May 6th, 2020

Who translates your software?

− Localization goes beyond translation.

An in-depth article on software localization by Panu Räty in the 4/2020 issue of Mikrobitti magazine features an interview with Itranslate Oy Managing Director Risto Rossi on games localization and the importance of knowing your target audience in technical translation.

April 29th, 2020

Skills vs Knowledge, or the Tale of How Being a Sci-Fi Nerd Beats Your Excellent Google-Fu Skills

A few years ago, I was reviewing a financial translation of an internal stock market analysis. Going through the translation, everything seemed to be in order. The translator had done an excellent job and only a few minor tweaks were needed. But then I came across this sentence: “These stocks could be redshirted in case of market fluctuation.” Now, if you Google the term “redshirted”, you quickly find out that redshirting is used in connection with both US student sports and kindergarten enrolment. The term in both cases is about postponing participation, i.e. taking some extra time before engaging in an activity. Based on this information, it was only natural that the translator had translated the sentence as “…purchase of these stocks could be postponed in case of market fluctuation.” Sounds about right, especially as the next sentence reads “This would guarantee that sufficient funds are available for opportunistic buying of blue-chip stocks.” So, the chain of thought is quite logical: you postpone the purchase of some stocks to then buy better stocks that have decreased in price due stock market fluctuation. But for me, warning lights were going off. It was a full-fledged red alert, and I could hear a voice in my head going “that is highly illogical”.

Friends of the TV show Star Trek probably already know what is about to follow. For the rest of you, let me explain why the translation was erroneous. You see, Star Trek (the original series from the 60s) was a sci-fi show about the adventures of starship Enterprise and its intrepid crew. And most importantly, the crew of the Enterprise wore color-coded shirts of gold, blue and – you guessed it – red. Every now and then, a team consisting of various crew members would go on an away mission to a planet surface. Usually the mission included a gold-shirted commanding officer, maybe one or two blue-shirted science officers, along with some red-shirted security personnel. And if anyone was going to die or get hurt on these missions, it was always someone in a red shirt. Consequently, fans of the show jokingly started to use the term “redshirt” to refer to someone or something expendable. This is why I suspected that “…stocks could be redshirted…” refers to stocks that could be sacrificed, i.e. sold in case an opportunity to purchase more lucrative stocks presented itself. My suspicion was confirmed when I checked the annexes of the analysis and found the same “redshirtable” stocks categorized as dispensable in a list of stocks owned by the company. I corrected the translation and continued with the review, finding no other errors.

I find this little story fascinating. For me it clearly illustrates how demanding translating can be. Just think about it. The translator had done everything right: language and style of the translation were flawless, there were no typos, and when they had come across an unfamiliar term, they had expertly researched the term and found a suitable definition. And without this particular bit of fringe knowledge about a sci-fi show from the 60s, I as a reviewer might have wondered a bit about that peculiar term, done some research, and moved along. Another reason for telling this story is that it illustrates the importance of understanding the nature of the source text. As I mentioned, this was an internal analysis not meant for public distribution, and the overall style of the text was therefore a bit looser. When you adjust your interpretation of the source text based on this, you can understand why the writer would use a term like “redshirt”. Maybe the analysis was written by someone who knew that the reader would be as much a Star Trek geek as they were. Little did they know that one day the translation accuracy of their analysis would be saved by yet another Star Trek nerd. By someone who just got this feeling that there was something wonky about the translation and knew fully well that:

“Sometimes a feeling is all we humans have to go on.” – Captain Kirk

March 25th, 2020

Peculiarities of Finnish language

Every now and then, maybe once or twice a year, we get a panicked message from a client who wants our Finnish translation fixed. The reason for this request is most often due to the client checking some key term in an English to Finnish dictionary and then noticing that this key term doesn’t show anywhere in the translation. An industrious client may also run the translation through some sort of machine translation program to check if the resulting back-translation looks okay and then gets concerned when it looks gibberish. As I noted, these communications are rare, but they are frequent enough that I have constructed a form letter to explain some of the key peculiarities of Finnish to our valued clientele. I just add in some banter, make a minor tweak here and there, maybe change the words in the examples to those they are most concerned about, and then send away my response. Sometimes I don’t hear back, but usually they respond. And what is a typical answer? Well, it varies, but it usually starts with “Wow”.

The form letter goes like this:


Finnish is a very particular language that uses grammatical cases to do the work of prepositions (of, by, on, in etc.). These grammatical cases are formed by attaching suffixes to word stems based on the position and grammatical use of the words in a sentence. An example: The Finnish word for “dog” is “koira”. However, if we want to say “for the dog”, Finnish doesn’t use the preposition “for” or article “the” but instead a suffix for the Finnish allative case, “lle” is added to the word “koira” to form “koiralle”.

There are 15 noun cases in Finnish. Now, in addition to noun cases, Finnish language uses the same system of suffixing to represent the number (singular/plural) and possessive relationship (mine, yours etc.). For example, the plural of “dog”, i.e. “dogs”, is “koirat”. The possessive “my dog” is “koirani” and “your dog” is “koirasi”. In addition to number and possessive, Finnish also uses suffixes for some clitics, but let’s leave them out to avoid making this overly complex.

The complicated thing about Finnish is that the different suffixes used for noun case, number and possessive can be used together. For example, if we want to say “for my dog”, we take the allative suffix “lle” and possessive suffix “ni” and stick them to the basic noun “koira” to form “koira-lle-ni”. That is simple enough, but things get weirder with the plural: “for my dogs” is “koirilleni”. As you can see, in “koir-i-lle-ni” the plural has been formed by substituting the “a” at the end of “koira” with “i”, even though the singular plural “dogs” is “koirat”. This is because the actual word stem for the Finnish “dog” is not the nominative case “koira” but “koir”. So, if you can’t find the Finnish dictionary word (given in basic nominative case) for an English word in a Finnish translation, the likely reason is that the Finnish word has been grammatically inflected to an appropriate case, number and possessive form.

It should also be noted that some Finnish nouns have consonant gradation which means that two consonants at the end of a noun vary based on case. For example, “beard” is “parta” but in adessive case the double consonant “rt” changes into “rr”, i.e. “with the beard” translates into “parralla”. This makes it even harder to spot the Finnish base noun in the translation.

Now, all this means is that in Finnish words are longer than in English (or in most other languages) but there are fewer of them in a sentence. For example, English uses nine words to say “I wonder if he charmed her with his beard” while Finnish accomplishes the same with just four words: “Parrallaankohan hän hänet hurmasi”. All in all, a Finnish word can have over 2,000 different variations, like this fine page by the Finnish Emeritus Professor of general linguistics Fred Karlsson demonstrates:

I assure you that the translation is correct and all the necessary words are there. They are just playing hide and seek inside Finnish grammar.

March 18th, 2020

Itranslate ready to serve you – remotely!

We have moved to 100% remote work over the past week to do our part in fighting the spread of COVID-19. This limits our opportunities to meet with clients, but actual translation work is not tied to a specific time or place: We continue to serve you in all your translation needs.

The coronavirus pandemic is disrupting many industries and makes timely, accurate communication particularly important. We are proritizing any COVID-19 related assignments to help keep information flowing. We’ve put people first in our company since day one, and we still do. So let’s keep in touch – but at a distance!

December 20th, 2019

Happy Holidays!

The year’s drawing to a close, and like the elves in Santa’s workshop, we here at Itranslate are wrapping up with our final deliveries of the year. Our clients are heading out for their well-earned holidays, and soon we can all sit back and enjoy the season of joy and merriment.

The Christmas spirit is in full swing at the office. We’ve powered through several boxes of chocolates to prepare ourselves for the holiday onslaught of sweets, treats and delicacies. And with Christmas trees up, family and friends gathering, and Santa gearing up for his year-end travels around the world, it’s a good time to reflect on this past year. And to recharge and get ready for a whole new year of providing top-notch language services to help our clients succeed – because your business is worth it!

We’d like to thank you for the past year and wish all our clients and partners happy holidays and a delightful new decade. Let it be filled with wonder and discovery!

Best wishes from the land of Santa Claus!

The Itranslate team

December 2nd, 2019

Hanna Kostamo joins Itranslate Oy as Head of Sales and Marketing

Hanna Kostamo (Master of Arts, University of Helsinki) has been named Itranslate Oy’s Head of Sales and Marketing as of December 2019. She was also named partner and invited to join Itranslate Oy’s board of directors. Hanna has over 20 years of experience in the language and localization field in both Finnish and international companies as a translator, Key Account Manager, and Country Manager.

She is passionate about sales and marketing and brings a healthy dose of business development know-how to Itranslate Oy. Founded in 2003, Itranslate Oy is a growing Espoo-based translation agency with roots and history closely tied to the University of Helsinki’s Kouvola Department of Translation Studies – Hanna’s alma mater.

On the rare occasions when Hanna is not out closing a deal, you can find her exercising, skiing or writing – although she has been known to negotiate sales while running…