Insights into me…

Nicole : July 9, 2012 7:35 pm : Culture, Networking, Organisations, Profiles

Today we had a team building day from Positive Jack.

Involving members of the office team and operations crew, we completed various tasks such as Rollerball, Planks and Discs – but possibly the most interesting part of the day was the section on personality types. We worked from the Insights model, based on the four core types of Cool Blue, Fiery Red, Earth Green and Sunshine Yellow.

For this exercise, we each had to select three cards of each colour at random. On these cards were written statements, which we then had to give to the people in the group we thought they applied to most. The infographic above shows the Insights Wheel, surrounded by the statements I got given by my colleagues.

With a slight majority of blue (54%), swiftly followed by red (36%), I am firmly in the purple ‘Reformer’ section. On a more detailed wheel, divided into 56 ‘postcodes’, I’m in postcode 36 – on the Intuitive side, left of centre.

The nice thing about this exercise for me was that if asked to describe myself based on this model, I land up in the same place as when analysed by others.

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Google Translate comes off better than the BBC? What is the world coming to…

Nicole : March 7, 2012 12:57 pm : Bilingualism, Europe, Languages, Politics, Translation

While flicking through the news over my coffee this morning, I came across this article from the BBC : ‘Nicolas Sarkozy says France has too many foreigners’. But what stood out for me was not Sarkozy’s policy, but the quote in the standfirst;

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has said there are too many foreigners in France and the system for integrating them is “working more and more badly”.

“More and more badly”? Come on BBC, that sounds terrible.

As it was a quote, I immediately suspected a lacking translation effort, so I went hunting the source text.

I found it courtesy of this article from :

« Notre système d’intégration fonctionne de plus en plus mal »

So far, so expected. I would translate the sense of “de plus en plus” in this context as “increasingly”; so “increasingly badly” would be the result, which sounds much more idiomatic. Alternatively, you could invert the expression, so instead of “more & more + negative”, you use “less & less + positive”; less and less successfully, or less and less well, for example.

As it is a quote, you probably wouldn’t want to stray too far into the realms of freer translations, altering the sentence structure more fundamentally to incorporate words like “worse”, for example.

At this point I headed over to Google Translate, suspecting that the only explanation for the Beeb publishing such a literal and unidiomatic rendering of Sarkozy’s words would be a “fast and free” translation.

But shock horror.

Google Translate’s answer to “de plus en plus mal”?

“increasingly poorly”

Unless I’m much mistaken, this is a perfectly acceptable translation, but worse than this, (in my opinion) it’s better than the BBC’s choice.

Now, the sky hasn’t entirely fallen because GT still can’t handle more complex contexts, sentences, or idiomatic features of language. But this does raise the question in my mind, particularly in light of Google’s recent policy changes, how much will they take of our daily, idiomatic, use of language across their internet domain to plug into GT to improve its output?


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£50 Google Adwords Giveaway!

Nicole : February 29, 2012 7:28 pm : Freelancing, Networking, Technology

I’ve been inspired by Judy & Dagmar Jenner‘s policy of running a blog competition to giveaway any Google Adwords vouchers they get sent.

As it happened I won one of their competitions – so I’ve already used up my eligibility to redeem an introductory voucher. However, Google have now sent me a voucher, for the value of £50.

It’s really easy to set up the ads, and you can set the billing terms to only use the value of the voucher so you don’t get charged any more after that if you don’t want to.

First correct answer in the comments will get the promo code by email! The offer expires on 31st March. As well as the clue below, you’ll find the answer somewhere on my website…

So, the question to answer is this:

Where am I likely to be in the first week of June this year? The photo below is a clue, as at the same time last year I got caught on camera by Channel 4 filming Kirstie’s Handmade Britain….

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“Les relations franco-britanniques sont excellentes” – really, Monsieur Sarkozy?

Nicole : February 18, 2012 8:46 pm : Europe, France, Politics

I tweeted about this yesterday but couldn’t find a video clip – now I have thanks to Lucienne Magalie Pons’ blog.

I was watching France24’s lunchtime bulletin and happened to catch the start of the summit headed up by Cameron and Sarkozy on military & civil nuclear development.

I’m trying to keep abreast of french politics at the moment, given the 2012 presidential elections and the euro crisis, but I’m afraid Sarkozy’s opening lines, or rather the manner in which he delivered them, completely distracted me from whatever they went on to discuss.

He begins with the using welcoming platitudes, but two lines in particular

une chaleureuse bienvenue à nos amis britanniques…

at 00.12, and

les relations franco-britanniques sont excellentes

at 00.31, were delivered with such patent disinterest – even boredom – in a low tone of voice, with great exhalation, that it was abundantly clear that words might say one thing, but manner belies the total opposite.

Frankly all credit to Cameron for keeping a straight face – I think I would have been hard pushed not to at least raise an eyebrow when the words coming through my babelfish earpiece failed so completely to match the tone and mannerism of the person supposedly delivering them!

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Good article “Google Translate – does it really work?”

Nicole : February 17, 2012 7:36 pm : Blogs, Technology, Translation


This article popped up (rather ironically) in one of my Google alerts today. A clear and concise article outlining how and why Google Translate (and other similar machines) can never be relied upon to give accurate, nuanced translations.

“Google Translate – does it really work?” – Michelle Craw of QueryClick.

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Follow-up: ‘The World is talking but we’re not taking part’

Nicole : February 9, 2012 8:48 pm : Bilingualism, Culture, Education, Europe, Languages, Politics

As a follow-up to my previous posts about the Daily Mail article ‘Why do the English need to speak a foreign language’ and The i article on the lack of foreign students applying to UK universities, here’s another one from The Times on Tuesday.

‘The World is Talking but We’re not Taking Part’ (Times ‘Modern’ section, p 4-5)

A fantastic double page spread on the damage that our increasing monolingualism is doing to our economy. I’d like to pull out a few key stats:

  • The UK economy could be losing £17 billion per year in lost export opportunities
  • 11% of SMEs (Small & Medium Enterprises) said they’d lost a contract due to poor language skills
  • Roughly 1/3rd of university language departments have closed in recent years
  • The shortage of native-English translators & interpreters has led some EU institutions to have to cancel meetings
  • In 2011 only 1.5% of 51,000 applicants for EU jobs in Brussels were British, resulting in only 7 appointments.
  • In 2000, 51% of the web was in English; this has now dropped to just 29%

Unfortunately, I suspect that this article will mainly be preaching to the choir – as linguists we already know how important languages are to business as well as culture. The question is, how do we persuade everyone else of our worth as linguists?

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Foreign Students are shunning UK Universities

Nicole : February 8, 2012 8:45 pm : Bilingualism, Culture, Education, Europe, Languages, Politics


An article in The i on Friday revealed statistics which show students from other EU countries are starting to view the UK as a ‘no-go zone’ for higher education. As the article points out, the UK economy stands to lose out in this situation, but in fact it could have much deeper consequences.

Our universities are already complaining of difficulties in providing services and of restricted budgets, which seems to have been part of the rationale for £9,000 per year tuition fees. As we have seen, this has already resulted in a drop in the number of UK applicants – however much the universities claim it’s down to demographic statistical changes. If they are also driving away foreign students (who are arguably more affluent or at least more willing to spend more on their education), then their future looks to be even more precarious.

The empty lecture hall of the future?

If we also consider the continuing trend against modern language courses in our HE establishments, then our standing in the EU could be further damaged. My undergraduate degree in French was closed to new entrants the year after I started, in 2007; and my MA Translation at the University of the West of England has met a similar fate. Despite being a highly successful and respected course, described as the ‘flagship MA’ of UWE, in 2011 the decision was taken to close it.

It’s clear to all involved that the UK government seems to want to be part of, but apart from, the EU family. The contempt that is held for EU regulation and ‘excessive bureaucracy’  is barely veiled most of the time, and we risk severing the tenuous ties we still have to mainland Europe. I have been a foreign student, and I think foreign student populations are not only one of the best ways to foster lasting ties between nationalities, but also one of the best ways to understand the politics and mindset of those we will do business with in the future.

No man is an island – and even though geographically we might be, as a global power we cannot behave as though we are. Our saving grace may be the increasing numbers of British students seeking better value education and a cultural experience elsewhere in Europe.

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How do you translate an ‘appel’ into English?

Nicole : January 29, 2012 5:36 pm : Culture, France, Organisations, Politics, Translation

I found myself asking this question this weekend, as I was ploughing through a piece of Master’s coursework. The piece we had been given to translate and produce a commentary on was this: ‘Impossible Absence‘ from Hors It is a piece of politicial rhetoric, a call to arms or ‘appel’ as it is commonly known in France.

Now, I did my background research and I understood the text. But then, in translating it to English I just couldn’t find the happy medium. No matter which way I cut it, I couldn’t get it to sound ‘right’ in English. Of course, it’s grammatically and linguistically sound – but the simple truth is that we just don’t write rhetoric like this in English any more, and so the philosophical and political statements about art and culture just end up seeming overdone and pompous in English, when they are perfectly eloquent in French.

It reminded me of my year abroad at UPJV in Amiens; this was in 2009, when France experienced a major spate of strikes, primarily among the higher education sector. In order to get my head round what was going on, I used to go to the weekly Assemblées and listen to the committee and student debates before they passed the vote on that week’s actions. There was one particularly memorable occasion when a student (I’m sure he must have been a philosophy student) took the floor – declined the mike because he was loud enough already – and began to brandish a large piece of masonry at the auditorium. I forget what he actually said, apart from the gist being that we needed to fight in order to protect our future, the foundations of which (cue brandishing of masonry) were the education system – and concluded his speech by dropping the masonry and standing on it to proclaim his parting shot (to rapturous applause).

Why don’t we get this passionate about our society and our culture in England? We do a lot of moaning about changes in government policies, but even the term ‘getting on one’s soapbox’ is passing out of common usage. The student demonstrations of 2010 were widely covered by the press – but the things which stood out were the violent elements, not the eloquent rhetoric that some may have produced. Have we forgotten the skills of debate and rhetoric?


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Why shouldn’t the English need to speak a foreign language?

Nicole : January 24, 2012 9:11 pm : Bilingualism, Culture, Languages


This article “Why do the English need to speak a foreign language when foreigners all speak English?” in the Daily Mail has sparked a lot of debate in the linguist community. The author, David Thomas, sets out his multilingual upbringing in the first few paragraphs but then swiftly descends to calling learning a language

a pleasant form of intellectual self-improvement: a genteel indulgence like learning to embroider or play the violin.

This inference that learning a foreign language is nice, but of no practical use is astounding. His “justification” for his rather xenophobic title line is the status of English as a global lingua franca. This may well be the case in a lot of circumstances  – but isn’t Thomas rather missing the point?

I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that my reasons for learning a language are many – I love languages, I am pursuing a career in languages, I like (and indeed feel a certain obligation) to make an effort when in foreign lands and not revert to English unless absolutely necessary. But all this aside, I can’t fathom the mindset of the person who says “why should I?” – I’m a “why shouldn’t I?” person. And except for those people who really do struggle with learning foreign languages (there’s no need to torture yourself, after all) I can’t think of a reason not to try. Learning a foreign language won’t damage you in any way; you can only gain by it, in greater cultural and linguistic understanding at the least, and at most in a broader range of friends, interests, job prospects, business potential….

When I visited Barcelona in 2009, my Spanish was a bit rusty –  but in any case, shopkeepers and restauranteurs wanted to speak Catalan – not English. I was there with two other English girls, but rather than speak English when Spanish failed, we switched to French (we were all on a break from study abroad in France).

Once I was in Poland, experiencing the local bars where the bartenders spoke little or no English – but because I’d spent the previous year at uni doing extra credit in Russian this seemed to help – there were enough similarities for the level of communication we needed, anyway.

And on holiday in Greece, you get much better service and culture by throwing in some Greek at your local taverna – on Corfu, this led to us getting free sunbeds and a speedboat tour of the island’s caves – because the same family ran those and the taverna we spent many a meal in.

This month, I decided to pick up Mandarin again in earnest, via LiveMocha. The decision for this is partly business orientated – I can see the future prospects for Mandarin>English translation – but also because I personally wanted to learn another language, and not a Western language. The business decision came after the personal one.

Last year I read this book; “The Last Lingua Franca”, which challenges the notion of English as the all time global language, and instead points out the possibility of English declining somewhat, but not being replaced with any single language; instead we arrive at a global multilingualism. I’d just like to pull a few quotes out to counter Thomas’ claims.

He describes English as, among other things “above all, the language of the internet”. And yet, between 2000 and 2009, the number of Arabic users on the internet multiplied by 20, Chinese by 12…. English user numbers only tripled. Ostler also points out that the potential competitor languages to English as a lingua franca are “distinguished mostly in that their associated economies are outpacing those of the powers that naturally speak English”, and cites the increasing number and availability of language technologies as “sapping the need for any common lingua franca to support international communications”.

I would recommend that David Thomas reads this book and then reassess his position. And, in reply to his comment (which incidentally I do agree with!) that English pupils might, of course, do well to become much, much better at speaking, writing, spelling and generally using English correctly” I will leave you with this quote from the front of Lingua Franca;

He who is not acquainted with foreign languages knows nothing of his own. – Goethe



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First LOLspeak….. now Meerkovian?

Nicole : January 21, 2012 2:07 pm : Culture, Humour, Languages


A few months ago I came across this fantastic presentation by Lauren Gwane on LOLspeak: ‘I can has language play: Construction of Language and Identity in LOLspeak’ .

More recently, I changed my car insurance – and acquired an ‘Officials Product’ of Meerkovo. The emails letting me know my meerkat’s progress from Meerkovo to the UK were all in ‘Meerkovian’ – even the subject line! “Excite news, your meerkat toy has arrive in UK”

A few days later, Sergei dropped through my door, complete with a Certificate of Authenticness and a letter from Alexsandr.

I can’t hope to match Lauren’s analysis of LOLspeak, but here’s a start on a few things I’ve noticed from the small corpus of emails and letters I have….

“on knowing the difference”

“I hope you got an excellent deal”

“If you are reading this then you have just received exclusive and handsome officials replica”

“It has travelled many miles to be there”

“After final stitched have been carefully applyied (…) the toys are picked up by Postkat and then start the journey to the UK, (although Postkat have worse sense of direction than a penguin in the Sahara). Eventually the toys are taken to St. Petersburg port where they are loaded

“Once in the UK the Royal Mail peoples are make the final delivery to you.”

So the key features of Meerkovian that I can see from this are:

– omission of articles (an, the, a)

– replacement of past & present participles with the infinitive (read, apply, pick)

– addition or omission of plurals (officials, peoples, mile)

– non-standard verb conjugation (Postkat have, are make)


The question is, how long before Lauren tackles Meerkovian? I look forward to that presentation!


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