Thursday, 1 July 2021

The perils of computer-based translations. And more thoughts on bursting bubbles.

Beware the automatic translator!

A friend of mine, a French woman living in Spain, posted this on Facebook, for some odd reason:-

Happy Sunday, friends ! Bon dimanche ! Feliz domingo ! Buona domenica ! 🙂🌹

Corner corner corner corner

My neighbor's duck.

In the rain, in the rain

He's romping, he's romping

In the rain, in the rain

Making clapotis.

(childish song)

It was clearly a piece of nonsense. Facebook asked me to rate the translation - no stars at all, in my opinion! - and gave me the option to see the original. Here it is:-

Coin, coin, coin, coin

Le canard de mon voisin. 

Sous la pluie, sous la pluie 

Il barbote, il barbote 

Sous la pluie, sous la pluie 

En faisant des clapotis.

(chanson enfantine)

Well, of course, literary French ducks go ‘coin, coin’ (kwan, kwan for those who can’t pronounce French words), because it’s a reasonable approximation of the noise real ducks make, just as ours go ‘quack, quack’. In the same way English dogs go ‘woof’ while French dogs go ‘ouaf’. It’s pure coincidence that ‘coin’ also happens to be the French word for ‘corner’. But automatic translators don’t make that differentiation. 

And what is an English speaker supposed to understand by ‘making clapotis’. I’ve never heard of ‘clapotis’ in English. ‘Splashing’ or even ‘making waves and ripples’ would be more like it. It’s a lovely onomatopoeic word in French. And finally, how about that ‘childish song’? Almost all songs children sing are ‘childish’! That’s why we call them ‘nursery rhymes’! Good grief!

It’s amazing what pieces of nonsense you can get from computerised translating programmes, even though they are getting better. Quite why my friend was posting nursery rhymes as part of her Sunday greetings escapes me. I’m pretty sure the translation happened automatically. She speaks very good English and I’m fairly sure she doesn’t think ducks in England go round saying ‘corner, corner’! 

Phil does a pretty good duck impression, by the way, a noise that it is impossible to write down. On one famous occasion, the sort that go down in the family annals, he did his duck impression behind our then three year old granddaughter, asking innocently, “Did anyone hear a duck?” The three year old, with the wisdom of her three years, declared, “Ducks don’t make that noise. They say ‘quack, quack’.” Some time later in the day we went for a walk along the canal towpath. The ducks came bustling over, ever optimistic, hoping to be fed, making duck noises (Coin! Coin!) Suddenly a small clear voice declared, “Granddad was right. Ducks do make that noise!” 


Incidentally, I have seen statistics recently that say the UK comes at the bottom of the list of countries of Europe, possibly of the world, for percentage of the population who can speak a foreign language with reasonable fluency. All those years I and a large number of my friends spent teaching young people to speak French and Spanish and German! I was about to say that the situation will only get worse now that we are out of the EU but if we’re already at the bottom of the list, can we get any lower?

Mind you, as we seem to have very little chance of travelling in the near future, it may not matter too much if the British keep on shouting in English on the off-chance that we’ll be understood. 

I was talking to my daughter yesterday evening about the school attendance problem and the covid bubbles. The primary school where she teaches is one of a pair of partner schools with one executive head for both establishments, a common enough arrangement. Staff can be asked to transfer from one school to other; teachers, like other resources, can be shared. At the moment “bubbles” are bursting all over both schools. Yesterday her school was without Year 5, Year 2 and possibly the reception class - all children who were supposed to be at home isolating because of contact with a diagnosed case of covid - and without the staff who have been in contact with those classes. One member of staff returned from a period of isolation to find her class had just been told to stay at home. She was asked to cover for an absent member of staff in the partner school, which managed one day before another covid diagnosis occurred in the class she was covering. So she now has to isolate for a further ten days. She’s a little frustrated! To say the least!

This is the current madness in schools. And yet, my daughter’s own class tell her, the Year five children who are supposed to be isolating at home have all been playing out in the streets and playgrounds in their bit of the town. So much for isolation! Parents are not cooperating. 

My daughter says she feels sorriest for the Year six children, those about to transfer from primary to secondary school. There are only a few weeks of term left. The usual end-of-year shows and sports days and school fund-raising fetes are mostly not taking place. No residential trips for those Year six pupils are taking place. All the things that give them a send-off with a bundle of memories are just not happening. But, more important, the visits to their secondary schools are not taking place either. One of the schools which takes a large number of pupils from  y daughter’s school has tried to replace those visits with a zoom call. A fifteen minute question and answer session! Not even a virtual tour of the school building! 

Something needs sorting for September, by which time we should have accepted that covid is here to stay. We’re going to have to love with it, as we do with flu. There it is. 

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone! 

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