Tag Archives: language

Challenges of teaching English as a foreign language


Welcome to the second blog in our native English series. We’ve been exploring the value in learning English from a native speaker, and how using a native English translator can really affect the quality of your translation. In this edition, we’ll explore the aspects of teaching English as a foreign language that our colleagues found challenging.



English is a notoriously tricky language to pick up, mainly because we have a fair few rules (all with exceptions, of course), oddities and a lot of idiomatic phrases that aren’t used anywhere else.


Idiomatic language


The first hurdles were vocabulary and turns-of-phrase. Idiomatic language plays a huge part in demonstrating the depth of knowledge of a language, but it can be a very tricky thing to learn, as well as teach, as the concepts are often so deeply embedded in culture. A perfect example was, “trying to explain why a task will be ‘a piece of cake’ to a Polish student who doesn’t quite find it ‘a roll with butter’, as they’d say at home!” Although challenging, one of our colleagues found this aspect really rewarding – if a student can use idiomatic language appropriately and confidently, it shows a real command of that language, and helps them understand some of the culture surrounding it.




As English is generally considered to be the international ‘lingua franca’, a lot of our colleagues found themselves teaching students who had been learning and using English for many years already. Sometimes, this meant that the teachers had to undo years of bad habits and try to retrain the students to think about their use of grammar and ‘faux amis’ (or false friends, that is to say a word or expression that has a similar form to one in a person’s native language, but a different meaning). More often than not, bad habits evolve from using English vocabulary in the same grammatical construction as the speaker’s native language. For example, many French speakers will say ‘I have 30 years’, in an attempt to tell someone their age. In English, we use the verb ‘to be’ when discussing someone’s age, so a speaker would say ‘I am 30 years old’, but the French phrase ‘j’ai 30 ans’ uses the verb ‘avoir’ (to have).



One of the most confusing aspects of English is the large difference in meaning between seemingly similar words. One of our colleagues had a very difficult time trying to explain the difference between ‘close’ by (position) and ‘close’ (to shut) to their group of Spanish students – they really struggled to hear and replicate the difference between the s’s. More examples of heteronyms are ‘bow’ (tied with a ribbon) and the ‘bow’ of a ship, or ‘lead’ (for a dog) and ‘lead’ (metal element).




Another interesting hurdle we came across as teachers was tone. When one STB colleague was tasked with teaching English for a business setting, it became apparent that terminology wasn’t going to be the main issue – the students were struggling with “the British way of dealing with things”. By this, we mean lots of apologies, the ‘customer is always right’ attitude, and overly polite expressions that seem to dictate the way we communicate in a professional environment. Other cultures are much more direct, usually arguing why and wanting to explain, leaving no room for ambiguity or mistake. When communicating with a British client, however, the students were taught that they would be expected to explain why, but also offer a solution and most importantly, empathy and understanding. 


Next week will see our final instalment in this blog series – come back to find out the lessons we brought back with us and any advice we’d give to those in the industry. Please contact us at hello@surreytranslation.co.uk or on +44 (0)1252 730014 for more information on the services we offer.


Written by Jessica Truelsen

Languages: Your window to the world


Over the past couple of months, Surrey Translation Bureau (STB) has had the opportunity to attend career days at two local schools: Alton School and Weydon School in Farnham. Pupils of all ages took part, with children as young as 10 right through to 18-year-olds coming up to our stall to ask about what we do here at STB.


Amey at STB career fair


With the number of school-age children studying languages falling (the BBC reports drops of between 30% and 50% in the number of students taking German and French since 2013) and universities around the country axing languages courses, STB is passionate about promoting the value of languages and emphasising the demand for employees with linguistic abilities.


At the two events, many of the students told us they weren’t sure what kind of career path studying languages might lead to, so we highlighted the variety of roles on offer in a translation agency and beyond. Aside from the option of becoming translators or interpreters, graduates with languages skills might also go into careers in project management, sales, marketing or account management.


This isn’t where languages roles stop either; while English may be one of the most widely-spoken languages in the world, increased globalisation means we now interact with people whose first language isn’t English on a much more regular basis. This, in turn, means that whatever careers this generation of young people choose to go into, having a language skill up their sleeve is only going to put them at an advantage. Let’s say a multinational accountancy firm was hiring a graduate accountant, the candidate who also speaks a second language will immediately stand out from the other candidates with qualifications purely in accountancy.


Speaking a second or third language is a huge plus not only for career development, but personal development as well. It provides more opportunities for travel, gives us the chance to interact with a much wider range of people and, perhaps most importantly, improves our intercultural communication skills. While school pupils are able to learn these skills by studying languages in the classroom, businesses can take advantage of them by hiring a translation agency like Surrey Translation Bureau. Our trained linguists will then not only accurately convey the meaning of a text in another language, but also make sure it is appropriate for the target audience.


If you work with other businesses around the world or are thinking of taking a leap into the global marketplace and want to be able to communicate effectively with your contacts, our team of qualified professional linguists is here to help with all your translation needs. Email us at hello@surreytranslation.co.uk or call 01252 730 014  


Written by Amey Higgon

Export marketing – Developing a plan that won’t get “lost in translation”

No matter where you stand in the great British Brexit debate, there is one thing we can all agree on: the pound is taking a real hammering in the currency markets.


This isn’t necessarily great news for everyone. A family holiday in Dubai currently costs around 25–30% more than it would have a few years ago and, if you’re an importer, the chances are your costs have significantly increased, whether buying in from the EU or elsewhere in the world.


As the saying goes, however, ‘every cloud has a silver lining’ and in this case the good news is that we have become a cheaper prospect for those abroad – cheaper to buy from, cheaper to visit and cheaper to do business with. This means EXPORT.


Now is without question the right time to invest time and energy into exploring some of those hugely lucrative foreign markets; not only to take advantage of the low pound, but also to help secure an international future in whatever post-Brexit trade landscape we are left with.


Doing business abroad can go wrong all too easily. That’s why it is important to develop a plan that takes into account the inherent differences involved; differences in language, people, politics, world views, geography, and myriad other factors that can impact a business venture when it’s removed from its cultural comfort zone.


Marketing yourself to potential foreign clients will be an important aspect in your success. So, here are some quick tips on how to ensure your message doesn’t get lost in translation.


1. Invest time in research


Would you throw yourself off a diving board without knowing there was some water below? No? So why do the same when throwing yourself into export? There is a market for you out there somewhere; the trick is to locate the best market for you, i.e. the most profitable, the quickest to market or the easiest to set up. This understanding only comes with proper research. Spend time familiarising yourself with potential markets, their practical challenges, marketing practices. Learn as much as you can about the people, politics, economy, media and current affairs in the region.

2. Analyse the competition



An excellent way to better understand a new potential market is to watch what your competition is doing, whether domestic or international. If there are domestic players in your market, analyse their route to market and how they promote themselves. Examine their goods/services, and get a sense of any potential gaps in their offering. Similarly, if you have seen other foreign companies break into a new market, scrutinise how they did it and what made them successful. Learn from others, adjust and improve; always keep an eye on your own USP and how best to convey it.

3. Respect cultural differences


There is much more to culture than whether to shake someone’s hand or bow. Cultural differences can cause havoc when exporting if not given due consideration. Values, buying habits, marketing channels, colours, logos, and even how your product or service functions, can and will differ when operating in a foreign market. Carry out a full cultural audit of your offering before jumping into any market to avoid potentially costly mistakes.

4. Localise your language


It is well documented that consumers are much more comfortable buying something sold to them in their own language. Language creates trust; it is therefore crucial to make sure that the language you use is tailored specifically for your target audience, i.e. localised. All marketing collateral should be translated and localised by a professional who is familiar with the target market and sector to ensure that your company, service or product is positioned correctly.


5. Look at local marketing channels


Social media
Just because Facebook and PPC advertising works in your domestic market, there is no guarantee that it will in your export market. Marketing channels differ from country to country. In one country, search engines and SEO may be the quickest way to market; another may rely on printed catalogues and mailing lists; others may rely on newspaper advertising. Be flexible and open minded when it comes to how you market yourself.

6. Prepare your sales team

sales team

One of the biggest mistakes many exporters make when entering new markets is to plough all their time, money and energy into breaking into the market. They tend to forget about dealing with actual customers and processing sales. If you export to China how will your team deal with that first email or phone call in Mandarin? If your sales team are not trained, prepared and equipped to deal with the market there is little point.

7. Travel and build relationships




If you think you will be able to sell to a new market successfully without visiting it, think again. Much of the business world outside of the West tends to prefer dealing with people face-to-face; trust and personal relationships are very important. Accordingly, it’s worth investing time in travelling to the country to meet potential clients and the competition, and attend trade fairs, etc. The more time you spend in and with your market the more insight you will have; the more insight you have the greater your chance of success.


This is a guest blog by Neil Payne.  


Bio: Neil Payne spent 10+ years working in translation and localisation before setting up Commisceo Global, a training company specialising in cross-cultural training and consultancy which helps clients gain access to and work in the global marketplace.

Penguins, parks and pesos – tales from the Cono Sur

We hope you’ve enjoyed the sunny spells in the UK and abroad throughout the summer. Summer makes us think about travelling, and Jonathan Wicks, our in-house German and Swedish translator, had an epic adventure earlier this year. This is an account of his travels in Chile:

Not everyone gets the chance to take a sabbatical, so if you do you’d better make sure it counts. These words, or something like them, were probably in the mind of our Senior Translator Jonathan when he made his way to South America for a 7-week, 7000-mile road adventure. ‘It’s completely bonkers,’ he starts. ‘Before I flew to Chile, I thought covering the country north to south would be doable in a seven-week trip, but I was being very European in my estimates – Chile alone is the same length as Norway to Nigeria! The roads range from paved to gravel to dirt, and they stop altogether near Puerto Montt, so we had to catch three ferries down the coast to pick up the road again and get further into Chilean Patagonia.’

Some of Chile’s national parks are off the beaten track, but certainly worth a visit, according to Jonathan. ‘The scenery was stunning. Many of them are virtually empty and unspoilt. The only downside was not having enough time for longer hikes! We also got to see penguins in warm temperatures off the western coast, rather than in the cold of Antarctica.’

Jonathan’s odyssey didn’t stop there, though, as he ventured across Patagonia to visit Argentina and eventually Uruguay. ‘We managed to crash the car,’ he says in the matter-of-fact way you might use to talk about misplacing your keys ‘but we weren’t seriously injured and got it back onto the gravel road the next day to keep heading North.’ And how was Argentina? ‘I got temporary paralysis in my arm after getting shocked by a faulty plug socket, and almost got mugged, but they cater surprisingly well for vegetarians.’

How about the local lingo? Jonathan has had some lessons in Castilian Spanish and spent time living in Barcelona. He initially felt frustrated that he could not understand conversations in Chilean Spanish. However, he soon grew more comfortable with local variations. He learnt that ‘ciao’ sufficed for any goodbye and ‘Kuchen’ referred to many of Chile’s wide selection of cakes; ‘el gasfiter’ was the person to call if you had any issues with your plumbing! Jonathan found that ‘Chile is a melting pot, generally less Italian and less European than Argentina. However, there is still clearly the influence of different European cultures.


It’s fair to say that Jonathan came back to work two months older but two years wiser from his adventure. ‘The simple backpacker lifestyle I enjoyed over there has given me new perspective. I feel I’m less bogged down in minor detail and materialism since coming back. I’ve also learnt to appreciate the convenience of travelling in a small place like Europe! It’s a perspective I’m trying to hold on to.’

If Jonathan’s adventure has inspired you to take the plunge and send your documents on a trip around the world, then why not contact hello@surreytranslation.co.uk for a translation quote?