Monthly Archives: November 2016

French lessons in keeping your boat afloat

You may have seen this story, in which case apologies, but if you haven’t it’s as good an example  as there is of the problems that can occur when there are no interpreters around when they are needed – or to be more accurate, of the problems that occur when people assume that they have communicated with each other but, in reality, have failed spectacularly to do so…

In March this year, a French trawler sought safety in Dartmouth Harbour during stormy weather.  Then, as the Torquay Herald and Express reported in its summary of the investigation (which only finished in the last few weeks), “Steve Clinch, Chief Inspector of Marine Accidents, said, ‘This accident happened as a result of a misunderstanding of communication between people of two different languages who could not speak each other’s language.'”

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The ship, Saint Christope 1, was directed by the harbour authorities to a berth where they knew that it would come to grief when the tide receded. Unfortunately, they could not speak French, or at least not to the extent that the boat’s skipper could understand them – and he couldn’t speak English. Their hand gestures were interpreted by the skipper to mean that his crew would have to tend the lines as the tide went out.  They thought they had got the message across.

The inevitable happened. The tide, naturally, did go out, and the trawler listed to one side before grounding on the harbour bottom.

The story of the investigation made the national press, with the Daily Telegraph reporting that “it later transpired that the harbour had a list of people who could act at translators if needed, but neither the harbourmaster nor his deputy were aware of it.”  The Telegraph concluded its story by noting, “The authority will make a remote emergency language service available at all hours, with notices on the quayside providing details.”

The official investigation – entitled “The grounding of French fishing vessels. Saint Christophe 1 (CN666535) and Sagittaire (CN764603) while alongside in Dartmouth resulting in the flooding and sinking of Saint Christophe 1 on 10 March 2016 – (which you can read here and from which the picture above was taken) found that there were mistakes all round, including on the part of the French skipper.  Sadly, the trawler could not be salvaged.

So the next time some says, “why should I learn a foreign language…?”, just tell them about the St Christope 1 and Dartmouth Harbour, and the very big bill that resulted.

Rosetta Stone, Global Connects



The answer in English is (sometimes) plain to see!

English BooksIn a few weeks, it will be Plain English Day. Now, as interpreters and translators, we’re well aware that English can  sometimes be plain, sometimes flowery, sometimes technical, sometimes full of jargon and sometimes just plain incomprehensible.  Horses for courses is our motto, but that said, for anyone with an interest in the language, the principles underlying Plain English are well worth knowing.

The Plain English Campaign began in 1979 in the UK and Tuesday, 8th December is Plain English Day . This date was chosen because it was on this day that Chrissie Maher, a journalist who had founded a newspaper for people with reading difficulties, publicly shredded thousands of documents outside the Houses of Parliament in Westminster. Maher founded the campaign to counteract needlessly verbose language, not just by those in government but by anyone producing documents which are supposed to be easily understood by the general public.  That said, the Civil Service does have a track record here.  Anyone who has tried to make sense of some government documents may understand her frustration!  Since the publication of ‘Plain Words’ by Sir Earnest Gowers in 1948 (and its many subsequent updates), many people have tried (often in vain) to render “civil service speak” into something a bit more comprehensible.

The Plain English Campaign annually announces the result of their annual awards for best and worst communications, which usually results in some newspaper mentions and are often quite entertaining. In 2009 there was also a re-enactment of the shredding outside Parliament. The campaign is still ongoing, and the fact that we even now refer to anyone who is particular verbose as a ‘Sir Humphrey’* indicates just how serious the problem remains!

At Global Connects, we know that our clients have varying requirements. If we’re translating ‘expert to expert’ then the use of the appropriate jargon is entirely acceptable, however, if we’re working on something simpler where it’s important to have clarity we always bear in mind the underlying principles of Plain English, adopting them where it’s sensible to do so. This helps produce a clear, straightforward translation, which, after all, is what we’re here to do!

You can read more about the Plain English Campaign and Plain English Day on their website.

Rosetta Stone, Global Connects

* for anyone who  is not from the UK, Sir Humphrey Appleby was a character in the TV series ‘Yes Minister’.  As Permanent Secretary in the Department for Administrative Affairs, he was famous for his verbosity and enormously convoluted sentences which were (deliberately) designed to frustrate the Minister of State, James Hacker.