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Merry Christmas!

December 20th, 2016




Translating Tumblr

April 23rd, 2012

In the past 6 months I have disappeared off the surface of this Earth and started to live virtually in the Blogosphere. All of this, because of my last large translation project – Polish localisation of Tumblr! I have to say that no other translation job has had such an impact on my life as this one and I can confirm with all certainty that Tumblr is very addictive!

What is it like translating a popular site like Tumblr?

Well, it’s been an exciting but also a humbling experience. Nothing puts you more under pressure than a few very vocal and devoted users of the platform who all have very clear ideas (often very different ones too!) of how things should be translated – if translated be they must!

I think what surprised me the most was the possessiveness (I can’t think of another way of describing this) of those Polish users, who felt that their best-kept secret was just about to be revealed to the wider masses of the unworthy. They have been using Tumblr happily in English and didn’t want to share the platform with a broader Polish audience. They liked the idea of being privy to something very special and exclusive (only in terms of language accessibility – Tumblr is anything but ‘exclusive’).

Having been on Tumblr for a few months, I think I can understand this now, but don’t appreciate the selfish viewpoint of those few. What I have learnt about Tumblr is that it is full of very creative and talented people from different walks of life and I get inspired every day looking at what they produce, discover and do. Some of them pride themselves for being an anti-mainstream crowd. They put themselves in opposition to Facebook, which is for “everyone else”. In this respect, there was some discussion in the translation process about how NOT to sound like Facebook!

I have also found some very generous users and have made friends. In particular, a wonderful person from Poznań, who was one of the beta testers, but turned out to be more than that. She kept my spirits high in the moments of “doubt and despair” and provided ample input and advice. Ave – I do hope we meet in person one day, as I still owe you a few drinks for keeping me sane back then!

Translating Tumblr is not a one-off thing. Tumblr is dynamically growing, changing, expanding and there is always plenty to do for the team of localisers (currently 8 languages and more coming up). So I have been sucked in, but sucked into something that I wouldn’t want to go away from…

You can find my Polish Tumblr blog here: Polka Dot. I also work on the Polish version of the Tumblr staff blog – Tumblr: Blog ekipy.




Merry Christmas from Which Word Translations!




On British Irreverence

December 18th, 2011

I have recently re-watched the British animated film “Father Christmas” (1991), which is based on two graphic novels by Raymond Briggs – “Father Christmas” (1973) and “Father Christmas Goes on Holiday” (1975).

As on the first viewing of the film, I was amazed at the subversive interpretation of this classic children’s character – Santa is a grumpy old man, who likes his liquor and complains about his job. He goes on holidays to France, then Scotland and Las Vegas, where he over-indulges on drink, food and partying before returning home to read his post and prepare for his busies day of the year. We never hear him say “Merry Christmas” – instead he calls it “Bloomin’ Christmas” – and that’s the curse word (milder version of “bloody”) he uses in every sentence in the film.

Raymond Briggs Father Christmas

Brigg’s Santa is not unlikeable and he has a good heart, but he is depicted as much more human than the St Nicholas I had grown up with in Poland. Watching this animation, my reaction was a totally mixed one including disbelief (are you for real?), confusion (but you can’t do this!), amusement (this is funny!), guilt (I shouldn’t be seeing Santa’s naked bottom!) and awe (you couldn’t get away with this in Poland!). It also brought home the fact that, despite seeing myself as an open-minded person, I have been brought up with a certain model of the world and that it is hard to see beyond that experience.

This irreverence and taboo breaking seems to me a very British thing: from King Henry VIII’s break up with the Catholic church to comedy shows of today (“Father Ted” is a good example) – Brits seem to be always questioning authority and testing the limits of what is allowed and what isn’t. “Father Christmas” made me realise that there is a big difference in mentality between Britain and Poland, with the latter one desperately trying to hold onto its national heroes and traditional figures of authority (political, religious or cultural) and maintain their special status – above everyone else. In Britain, nothing is really off-limits – one can make jokes about the Queen, the Prime Minister, the Church, the politicians and Santa Clause. After all, we are all only human!

“So jump up on my sleigh and we’re all on our way to another bloomin’ Christmas!”

Raymond Briggs - Father Christmas




Adventures with Bilingualism

November 19th, 2011

Kasper is now 3,5 years old and his linguistic explorations continue to amaze and entertain us in both languages. I speak mostly Polish to him, while the shared language at our home and in the nursery is English. It is proving more and more difficult to keep the two languages separate, but also to use Polish consistently on my part. The English-language surroundings are becoming more prominent, as Kasper is becoming increasingly more interactive, conversational and interested in socialising with his peers (as well as snails, dogs, cats, sheep and any other creatures we encounter on a regular basis).

Kasper’s vocabulary is expanding every day and his sentences are becoming more complex and grammatically correct. Since starting the nursery, his English stock of phrases has been enriched by typical play/interaction vocabulary, which indicates acquiring new social skills of negotiation and rule-making:
-What colour do you want? (dividing up the toys to ensure everyone knows whose in charge of which train)
-That’s wrong. This way! (verbalising rules of the game)

At the same time, he is learning to express his feelings (-Kasper is very cross! or in Polish – Kasper gniewa) and his wishes (-I don’t like that! or in Polish –Nie lubię. Coś innego (Something else)).

Kasper continues to mix up both languages, although he will make entirely English or entirely Polish sentences. He will also make phrases using both languages and inflect English words with Polish endings (e.g. meerkatów, even though he knows very well the Polish term “surykatka“). His grasp of grammar in both languages is becoming more and more apparent, however, it also reveals the limitations of learning Polish mainly from one source of language. Kasper often uses the feminine form when referring to himself (Polish verbs contain this information in their endings, while English ones don’t), and would say –Zrobiłam / Posprzątałam / Wstałam…I am trying to signal to him that there is a difference between the way boys and girls express stuff, but hope that he will naturally pick up some cues from his Polish cousins.

Kasper likes to repeat new words and Polish pronunciation poses no difficulty to him, but sometimes he gets the words wrong. Recently, as a result of learning the word “policja” (the police) and Alicja (my name) – he started mispronouncing “ulica” (street/road) as “ulicja”, a word he previously used correctly. When practising the correct pronunciation, he sometimes loses his patience with me and mocks me and my didactic tone of voice. Similarly, he used to be able to say “babcia Jadzia” referring to his Polish great grandmother, but in recent days has started saying “babcia dziadzia” (it’s easier), which I find hilarious (sounds like he was saying “grandfather’s grandmother”), but also a little embarrassing in front of my grandma.

We have just spent some time in Poland, which I think charged his Polish language batteries a bit. Kasper managed to communicate very well with my family, although confusions are still inevitable and we, the parents, remain the only people on the planet who really get the more obscure utterings and references in this 3,5-year-old’s code, whether in English or in Polish or both.




Fry’s Planet Word

September 20th, 2011

I am looking forward to a new programme by Stephen Fry on world languages: Fry’s Planet Word. It will be shown on BBC2 from the 25th September.

In a recent interview Jonathan Ross described Stephen Fry as the most desired party guest, and I must agree. I would love to be sat next to him at a dinner party – he is definitely a Renaissance man and I doubt he has time to sleep. Not with all the blogging, twitting, writing, filming he seems to be doing.

By the way – here is Stephen Fry’s website – which I do find really cool and colourful – just as Fry’s life seems to be.

Stephen Fry's website




This is a rather amusing story of one of my favourite radio stations and how I got to know of its existence. Nowadays, I listen to it online on my laptop or through my wifi radio and I love it just the same as the first time I heard it. This is a story of true love at first hearing, followed by a heartbreaking separation and a happy reunion after years.

After my graduation in Poland in June 2004, I joined my husband to be in the UK and we started off living in a very central area of Brighton. We were flat-minding a lovely little apartment in the first few weeks while searching for somewhere else to live in the long term. We were driving back home one evening when we picked up this fantastic radio station that really mesmerized us. Very quickly we found it on our home radio and just marvelled at the great music taste of the DJs and the programming. It played everything from jazz, blues, chanson, world music, film music and classical, often in playful sequence with original track immediately followed by a sampled version or around some theme. We were intrigued by the fact that the station was French (neither of us speaks any French) and played music non-stop with only short news updates and introductions. Most of the DJs were female with very sexy and velvety voices.

Alas! After we moved into our flat in Brighton’s ‘posher but duller’ twin – Hove – we were out of range of our mystery radio station. Had I known this, I would have negotiated a 10% discount on rent…

Soon after this, I read a whole article in a Brighton newspaper about the radio station FIP (France Inter Paris), a niche French public station broadcast from Paris, whose radio waves mysteriously cheat the laws of physics and reach Brighton of all places (but not Hove!). After two FIP-lean years, I discovered to my great joy that FIP could be played online from their own website with all track titles provided live, and a few years later I upgraded the sound quality thanks to my wifi radio. Whenever I put FIP on, I feel like I am joining a celebration of musical eclecticism or embark on an expedition of musical discovery.

In the meanwhile, I learnt that FIP was illegally re-broadcast in Brighton for seven years by its most avid fan who installed two transmitters in the area. This continued until 2007 and a closure of the pirate station by Ofcom to the dismay of many Brightonians. Nevertheless, Brighton continues to reverberate with the Parisian sound with a local appreciation society Vive la FIP keeping up its regular DJ nights and get-togethers for the fans of the station.

Bonne écoute!




I think it is high time to update you on Kasper’s progress with language learning – we have gone a long way since I last blogged about this.

A bit of background information: Kasper is growing up with a Polish mum and an English dad. He is spending quite a lot of time with me at home and so his Polish is getting rather good, but we are looking at nurseries here in Scotland and I expect a linguistic revolution to take place in his little world. But let me give you some examples of his vocabulary and grasp of grammar as it stands right now.

Kasper’s vocabulary has become quite extensive with some words which are familiar to him in both languages, and some only in one. Some words he prefers to use in one language – often according to a first-come first-served principle – but knows them in both languages. For example, we will look at a book he associates with me (Polish) and he will name all animals in Polish, but he will call a butterfly ‘a butterfly’ in English. I rarely ever get him to say it in Polish ‘motyl’, as the word he learnt first seems to be more obvious or more readily ‘available’. This works both ways, as there are Polish words that he rarely replaces with English equivalents.

Kasper is clearly aware that some people might prefer one language (word) to the other. He tends to switch to Polish when we talk to my parents on Skype, and to English when we visit his English Nana. The need to be understood is quite paramount. I overheard him once saying to my father ‘Press! Press!’ trying to express how much he wants to press the button to call the lift, and when he could see that grandfather did not understand him – he added ‘Guzik!’ (button). Alles klar.

At the same time, Kasper will quite happily mix both languages making such wonderful utterances as ‘Piesek go jeść’ (doggy go eat), ‘będzie fun’ (it will be fun), ‘Going na basen in the car ala splash.’ (going to the swimming pool in the car to have a splash) and ‘duży castle’ (big castle) or ‘lots of klocków’ (lots of bricks). The amazing thing is that he will (sometimes) decline the Polish words according to the rules of Polish grammar. The example above, ‘lots of klocków’, in Polish would be said ‘dużo klocków’, while ‘klocki’ is the nominative form. Here he uses ‘lots of’ instead of Polish ‘dużo’ but declines the Polish noun correctly. Amazing!

Kasper is clearly picking up some grammar rules in both languages – he will use English plural -s, which sometimes proves tricky when he says ‘sheeps’. Sometimes, the language boundaries can get blurred here too, as when he exclaimed ‘Piękne górys’ (beautiful mountains). The Polish noun ‘góry’ is already plural, but just to be on the safe side Kasper added the English -s to make sure it is definitely so.

While Kasper is only beginning to use full sentences (still relatively simple), his vocabulary is quite rich. He does not shy away from having a try saying such difficult Polish words as ‘dżdżownica’ (worm), ‘gąsienica’ (caterpillar), ‘ośmiornica’ (octopus) or ‘pszczoła’ (bee). Now your turn – have a go!




Fear and Trembling

March 19th, 2011

Having read Amelie Nothomb’s autobiographic novel entitled “Fear and Trembling” (translated from the French by Adriana Hunter), I reached for the film under the same title. It is directed by Alain Corneau and features Sylvie Tastud as the main character – Amelie, the writer herself.

Though the story takes place in Tokio, it does not leave the perimeters of interiors of a Japanese corporation, where Amelie is hired as a Japanese-French interpreter on a one year’s contract. Her dream job soon turns into nightmare as a sequence of events and cultural misunderstandings put her in conflict with her superiors, particularly, the beautiful but distant, Mori Fubuki, and result in her degradation within the company structure.

I greatly recommend both the book and the film to all linguists, anyone interested in Japanese culture and the East/West divide.




Certified Translation: the UK Way

November 24th, 2010

One of my most bizarre experiences as a translator took place some time ago not so long after my move to the UK. An agency asked me to translate a marriage certificate, which then needed to be certified by an affidavit. I had to check in my dictionary what an ‘affidavit’ is and found out that it is a formal statement sworn in front of a notary public. It seemed so far departed from Poland, where to become a sworn translator you not only need the right qualifications (a relevant degree), but also have to take a rigorous competence exam organised by the Ministry of Justice. After that you receive an official stamp and can certify your own translations, which is required in case of most official documentation (marriage, birth certificates, etc).

Photo courtesy of Kriss Szkurlatowski

Photo courtesy of Kriss Szkurlatowski

I arranged a meeting with a notary public who was also the ‘taker of oaths’ and brought my translation with me not sure what to expect of the whole process. The notary’s office was based in a house which could have been taken out of a Dickens’ novel. I was ushered into a room where I waited for the notary, who soon turned up wearing his black robe and looking rather distracted. He looked at my translation and the original text, marked them as page A and page B and then offered me the Bible (sic!) to put my hand on. Amazing! I felt like in an American court movie, while at the same time thinking that I might as well be swearing on Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’.

He pronounced:
‘Do you swear that the text A is an accurate translation of text B?’
‘I do’ (pharyngeal swallowing sound). He scribbled some sort of signature underneath my translation.
‘OK, please pay £16 at the reception.’
‘But wait a minute! How about some sort of official stamp?’
‘Oh, she wants a stamp. There you go’, he sounded amused, like he was pampering his little niece by letting her play with his stationary.
‘And receipt??’ I really panicked here. I was wondering what evidence there was of me obtaining the ‘certification’ that I could present to the agency who hired me.
‘Oh, the receptionist will give you a receipt. Good bye!’ and he disappeared into the back rooms of the house.

I paid and collected my receipt (which I still have as a keepsake) and left with total confusion and disbelief. The agency was very happy with the translation and they did not question the affidavit. I guess it must have still had the aura of credibility bestowed on it by the notary public’s magical powers to turn a translation into an accurate translation. Cross my heart and hope to die!