Hello Europe!

This evening I was at my parents’ house, watching a little TV after Sunday dinner. I don’t really watch much TV anymore, at least not in the conventional broadcast sense, apart from Sunday afternoons at home. Gaelic football matches are the usual background noise to Sunday-afternoon dinner, but we had it a bit later today, so I found myself watching an interesting nature programme.

Continue reading

Did you Watch Strictly at the Weekend?

No, I didn’t, sorry, I never watch it.

I’m referring here of course to popular BBC Saturday-evening dance programme Strictly Come Dancing (translated into American English as Dancing with the Stars). It’s often referred to simply as Strictly, but if you step back and think about it, isn’t that a little odd?

Continue reading

Learner Drivers at the Intersection of French and English

Would you surprised that learner is a very-commonly used English word in other languages? Well, not exactly the word learner itself, but the L-plate used on cars to indicate that the driver is a learner. I’d been driving in Belgium for a while, and had noticed that their L-plates are a blue background with a white L, as opposed to the Irish white with a red L. But I never stopped to consider that the L stood for Learner (the French translation would be apprenant or apprenti). Never, that is, until I saw a French learner driver…

Continue reading

Lost in Translation

While browsing through Netflix en français the other day, I saw the thumbnail for the BBC drama Call the Midwife. I was about to continue browsing when I noticed the French title:

SOS sages-femmes.

This struck me a  bit odd. Sure, une sage-femme is the French word for midwife (and quite a cool word too, literally meaning wise woman), but the SOS? In a period drama mixing light soap opera and social-realist representations of the difficulties of working-class East-End London life in the 1950s, it seems out of place. It’s too flippant, making me think of a children’s programme like Paw Patrol. Except with midwives on bicycles instead of puppies, and back-alley abortionists instead of whatever the puppies have to deal with (I’ve never seen Paw Patrol). So while in a literal sense, the title gets the content of the programme across, it doesn’t convey a sense of its tone at all. I appreciate that retitling TV shows and movies from English can be difficult, with titles often being clever plays on words that can’t easily be translated. But in this case, the title is simple and without subtext, so a direct translation (Appelez La Sage-Femme, which was the French title for the book the programme’s based on) would have worked fine. But clearly someone felt it needed to be jazzed up a bit, though I don’t know why they didn’t go all-in and add an exclamation mark at the end.

There are two general approaches to translating a title: Continue reading

Teaching on TV


Teacher: Good morning class!

Class: Good morning!

*teacher writes Hello, my name is Niall. on the board*

*teacher points to self, says Hello, my name is Niall*

Teacher: Now Saud, you!

Pedro: Hello, my name is Saud.

Teacher: Very good! Now Anna, you.

Anna: Hello, my name is Anna.

Teacher:Yes Anna, very good! Now Chen, you.

Chen: Hello, my name is Anna.

*everyone laughs*

Teacher: Ha ha, no Chen, your name is Chen!

Chen: Ah sorry! Hello, my name is Chen!

Teacher: Excellent!


*bell rings*

Teacher: Ok everyone, before you go, I want you to write Hello , my name is… 50 times on a suitably blank surface. Class dismissed!

I think the above is pretty representative of most of the depictions of English-language classes I’ve seen in films and TV programmes. I know everyone gets annoyed when their profession is depicted on screen and it’s quite inaccurate. We can’t expect film and TV writers to be experts in a job that might appear briefly in only one scene. But what annoys me about the way English classes are shown is that it’s indicative of a lot of people’s misconceptions of English-language classes.

Let’s look at what’s wrong with the lesson above.

Continue reading