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Translating isn't that hard when you're working with familiar or simple texts. I do it all the time at work (not to mention in my brain) and I do it on the fly at bedtime whenever one of the children brings me a Swedish book for a bedtime story. However, even when "fluent" in a second language and well-versed in word choice and use, turns of phrase and styling, translation work sounds a lot easier than it is.

I handle a lot of translations during the course of my work every week. I don't do them myself; we have an agency for that. Our corporate language is English, and while we rarely translate our corporate materials to Swedish (mostly because Swedes have such excellent English), we localize nearly everything to the standard FIGS languages, plus Dutch and Portuguese. FIGS is an acronym for French, Italian, German, Spanish. I had never heard the term before I started at this company 2.5 years ago, although it's a widely used one.

Our Asian offices have been, for the most part, handling their own translations to Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Taiwanese, but even some of these languages are starting to be managed, for certain pieces, by the corporate office. Because we have business that is growing rapidly in eastern and central Europe, as well as Russian, I am no stranger to dealing with Slovakian, Hungarian, Polish, Russian and the occasional Finnish text. Some of the languages require a lot of tricks, since they use other alphabets and symbols, or letters that are not standard to the typical font. There doesn't seem to be any sort of over-lay that you can find to put over your keyboard which indicates which keys correspond to these letters and symbols for other languages, though I am convinced such a thing is probably available somewhere. If not, there's a money-making opportunity there for someone!

At home, I can flip my keyboard layout with the touch of a key-combo between Swedish and English. The physical keyboards have different placements for certain letters and symbols (the basic alphabet keys remain in the same places) and though I learned to touch-type as a teenager on a standard QWERTY keyboard, I had to learn all over again when I came to Sweden, and am still slower when typing with the keyboard in Swedish mode, as I do when I'm typing HTML code, for example.

When I work with non-Western alphabets at work, I am able to flip between different keyboard layouts, including Chinese, Japanese, Cyrillic, Korean and several others. The problem is that I don't have any idea which key corresponds to which symbol when I am in need of, say, Japanese. So I have to rely on cutting and pasting already translated text and if I need to correct one letter or symbol, instead of finding it and typing it, I have to cut and paste it from somewhere, too. The mini Character Map program which can be found on every PC (programs/accessories/systemtools) helps a lot, but not enough.

When I am localizing something into one of the Western languages, even though I am the opposite of fluent, I can still read quite a bit, and orient myself in the text quite easily, since so many words are similar enough to be familiar. I can usually tell if the paragraph I am pasting in is the correct one because I can see enough similarities to English in the text to help guide me. That's not the case with Japanese or Russian or Finnish or Polish. Yesterday, my colleague informed me that we will probably be adding Arabic soon to our common languages. Then I'll have the added challenge of not only a completely new alphabet of symbols to deal with but the fact that the text has to go from right to left! :D

The translation job that I accepted earlier this week has me in a bemused and focused language dither. I go to bed each night, after translating a page or so, with word choices dancing in my head instead of sugarplums. Not only is the subject matter fairly obscure, there is the added difficulty that much of the language is archaic. Even Anders doesn't recognize some of the words that stump me, and often the online dictionary is equally stymied. So far, so good, however. Several of the pages I'm working through right now contain the text of newspaper clippings from the 1890s. Some of the subject matter is also specialized lingo, which regular dictionaries and lexicons don't contain. Thankfully, since the jargon is related to music I have all the members of my choir to fall back on (and maybe Mia!) for help.

mood: busy
music: Emm Gryner—Siamese Star


If you're looking for terminology, you could try (if you don't already know it). It's an online "translators workplace" which also contains online glossaries you can search. You can also ask questions about terminology without having to register.

Keep in mind that in Arabic, the characters have different forms depending on their position in the word (beginning, middle or end), so be careful when copying and pasting characters. ;-)

oh goodness, really? It will certainly be a real challenge if we DO add it. We don't have a good network yet, though, of people who can help with the proofreading side of it, so I'm kind of hoping it will be delayed until we have someone in place.

better told with embellishment

my dad is a polyglot and loves translation jokes. this is the only one I remember:

A translation machine is built. A big party is held and everyone is in awe of its power. A Chinese man approaches and asks if he could see a demonstration. But of course! So they think of what would be a real challenge-- and enter "out of sight, out of mind." It goes into the machine (beep beep beep) and then pops out the translation in Chinese. The man reads it and smiles ahhh! How about we do it in reverse? Great! Machine whirs (beep beep beep) and out pops what the Chinese had understood: blind and stupid.


Re: better told with embellishment

LOL! I love it! It's always really amusing to me to catch incorrect translations on the television here (on the rare occasions when I do watch) memorable one was the translation of a man who was threatening another person, saying "You're finished, man, you're TOAST." and the Swedish translation was literally, "You're ROASTED BREAD." :D

"There doesn't seem to be any sort of over-lay that you can find to put over your keyboard " For the Cherokee font we have a keyboard print-out. That would be way kewl though, to have an actual overlay for one's keyboard!
Ah well, since I still hunt and peck, looking at a print-out doesn't really slow me down.

There's a Cherokee font? I never even thought about the fact that the Indian languages have a different alphabet, although now that I DO think about it, it's obvious. I'll have to do some googling to see it.


When I was learning Russian I needed a way to type in a lot of words in Cyrillic, and had the same problem of not knowing where all the keys were on the keyboard. I finally found this "On-screen virtual Russian keyboard" web site:

Play with all the settings -- you can set it so that you type with the English layout but it types the Russian equivalent of the letter, or using the on-screen keyboard if you know what Russian letter you're trying to type. Several different ways to do it.

Maybe there are other similar pages for other languages. I did a search just now for "on-screen virtual keyboard spanish" and found this program that seems to support several languages:

Jitbit Multilingual on-screen virtual keyboard


Oh cool!! Thank you!

Yes, the hunt for the right letters and accent marks . . . I think it takes a special kind of personality to do your kind of work, and I'm glad there are talented people like you interested in taking on the job. :-) Bring on the Arabic! ;-)

What interesting and challenging work. I really admire your patience and dedication.

You are free to ask L-G about anything odd or obscure in Swedish. He is a language nut and we have a plethora of dictionaries and language books as he is really interested in his own language. And let's face it, he's as old as Methuselah's grandfather :) (no, you may not quote me)

That's pretty damn old. :D I will definitely call you up and bother him if Anders and I run into something that we really can't figure out. So far, we've managed with a combination of the "Stora Ordboken" and Google and common sense reading of the context. :)

I've got another link for you.
Virtual Multilingual Keyboard

I've only used the Swedish one but it has loads of other languages.

thank you! I will check it out!


You are brilliant. Completely and utterly. I am so out of practice with languages, I am sure my brain would fall out of my head, jibbering, if I tried anything like what you do!


Oh pshaw! I am hardly brilliant. :P Just fairly practiced at this point. But I will earn every penny for this job, that's for sure.


I'm always there for you - you know that. :)

I am a language freak too. As you might have guessed. So ask me anything language-related and you can have me talking for hours! :)

The texts you are translating seem very interesting! Newspaper clippings from 1890. Cool!

Speaking of translating. I have found that it's easier to translate into your own language than the opposite. Frustrating sometimes with a bilingual blog! The English translations are never as good as the original. Actually pretty bad sometimes. :(


I disagree with you about the quality of your translations. I think you do a fantastic job. I know I would NEVER dare to translate mine into Swedish! The kids were laughing at me yesterday for my horrible translation of a children's book that I was reading to them. :D (I was deliberately exaggerating to make them laugh, but still).

So far, with the help of the Lexin online dictionary, the Stora Ordboken, Anders' help, some googling and common sense looking at the context I'm going really well. I did run into something unexpected, though. I don't know the Swedish usage for footnotes. Do you? I need to know what ibid and et al are in Swedish. I have a series of footnotes that say: A. a. s. 245 (for example). Does that mean "same source as the previous footnote, page 245"?

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I suppose you already visit Svenska Akademiens Ordbok:

Its oldest texts are from the late 1800's, and may contain some of the odd words you stumble across.

If it is music jargon, I may be of help too, or any of my musically schooled friends.

thanks very much! I will check it out!

This post made my head hurt. ;)

LOL! You should try reading this article I'm translating!! :D

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