood out for me; firstly the surprising proportion of SMEs for whom exporting was not a result of planning or strategy but unplanned:

59% of the SMEs that export were approached by overseas customers. This is particularly the case with the retail trade (70%) and the leisure and entertainment industry (65%).

Secondly, the opportunities that result from the export market; the top four things that the businesses surveyed listed as the benefits to their business from exporting were

Spreading our customer base (59%) ; Increased sales (55%) ; Increased turnover (50%) ; Increased profits (43%).

Granted, one would hope that a greater customer base would lead to increased sales, which is bound to increase turnover and in a successful business, therefore profits. But it’s clear from this that SMEs should not, and do not seem to, underestimate the importance of global markets.

Finally, when asked what the main barriers to exporting were for them, equal with ‘regulations’ and ‘time & effort’ came

Language issues / understanding culture (31%)

Taking these highlights together, what strikes me is that if you are running an SME with the potential to export, you would benefit from striking up a relationship with a language specialist now – before you get caught unprepared when opportunity knocks!

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Translating Tolkein….The Hobbit in Latin!

Nicole : November 28, 2012 6:09 pm : Books, Culture, Education, Translation

Now I’m always up for a challenge, but this particular example really does strike me as pushing the boundaries.

I love that Mark Walker has done this out of a passion for Tolkein and a desire to read something he wants to read in Latin, it really brings it back to a purity of creation.

Yes, you’re thinking the right thing…. he’s translated Tolkein’s ‘The Hobbit’ into Latin. At first this seems like a crazy thing to do, but as he points out in this introduction on the Huffington Post, there are a number of quite sensible reasons why The Hobbit and Latin go together.

Firstly, the medieval-esque setting of Middle Earth means a lack of modern appliances and concepts, which would prove challenging to translate into an ancient language lacking in equivalent terms and concepts, to say the least.

Ok, but as every Ringer knows, Tolkein’s world is full of its own rich history, mythology and language, so how is this dealt with? Walker doesn’t go into much detail on this aspect of the challenge, although he does say that he has “not invented where Latin already has a term that at least approximates to Tolkien’s.” He gives the example of substituting the word dryades; the Roman forest spirits, for elves, or making use of existing Latinate structures such as Gollum’s name to develop similar names for things not part of Latin myth, such as a troll (trollum).

It turns out that the many songs found in The Hobbit can also be rendered quite elegantly into Latin verse; classical quantitative for the grave dwarven songs, rhythmic & rhyming when it comes to the more rowdy passages, and flowing iambic for the elves.

I took a GCSE in Latin but I think reading The Hobbit in it after so many years would be a tough ask…though I am sorely tempted at less than a tenner!

You can buy “Hobbitus Ille: The Latin Hobbiton Amazon.

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Potayto, Potahto…

Nicole : September 27, 2012 10:03 am : Culture, Languages

Anyone who knows me can tell you that I get quite narked about American spellings or words creeping into use by my friends – to the extent that I do correct them if they do it! There’s just no need to say “let’s take the elevator” when you’re in something you would naturally call a shopping centre, not a mall… It clashes in my ear and I just can’t help but comment.

Anyway, it was no surprise that this article caught my eye as I was reading the news over breakfast this morning. ‘Britishisms and the Britishisation of American English’? Surely the tide can’t possibly be turning….

But it seems it is! However, what surprised me most in this article was the number of phrases that I never would have imagined the Americans said differently to the British. Everyone knows the usual examples; pants for trousers, sidewalk for pavement, trunk forboot…

But do Americans really not say someone is ‘called Joe‘, but instead that they are ‘named Joe‘? That sounds surprisingly formal to me for everyday speech. And ‘bit‘? Really, is that incidental word honestly replaced by ‘part’ in American? And do you always have to rather dramatically say someone has disappeared rather than have the option of saying they’ve gone missing?

To me, all these are different from the usual “alternative noun” examples, because while those highlight a simple foreign difference, these seem to represent a certain lack of nuanced vocabulary or richness of meaning compared to British English.

The closing lines of the article made me pause for thought;

“In the UK, the use of Americanisms is seen as a sign that culture is going to hell.”

“But Americans think all British people are posh, so – aside from things that are fairly pretentious – no-one would mind.”

Perhaps in time, the language that diverged on different continents, pushed apart by the political independence of the nations, will mix and exchange back towards each other in this new globalised linguistic world.

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London2012 Language Gaffes…

Nicole : July 27, 2012 4:45 pm : Culture, Languages, London2012

I have a horrible feeling I’ll be posting parts 2, 3 etc… to this topic as the Games progress.

It’s Friday 27th, the day of the Opening Ceremony, but in fact the Olympics started at the beginning of the week with some women’s football. And with that, the first blinding example of what seems to be an innate British ability to show a remarkable lack of cultural awareness.

So far the most newsworthy items have been…

19th July: First Capital Connect’s Olympic security advice poster, sent to several train stations, which in Arabic was totally illegible due to the characters being back to front and not joined up.

26th July: South Korean flags are shown next to the North Korean women’s football team on the first day of sport, causing such offence that the team walked off the pitch & refused to play until the team was redisplayed with the correct flag.

27th July: Archery fans were turned away from ranking events described as “Unticketed” after being told this actually means “closed to the public”.

This last one interests me greatly, as I would have thought LOCOG might have spent some time deciding their ticket terminology, particularly for clarity of understanding amongst international visitors wanting to buy tickets. Indeed, there were a number of international fans who travelled specifically to see that ranking event, only to be barred at the gate.

Without supplying a glossary, I honestly don’t see how the Olympic organisers can be surprised that punters have read “unticketed” as meaning free to the public – particularly for a pre-competition ranking event, and when it has been widely publicised that there are several competitive events that are free to the public, such as the road cycling races or the marathon. Furthermore, there have been several “official” quotes that have separately described both the supposedly closed archery session and the free public events as “non ticketed”.

The screenshot I’ve just taken clearly shows these ranking events listed on the Ticketing section of the London2012 site – so if these were never to attract public attendance, why list them there at all? They follow the same pattern as the ticketed events in the way they are displayed – so really LOCOG should hold their hands up to unclear terminology.

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