All posts by acbernt

The grease in the wheels of international trade

Corrosion protection for your business

The grease in the wheels of international trade
The grease in the wheels of international trade

Have you ever used a lubricant like WD-40 at home? I’m told a similar product in Germany is Caramba.

It’s one of those products that can turn its hand to virtually anything. Not just for squeaky hinges and stiff door handles.

You can use it successfully to unstick chewing gum, release stuck Lego, and remove crayon from wallpaper (it may be hard to believe but a friend has tried this and it works like a dream). Waterproof your shoes, clean dead insects from car, repel slugs and snails, remove stuck rings from fingers, shine surfaces prior to photographing objects on them – apparently the surface shine improves the look of your products so they look amazing for eBay.

And all of these uses were discovered from people experimenting and sheer frustration, probably, that nothing else worked. Using a product designed in 1953 by a team of three as a rust-preventative solvent and degreaser for the aerospace industry.

Random trivia fact: WD-40 stands for “Water Displacement perfected on the 40th try”.
The ultimate product or service is one that you can use in multiple ways to get the best return on your investment.

Another oil with multiple uses

Many manufacturers produce a product with one aim in mind and then discover other uses for it in a variety of industries. A company I used to work for produces a pharmaceutical-grade ink that can be used to print on tablets, identifying logos, words, anything you like. It now also gets used on confectionery and applications such as packaging that comes into contact with food.

Comprehensive translation services

In my industry we tend to offer translation or interpreting or proofreading or copywriting or… basically separating the services out. However, what most of my clients need doesn’t fit nicely into one category or another. Often it involves part translation, part editing, part consultation, part brainstorming of headlines and titles for research papers. Sometimes I’ll be asked to watch a video of a workshop and write a highlights summary in English to promote in various places. Often one translation can be used in multiple places with a few tweaks.

Working with me is like having that handy can of WD-40 in your cupboard.

  • Anytime you need to polish up some rusty English, get in touch and I’ll make it sparkle to attract the best buyers.
  • Perhaps you’re not getting the leads you need from your international marketing? Let me lubricate your message and get it running smoothly again.
  • Are you in a sticky situation because you’re on a deadline and a supplier’s let you down? Let’s clean away that stickiness and get you back on track.

Translation. Like corrosion protection for your business in the English-speaking world.

Mars, maths, and million-dollar mistakes

The red planet. But scientists saw red for a different reason in 1999.

Why translation goes beyond language and how to avoid measurement confusion

On December 11, 1998, NASA launched a robotic space probe to study Mars. Its purpose was to study the Martian climate, atmosphere and surface changes. 10 months later, in September 1999, the Mars Climate Orbiter burned and broke into pieces. A $125 million mathematical translation error.

Spacecraft designers, Lockheed Martin Astronautics, used an imperial measurement system for its calculations but propulsion engineers at NASA assumed the provided data was metric. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the only error. For nearly 10 months, several checks and undetected errors in computer models were also missed and many more minor adjustments made to account for unexplained miscalculations.

John Logsdon, director of George Washington University’s space policy institute at the time of the crash made an interesting observation: “we can cooperate in space with the Russians and the Japanese and the French, but we have trouble cooperating across parts of the United States. Fundamentally, you have partners in this enterprise speaking different languages”.

Language and dialects we understand need translating but how often do we translate our units and figures?

What is the imperial system?

Common imperial measurements include inches and yards instead of centimetres and metres, pounds and ounces instead of kilograms and grammes and in the case of spacecraft acceleration data, pounds of force instead of newtons.

It gets even more complicated when you find out there is more than one imperial system and the imperial measurements phased out in Great Britain aren’t exactly the same as those used in the United States. For example:

  • a standard US gallon = 3.785 litres
  • British imperial gallon = 4.546 litres

Say whaaaaat?! To explain why these differ, we have to go way back to the late 15th century. In an attempt to enforce uniformity, King Henry VII specified the Winchester Standards to measure capacity and length in England.

Speed forward to the 19th century and Britain switched to a new imperial standard. At the same time, the United States started to adopt the Winchester measures, which it continues to use today.

In another twist to the tale, Britain shifted again and adopted the metric system starting in 1965.

Quiz question: Which three countries do not use the metric system? Answer at the end.

Mix and match

Metric may be the official system now but you’ll still commonly see (British) imperial measures in widespread use. Beer is served in pints and roads are measured by miles. I know my height as 5 foot 7 inches but my weight in kg. My children’s weight at birth were given in both lb and oz and in grams. My mum will talk inches and yards, while I’ll talk centimetres and metres and provide a rough conversion if prompted.

It may sound confusing but we’re used to it as a kind of dialect. We use it imperial in some cases between ourselves but know to use metric in business, science and internationally. Now you’ve seen the differences in measurement systems, you’ll appreciate the extra clarification needed when collaborating with colleagues in the US.

Other common differences caused by measurement differences between the US and UK include:

  • Temperature: Fahrenheit versus Celsius
  • Paper sizes: A4 = 210 x 297 mm US letter = 215.9 x 279.4 mm
  • Business cards: In the UK and most of Europe we use 85 x 55 mm, the US standard is 88.9 x 50.8 mm

Which might be useful information if you use company templates across different branches around the world.

What does this mean for international business?

In 1875, seventeen countries (including the US) signed the International Treaty of the Metre, agreeing on an international system of units (SI). As you’ve seen, this doesn’t mean everyone is on the same page all of the time. When translating a text, units and measurements get extra checks, here are my top tips:

  • Be clear about the units you’re using to avoid any confusion.
  • If you work closely with companies that use an imperial system, double and triple check quantities and measurements given and consider providing a conversion chart.
  • Take particular care when dealing with units that look the same, for example, US tons are different to metric tonnes. 1 ton = 907.18474 kg.

For a few other unit mix-ups and more details on the Mars Orbiter crash, take a look here:

And if you want a native speaker to translate the units as well as your scientific texts, I’m just a quick email away.

Answer to the quiz question: The United States, Liberia, and Myanmar are the only three countries in the world not using the metric system. That’s bound to come up as a useful fact at some point!

Why searching for ‘German English translator Munich’ or ‘German English translator Frankfurt’ might not be the best option

Is regional always best?

There’s a huge difference between a mass-produced supermarket ice cream brand versus ice cream you can make at home with fruit growing in your garden. Pick your juicy, organically grown berries a few metres from your kitchen window, add a little sugar syrup and watch the ice-cream churn as you add the cream (or your favourite non-dairy alternative). Prepared with love and eaten fresh, homemade ice cream will win on taste and smugness.

If you’re lucky enough to live near a dairy farm with its own ice cream parlour you can still keep it regional and enjoy a choice of mouth-watering flavours with zero effort from you.

Delicious ice cream to brighten up any day

But there are times when regional won’t cut it. If you want ingredients such as pineapples or mangoes that don’t grow in your area. Or if we apply the same principle to your translation service.

Why you might be searching for a local English translator

Translators are all over the world so it can be hard to know where to start your search. The easiest way is to start with your local geographical area. That way you could potentially meet your translation partner, you’ll support a local business, use the same currency, speak the same language. You feel like you have a certain level of protection from your state chamber of commerce.

So you turn to your search engine. Entering “English translator Munich” or “German English translator Frankfurt” should bring up a list of translators who live in those areas. The problem with this is that you’ll end up with a list of qualified translators. Then you have to refine your options to find out which of these translators can help you with your specific documentation.

When this might not be a great option

If you want a translation from German into English, you need an English native speaker who is a professional translator. If you work with a German speaker who translates into English, check that they collaborate with an English colleague to get the best possible results.

Some English native speakers do live in Germany, and you might hit gold in your region to find someone who lives locally, has the qualifications, languages and specialist knowledge you need. But it’s more likely the people you need are based in their native country.

What many companies do

You might then give up and pick a local translation agency, which might be a godsend, except in certain industries, they might not have specialist translators in their database. You won’t know who is doing your translation, they may not understand your industry, and you’ll get a generalist service when you need a specialist.

You may have looked at the websites of national translation associations (the BDÜ or DVÜD in Germany), but the search function is complicated and the results take time to sift through. Plus, you haven’t got time to figure out what all the qualifications mean or how a person’s experience matches up to your sector.

How best to search

Longer search terms that are specific are going to give you more helpful results.
First, these longer search phrases ensure you are clear about the type of translator you need. Legal or financial, chemical or medical, sports or travel. Translators usually specialise in a couple of related fields and so combining your industry with the language pair for translation will get you relevant search results. For example, German to English chemical translator should bring up my website.

Don’t be afraid to search for highly specific phrases. Many people may search for a technical translator because they don’t expect to find translators that specialise in chemistry or cycling or infant healthcare. My advice would be to search first for your specific industry + language pair + translator.

If you’re not happy with the results, then go a little broader. Instead of e.g. “printing inks German English translator” try “scientific German English translator” or “technical translation German English”.

Searching this way will bring up the best translators for your specific industry, the language you need and save you time. It’s also likely to bring up translators in a different country.

But isn’t working with a translator in another country risky?

You might think so but actually there’s very little difference between working with someone, say in the UK, versus a business in the same town as you. You can speak your language, pay in your own currency, documents are delivered digitally, and you can speak on the telephone or via a video conference call to get to know the person better. When the opportunity arises, I love visiting my clients in person at events or their offices when I travel to Germany.

Sometimes I travel to Germany and visit my clients

For extra reassurance when working with translators abroad, pick someone who belongs to a translation association because there’s a code of conduct that we follow. For English translators look for the ITI (Institute of Translation & Interpreting) logo or MITI (qualified member) as part of their signature. CIOL is another such organisation. I’ve added a list at the end of this article of various translation associations and their abbreviations.

The best ingredients for your translation are the right language and expertise

Go where the language grows – many native English speakers still live in English-speaking countries and nowadays, it isn’t any different in practical terms than working with a colleague in your hometown.
Wherever in the world they may be, searching by specialism negates the issue of geography entirely and means you can find the right person, no matter where they live.

It won’t harm your sustainability credentials or carbon footprint to break the ‘regional is best’ rule as your translator will work online and deliver your files electronically. And should you need a different language variant from further afield, that’s fine too. I typically translate into British English, I’m also happy to use American spelling as some of my clients prefer, while offering the advantage of being more or less in the same time zone as you.

The perfect translator for your next project

Go ahead and try searching for your specific field and the language you need from your translator. If you work in the chemical, paints and coatings or food manufacturing industries and need an English translation, I’m right here for you. If you need a different field or language, I’m happy to recommend one of my trusted colleagues or a reputable translation agency I know will look after you.

Then you can go and reward yourself with your favourite ice cream* for a job well done.

*My go-to flavour in Germany was always cherry, we just don’t get it much in the UK

Selection of translation associations for German and English-speaking professionals

Institute of Translation & Interpreting, ITI

Chartered Institute of Linguists, CIOL

BDÜ – Bundesverband Bundesverband der Dolmetscher und Übersetzer e.V.

DVÜD Deutscher Verband der freien Übersetzer und Dolmetscher e. V.

UNIVERSITAS Austria Berufsverband für Dolmetschen und Übersetzen

Schweizerischer Übersetzer-, Terminologen- und Dolmetscher-Verband

Outside Europe
American Translators Association, ATA

Australian Institute of Interpreters and Translators

New Zealand Society of Translators and Interpreters