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Featured translator – Jacqui Birnie

Posted on February 25th, 2015 by Alexika

We have some wonderful translators – and it is lovely to hear their thoughts on life as a linguist. In the second of the series, we are delighted to feature German to English translator Jacqui Birnie, whom we have known and worked with for many years. Jacqui is a highly experienced technical translator and, very importantly, is also real pleasure to work with. Please see below Jacqui’s answers to our questions, giving an insight into the broad range of professional skills that professional translators draw on:

What attracted you to working with languages?

At the age of 11, when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I blithely said “a linguist”. I didn’t know how prophetic that would turn out to be, given that I’m not sure I even knew what it meant back then.

I studied French and German at university and spent a year working in Hamburg in the translation department of a large oil company. That was my introduction to technical translation and I knew immediately that it was what I really wanted to make my career in.

 What are your favourite subject areas and how did you become interested in them?

I’m into anything technical – commonly referred to as “geeky”, in a nice way I hope. I think my interest started in childhood when I had a great collection of Dinky cars and played a lot with Lego. I’ve always been fascinated by how things work and understanding the technology behind them. Even the apparently simple things are not so simple when you start taking them apart. In another life I think I would have been an engineer.

What do you enjoy most about being a translator?

The variety. I’m constantly learning something new, often at the leading edge of technology. That’s pretty exciting and it’s also really satisfying to read about something in the press and think “I translated a patent about that!” At the same time, being a translator enables me to use my language skills creatively. I’d like to think I help to make technology more accessible.

Where in the world would you love to travel to?

I’ve travelled a bit and liked it. I don’t have a specific place I’d dearly love to visit. I’ll just see what opportunities present themselves and take it from there.

We’ve all seen amusing mistranslations. What’s the most memorable one you’ve seen?

I can never remember them even though they make me laugh at the time. I do remember causing great hilarity among friends during my year abroad in Germany when I indignantly said that British butcher’s shops no longer had “Segelspäne” (sail dust) rather than “Sägespäne” (sawdust) on the floor. And I knew there was something musical about daffodils (Osterglocken = Easter bells) when I said, “Guck’ mal die Ostertrompeten an!” (Easter trumpets). Of course, you live and learn… The old adage “Deutsche Sprache – schwere Sprache” often proves true for beginners!

Thank you very much indeed to Jacqui for her thoughtful replies – and we love the Easter trumpets! Jacqui is pictured below.





Alexika to exhibit at YBM15

Posted on February 16th, 2015 by Alexika

Alexika will again have a stand at the Yorkshire Business Market, this year held on Monday 27th April. We’ll be there to talk about language, translating web sites, translating documents…..and there may again be a prize champagne draw…..we may again have home-made cakes from around Europe. It was quite a day last year and we’re sure it will be again!

We’d like to say a huge thank you again to the organisers and to all those who visited our stand last year to make the day so pleasant.

The Yorkshire Business Market has been a runaway success since 2010 and is held at the Great Yorkshire Showground in Harrogate. The range of businesses is stunning and we’ll be again looking forward to learning about some we’ve never heard of before!



International pro cycling race to pass Alexika office door

Posted on January 29th, 2015 by Alexika

We’re excited again in Yorkshire! After the runaway success of the Tour de France Grand Départ coming to Yorkshire – and passing our Yorkshire office door twice!! – we are delighted to say that a new professional cycle race, the Tour de Yorkshire, will again be passing right past the office on Sunday May 3rd 2015. How lucky are we!

The Tour de France was overwhelming. Thousands of people lined the street past the office and everyone and everything received a loud and rousing cheer – including the smiling French Gendarmes and British police who entered fully into the spirit. The Tour de Yorkshire is a legacy event and the 3 days of top professional cycling really will show off some stunning countryside and iconic historic sites. The route is excellent for spectators and cyclists alike. Views such as these from the Yorkshire Post around York Minster will be seen again. If you are not able to visit in person, do remember to enjoy some lovely views on television from May 1st to 3rd.

Last year we invited clients and suppliers to enjoy some local fayre at the office – only to be forced to cancel when it became clear just how many thousands of people would be in the area and roadblocks made travel too difficult for those not staying on one of the many camp sites. This year we’ll be more careful and make a decision near the time.

A huge thank you to Gary Verity and Welcome to Yorkshire for putting our county on the world cycling map. We are enjoying the ride!

P.S. On a relating cycling theme, our Managing Director Mark Robinson is cycling from Leeds to Paris in May in support of the Yorkshire Kidney Research Fund. To support Mark, please see our previous Blog post.



Our Yorkshire office dressed for the Tour de France – complete with bright yellow door..


Alexika Director’s charity bike ride to Paris

Posted on January 9th, 2015 by Alexika

Alexika Managing Director Mark Robinson will be cycling from Leeds to Paris in May 2015 – it will be 630 km with an average of 126 km per day. Training has already started – it is quite painful but a huge amount of fun! He is trying to not think too hard about the first day, with approx. 140km and 3000 metres of climbing..leaving Yorkshire on a bike does involve riding over hills at some point! At least there be will some respite on day 4 with lunch on a ferry…

The ride is part of an initiative by local business  business group ‘The Yorkshire Mafia‘ – if anyone wants to join the ride, more details can found on the web site of the organisers Ride25 here.

Mark is riding in support of the Yorkshire Kidney Research Fund, a charity selected for family reasons. He is paying all travel expenses himself, so all sponsorship money goes to the charity. To find our more and sponsor Mark, please click here.


Update from Mark: Having never ridden a bike further than 30 miles before I started this lark, I’m now booked in to do my first 100 mile ride in April – so this training business is getting a bit more serious! Thank you in advance for any support on


Christmas donation to Translators Without Borders

Posted on December 9th, 2014 by Alexika

Instead of sending Christmas cards, Alexika has again made a donation to our adopted charity of Translators Without Borders (TWB.) This is a not-for-profit association set up to provide pro bono translation services for humanitarian not-for-profit organisations.  TWB has provided translations for organisations such as Action Against Hunger, Oxfam and Handicap International.

As an example of their work, TWB continues to provide translation services across West Africa as part of the international response to the Ebola outbreak.  Currently they are providing simple health messages – posters and public service announcements – in seven key West African languages. This has built trust between aid workers and local communities and promoted improved health practices. Source content is being translated into Krio, Themne, Mende, Fula, Malinke, French and Pidgin English (audio only), and their are plans to expand into other languages in the coming months.

At Alexika, Becky Taylor has recently donated some of her time translating from French to English.

To donate to TWB, please click here.




Featured translator – Pierre Burggraf

Posted on October 21st, 2014 by Alexika

We have some wonderful translators – and it is lovely to hear their thoughts on life as a linguist. In the first of what we hope will become a regular series, we are delighted to feature French translator Pierre Burggraf, whom we have known for many years. Pierre is a highly experienced technical translator and is also real pleasure to work with. Please see below Pierre’s answers to our questions:


1. What attracted you to working with languages?

Learning another language is similar to discovering a new territory and helps understanding the culture / civilisation of a country.


2. What are your favourite subject areas and how did you become interested in them?

I have been working in the field of Patents for some 25 years, in particular in telecommunications, information technology and mechanical engineering.

I find it easier to “connect” with a text of a technical nature that is tangible and has a practical application.

A new invention reflects the creative capabilities of an individual.  So many inventions are designed to improve our daily lives.  It is interesting to read about the background and the sequence of events which brought about a new idea.


3. What do you enjoy most about being a translator?

It is a profession in which the individual has the opportunity to learn something new every day.  It represents a challenge for the mind.

(At the ATC conference in Brighton, we heard speakers use terms like “a solutions architect” and “a solutionist”!)

It is also a way of keeping up-to-date with developments in technology.

One derives a certain satisfaction from being seen as a link, or a communication channel, between two languages.


4. Where in the world would you love to travel to?

Japan – because of the coexistence of deeply rooted traditions and hi-tech innovation.

Or Egypt – a country steeped in history.


5. We’ve all seen amusing mistranslations. What’s the most memorable one you’ve seen?

Emergency exit only = Urgence sort seul

(label on clothes) Gentle cycle = Aimable bicyclette

Ozone safe = Coffre-fort d’ozone


Thank you very much indeed to Pierre for his thoughtful replies – and we did giggle at those mistranslations! Pierre is pictured on the left below with our Managing Director Mark at the conference of the Association of Translation Companies in Brighton in the South of England.




Can (translation) technology offer all the answers?

Posted on October 13th, 2014 by Alexika


The conference of the UK’s  Association of Translation Companies, an  organisation of which Alexika has been a full member for over a decade, was held in the seaside town of Brighton this year. The event was extremely well organised and well attended, and many thanks are due to the organisers.

The question of whether technology can offer all of the answers for those buying translations was debated at length on the Friday afternoon. More provocatively – is the human translator heading for extinction? It has been a couple of years since we wrote on this subject so it is time to revisit. The ATC debate was excellent – contributors came from all over Europe and had vast experience of the language industry. Some had particular technical knowledge of the workings of machine translation technology such as the ubiquitous ‘Google Translate.’ To be blunt though, it was not a debate that changed minds – there was a consensus in the room.

Our views on translation technology remain broadly the following:

- translation is generally a post-graduate profession. A post-graduate education and level of language skill are generally required to create a translation that reads as though it was written in the target language and uses the correct terminology for the subject area. A professional translator is then in a position to take advantage of the latest language technology.

- the technology that is used by most translation professionals is generally referred to as ‘translation memory’ and includes ‘terminology management.’ This is now reasonably mature – the market leader, SDL Trados Studio (which we use ourselves – and train others to use – at Alexika), is currently celebrating a 30 year anniversary. At the core of this technology is software that builds a database of words as the translator works, so anything that has been translated previously will automatically pop up on the screen – this can save money on repetitive texts (so no need to translate the same thing twice) and improve quality through improved consistency. This technology gets better as the years go by, and also helps the management of the translation project process.

- machine translation tools such as Google Translate are a completely different technology, which is great for getting a quick and free gist of something in a unknown language. Google Translate is a statistical based engine that is processing vast amounts of translated texts, and works out the statistical probability that a new translation will be the same as an old one. A more sophisticated branch of this technology is where a basic machine translation engine can  be ‘trained’  in a particular field, again by processing lots of data. In some cases – such as large and repetitive texts – an acceptable translation can be produced cost-effectively by having a human linguist ‘post-edit’ the machine output. It is expected that this will be a competitive means of offering an acceptable level of translation for certain types of requirement in the years to come.

In a room full of professional linguists and translation professionals, no-one was of the view that the human linguist will not be required in future. But there was a consensus that technology continues to be a great help to language providers and clients alike.


Careers With Languages – an Evening with Years 10 and 11

Posted on October 2nd, 2014 by Alexika

It was a pleasure for Alexika Director Mark Robinson to take part in a careers evening for years 10 and 11 (aged 14 to 16) at the local Ermysted’s Grammar School here in the North of England. A total of 49 different professions were represented including police, dentistry, air line pilots, law and music. So what questions were asked about careers with languages? Here is a selection:


1. What careers can you enter after studying languages?

Our answer: there are language-specific careers such as translation/interpreting and teaching, and there is also a huge range of careers where you can use foreign languages as part of your work. You could be a lawyer using your German talking to German clients, an engineer working with French suppliers, an accountant working in the firm’s offices in Spain……what we can say with certainly is that studying languages opens up careers paths that are very interesting and having a language skill makes you attractive to employers.


2. What language courses should I consider at university?

Our answer: UK universities offer a wide range of courses so take the time so see what is available. Do you want to study pure language or mix language study with another subject? See for example the courses  in German Studies offered by Lancaster University – and then scroll down the page to see how you can mix German with a wide range of other disciplines. Do you want to continue a language that you studied at school or start a new language from scratch? How would you want to spend a year abroad – studying at an overseas university, working in a school, working in industry? There are not enough people studying languages at the moment so you will be in demand for employers after university.


3. What should I study to become a translator?

Our answer: We use the phrase that ‘translation is generally a post-graduate profession.’ Generally professional translators will have studied a language at undergraduate level, and then taken a post-graduate course such as an MA in Translation Studies (for example the MA in Applied Translation Studies at Leeds University.) Translators need to specialise in a certain area too – such as legal translation, technical translation. These specialisms can be developed by further study or working in a particular industry, maybe as an ‘in-house’ translator for an international company.


4. What do you enjoy in your work and what are the boring bits?

Our answer: We love working with language, whether it is translating, proofreading , talking on the phone about language to  clients and to translators… We are very fortunate to enjoy what we do – not everyone does.  I suppose the boring bits are the general business tasks such as raising invoices, asking people to pay invoices, checking the bank statement…..


5. How much money do you earn?

Our answer: Ah well, that all depends…


Thank you again to the school for having us. It was a very enjoyable evening and hopefully it was useful for the young people too.



The Busy Life of a Translation Project Manager

Posted on September 19th, 2014 by Alexika

The life of a Translation Project Manager can be a juggling act, with orders, source files, translations and queries arriving in a constant stream from clients and suppliers. Working with our technology partner, SDL, I managed to find a little time in between projects to write an eBook that delves into many of the daily challenges faced by PMs.

Covering a range of topics, from the importance of professional translation and knowing the responsibilities of the different people involved to specific challenges that often crop up, this eBook will hopefully provide some handy information on how to make your translation projects run more smoothly. Most of the examples and scenarios have been taken from real projects here at Alexika, ending with our top ten tips for a pain-free process.

You can download a free PDF copy of The Busy Life of a Translation Project Manager from this link. It might be particularly interesting for those of you working within LSPs (Language Service Providers), as well as for freelance translators.

We’d be interested to hear any thoughts that you have on this topic. For instance, do you have any examples where technology has saved the day? What other challenges during a translation project have you faced? Or have you any other top tips that you would add? Please do get in touch with any thoughts you may have.

eBook cover page



Thanks to the YTI

Posted on July 2nd, 2014 by Alexika

Alexika’s Mark (Director) and Gemma (Translations and Training Manager) were made to feel very welcome and thoroughly enjoyed being panelists at the recent ‘Meet the Client’ event of the Yorkshire Translators and Interpreters. The YTI is the regional group of the national body, the Institute of Translation and Interpreting. Those attending were a healthy mixture of professional translators with many years of experience and recent graduates.

As so often is the case at such events, the questions were possibly more enlightening and interesting than Mark’s presentation! Mark is pictured in action below. Topics for questions included the use of translation technology, whether working for charitable organisations counts as work experience, translation project managements workflows and tips on quoting for translation work. It is very healthy to be questioned and even challenged in this way and we are grateful to those coming up with the questions.

Special thanks though must go to organisers Paul and Charlotte, both for this excellent event but also more generally for all the great work they put into the YTI. Thank you for inviting us.


Mark's presentation




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