December 19, 2011

Updates to grammar/phrasebook

Following various user feedback, some updates have been made to the grammar and phrasebook sections of the site today.

November 30, 2011

Automatic French translation page to be suspended tomorrow

The automatic French translation service will be temporarily suspended tomorrow pending a required upgrade.

The site's dictionary, professional translation service and other features will remain unaffected.

For news of when the automatic service is reinstated, you may wish to follow @BitterCoffey on Twitter.

November 11, 2011

1,500 new words earmarked for adding to French dictionary

Followers of my Twitter feed will be aware that I am currently undertaking some more work based around the frequency of occurrence of French words in newspaper articles and other contemporary sources.

As a spin-off of this work, approximately 1,500 words used in newspaper articles which are currently missing from the dictionary have been identified. As expected, various of these relate to recent politically oriented words, as well as new discoveries or names of what were once rarer fields of science etc which have now become relatively mainstream.

Watch this space (or follow BitterCoffey on Twitter) for updates as these new words are added to the dictionary.

October 20, 2011

Activity on the French forum

Lots of interesting questions (and answers!) on the French forum today and yesterday -- keep it up!

October 10, 2011

Promo codes for French Vocab Games app

Thank you to all those who have registered for a free promo code for the French Vocab Games app for iPhone/iPad. I have had more registrations than available codes and so will be allocating available codes at random of the next couple of days.

If you are still interested in a code, then you are just about in time to register!

Links to translation articles

On the home page of the site's translation service, I've added links to various translation-related articles I've written that may be of interest to readers. In particular, you may be interested in my article on What makes a good translation?, where I set out some of the reasons why translation is not in fact the trivial, mechanical process that it is typically thought to constitute.

October 5, 2011

Performance update on French Linguistics site

After Monday's performance issues, the site now appears to be functioning normally, with 92% of requests turned round with approx 500ms and 81% of requests within approx 200ms.

A very small number of clients appear to be experiencing delays in accessing the site that are likely due to local issues.

October 3, 2011

Performance problems being investigated

The French dictionary and various other pages on the site were unavailable from 1:30am GMT due to a database performance problem which is being investigated.

Update: I've been informed that there was a general I/O problem on the server running the site and that this problem has now been resolved. I am therefore expecting the site to run normally from now on, but will be monitoring the situation. Thank you for your patience.

October 1, 2011

Planned updates to automatic translation service

Some improvements are planned for the automatic French translator provided for free on the French Linguistics site. These changes include:

  • improvements to the translations provided;
  • improvements to the "SMS decoder" function that is built into the translator;
  • improvements to additional information provided alongside translations.

If you have used the translator and have any suggestions/observations, then please feel free to tweet them to @BitterCoffey or add them as a note here.

September 30, 2011

Simplified information about French Linguistics translation service

I have revised the main page of the French Linguistics translation service, hopefully cutting away much of the clutter and moving some secondary information to other pages.

The automatic translation quotation tool is still available but has been moved to its own page. You may still of course address inquiries about translations directly to me at

Do you know a good educational app? Suggest it for review!

As you may be aware, the French Linguistics site's first foray into the world of iPhone/iPad apps began a few days ago with the launch of a new vocabulary learning app.

However, perhaps you know of another educational app (either for French or another subject) that you think other teachers/learners should know about? In preparation for a new section of the site dedicated to reviews of educational apps, I am inviting people to suggest their favourite educational apps for review.

It doesn't matter whether you are the author (or affiliated with the author) of the app or whether you're simply a user who recommends it: please send in your suggestions!

September 29, 2011

When is a past tense not a past tense...?

An interesting comment I had into the site today concerned the final example on the site's page about how to say 'would' in French.

This last example deals with the (perhaps least common) case of 'would' in English being used as a historic future: "The king would die in 1457". The equivalent of this usage in French is generally to use the future tense: Le roi mourra.... Rather than being a misformed past historic (the PH of mourir would of course be mourut), this is a genuine future tense-- just with a past or future-in-the-past interpretation. If I had a euro for every time I'd seen phrases such as "The king will die in 1457" in French museums, I'd have enough money for at least one SNCF baguette.

Now, the comment received appeared to be assuming that I had mistakenly written mourra instead of mourut, whereas in fact I genuinely intended the future form. But this got me on to the question I wanted to pose to readers: is there any genuine source of confusion here? I thought it was clear enough, but do I need to add an extra note to highlight that this really isn't a future tense? Comments welcome!

September 28, 2011

French Vocab Games app: please don't forget to leave feedback!

This is just a quick plea: for those who have already installed the French Vocab Games app on their iPhone or iPad, please don't forget to leave any relevant feedback (via the feedback button on the app's front screen, or indeed via the App Store feedback system if you prefer).

More details of planned updates will be announced shortly, but in the near future are likely to include more topics and audio.

September 26, 2011

Update to 'basic French words' page of French phrases section

I have made a small amendment has been made to the Basic French words page of the French phrases section of the web site after receiving some feedback that not all of the audio was working.

Indeed, not all of the vocab sections on this page had the audio enabled and I have now made the relevant change. I have taken advantage to order the words a little more intuitively.

As with the French phrases pages generally, the pronunciations are produced by an (albeit realistic) text-to-speech system. Such systems are primarily designed to read whole paragraphs of text and one or two of the pronunciations could ideally be tweaked a little more. So I will also be looking at the possibility of recording these words and phrases with a French speaker, as has already been done with the 200 or so pronunciations included in the site's French dictionary.

September 21, 2011

Flash cards printer

I'm making a few updates to the French vocabulary flash cards pages. If anybody has any suggestions for new topics, then feel free to let me know!

September 17, 2011

Information for reviewers of French Vocab Games app

I have put up some information for reviewers, educationalists etc wishing to review the French Vocab Games app released the other day, including information for receiving a promo code to get a free review copy of the app.

September 15, 2011

New French Vocab Games app on sale

The new French Vocab Games app for iPhone/iPad finally goes on sale in app stores today. For more details, I encourage you to check out the App store description as well as the brief announcement that I put up on the French Language Forum a short while ago.

The app is designed for students who are beginners through to around GCSE level (i.e. the first few years of a typical school French course). The vocabulary, divided into around 20 topics, is chosen to coincide with UK GCSE syllabuses, but with some adaptations to suit US learners. For a list of some of the topics, please see the App store description above.

As I'm planning regular updates for the app, I am eager to hear people's feedback. For that reason, as well as the usual App store facility to review the app, the program contains a "feedback" button where you can leave your comments/suggestions.

September 2, 2011

Imminent retirement of French mobile games

Once upon a time, when the likes of the iPhone was not even a twinkle in Steve Jobs' eye, I wrote some extremely primitive French vocabulary games for Java-enabled phones. Although they had a small vocabulary update and bug fix in 2005, they were basically written around 1999 and well, to put it bluntly... it shows.

So, these games will shortly be retired in the wake of a new French vocabulary games application for iPhone to be launched on the site in the next week or two. If you are still using an old-school Java-enabled (Java Microedition) phone, now is your last your chance to grab a copy of the Java phone games before their imminent retirement.

The first version of the iPhone app, simply entitled "French Vocab Games", is currently pending review. When available, it will be announced on this blog and on the main French Linguistics web site.

If you have not already done so, you can also subscribe to my Twitter feed @BitterCoffey where updates about this app and other news relating to the site will be announced.

August 16, 2011

When machine translation is subtly disastrous

We're used to seeing machine translation which is so disastrously wrong that the error is obvious to the point of being ridiculous. But what about when machine translation produces apparently fluent translations but with serious errors that are more difficult to detect?

August 6, 2011

Spot the scam

A frequently discussed topics among translators, and indeed communities of other professions where many work remotely and are thus susceptible to this kind of crime, is how to spot scams. I quote the following, admittedly slightly easy, example that appeared on a translators' forum today. See how many telltale signs you can spot.

July 31, 2011

French Forum prizes: survey

I am currently conducting a survey to find out your opinion on introducing prizes for the best questions and answers posted on the French Forum. Over 2,000 people either use or have passed through the forum, and so I would like to try and encourage a bit more participation. Your opinions will be gratefully received!

July 23, 2011

23 July 2011: This week on the forum

Well, things are pretty much winding down for the summer holidays, so there is a little bit less activity on the French forum. People are naturally thinking more about their sun tan lotion and bathers right now than their French verb conjugations. For that reason, I'm going to cheat slightly in this summary and mention a couple of posts from actually just over a week ago.

One interesting question always liable to lead to sub-questions was on the use of the French preposition 'de'. Like various French prepositions, 'de' has special status as it is used pre-infinitivally, and because in some cases it is arguably used as a 'case marker' rather than a preposition as such.

Another almots equally vital topic was of playground nomenclature. As a UK speaker, I confess I'm still not entirely sure what a "teeter totter" actually is.

Issues of tense usage commonly cause problems, as evidenced in this interesting question touching on tense usage and the subjunctive in French. A particular issue highlighted by this question is that in different languages, elements of a sentence such as "pastness" may actually be encoded in different parts of the sentence: there isn't always a one-to-one correspondence between e.g. which part of the sentence is in the past tense and which in the present, even though overall, the sentences convey a similar meaning.

Your questions about French language and culture are always welcome on the forum. I know you're probably too busy packing your bucket and spade to be worrying about weighty matters of subjunctive usage, but at least some of us will still be around!

June 30, 2011

French Linguistics user survey

I'm conducting another survey on the site. This one's above user interests if you have a minute!

June 21, 2011

Translation price guide added

To help those interested in contracting translations via the French Linguistics translation service, a translation price guide has now been added. It should be noted that the prices given are to serve purely as a guide, and that (as mentioned in the document) each text is priced individually, depending on the particular nature of that text, the purpose of the translation etc.

I am also currently working on some other material to aid those looking to contract this and other translation services, including information on the process involved as well as a guide as to when and when not to use machine translation (with a look at some of the specific and most dangerous types of translation error that can occur when using machine translation).

June 20, 2011

English-French revision continues...

Readers may have seen from my various tweets that I am currently revising many of the English-French entries in the dictionary, particularly those that are currently in the form of an "index". Look out for improvements over the coming weeks. Suggestions for missing words that you would like to see included are always welcome.

June 15, 2011

Your favourite translation blunder...?

You may have seen the report of Acer's slight translation mishap which I have also reported on the French Linguistics site today for all to share in their amusement.

But perhaps you have some better examples to share with the world? Perhaps you took a photograph of an amusingly embarrassing sign mistranslation while on your holidays? Let me know at -- there may also be a small reward in it for those who present the best examples!

June 11, 2011

Dictionary entry feedback

I receive a steady stream of feedback about particular dictionary entries, examples on the grammar pages and indeed the site per se. I don't usually get chance to reply personally to such feedback, but users will have noticed that valid feedback does generally end up incorporated into the site/dictionary.

I also want to alert users to the fact that you can also tweet quick feedback to me directly at @BitterCoffey. Where appropriate, I will do my best to respond directly to such feedback on Twitter.

Thank you to forum members!

There's been an excellent mix of questions/answers on the French language forum this week -- thanks to all you have contributed!

June 8, 2011

Over 2,000 members on French forum

This actually passed me by, but a few days ago we apparently reached 2,000 members on the French forum. Now obviously, I realise that nowhere near all of these are active members (though it's always good to see our growing stock of regular posters). But nontheless, it is some kind of milestone of how many people have "stopped off" at the forum to have their questions answered about French language and culture. Many thanks to al!

June 6, 2011

English-French dictionary update

Today's update to the dictionary focuses primarily on the English-French side of the dictionary and improves on various French translations of common English words.

May 23, 2011

French learning podcasts

Dear all,

As those who read the French discussion forum will be aware, I'm opening up the floor for topic suggestions for a new series of French learning podcasts that I intend to put together over the coming weeks and months. If you have a suggestion, I invite you to add an entry to the "French audio podcasts" thread.

May 21, 2011

Translation survey results

A few days ago, I invited users of the French Linguistics site to respond to a survey about their perception of translation services. I was interested in finding out how much people generally expected to pay for the translation of documents, and what their perception of translation services was generally. I also conducted a similar survey among professional translators.

A common theme among various discussion boards and forums for professional translators is how alarmed many are about an increasingly negative public perception of translation work. Translators express concern not only about a continual drop in the rates that clients are prepared to budget for for translation services (the No Peanuts! for Translators blog perhaps being among the clearest testimonies to this), but also of a more general underestimation of the amount of work and skill involved in translation work. In my survey, I was therefore keen to try and quantify this perception.

I'll be the first to admit that this survey isn't hugely scientific: little control was placed on which clients/members of the "general public" responded to the survey or whether the clients vs translators responding where involved in the same types of translation or language pairs ("clients" answering the survey are likely to be primarily interested in French, whereas only 19% of translators responding worked with the French<>English pair, for example). The sample sizes are also not terribly large or homogeneous: 95 "clients" vs 42 translators. But I think the figures that I'll present do nontheless give a "general feeling" for how grave the situation may have become.

Translators and clients were asked to give a rough "per page" estimate of how much they would expect to pay for translation. (In reality, translation is usually charged for by word count, but my own experience tells me that many translation clients tend to "think" in pages and may not be familiar with what, say, 1,000 words actually represents in real terms.) The graph above shows the somewhat telling results of this question. Of those who were able to give an estimate, 60% of clients/general public indicated that they would expect to pay $10 or less for the translation of a single page. In a typical document, this would equate to $20-$40 to translate 1,000 words of source text. Conversely, none of the professional translators responding indicated that they would expect clients to pay such a low rate, with most expecting clients to pay $50+ per page. There is a general downward trend in the percentage of "client" repsondents willing to pay prices between $20 and $50, although 15% of "client" respondents able to give a figure did indicate that they would expect to pay $50+. (Perhaps these 15% are the more "educated" clients who frequently contract translation and know what realistically to expect for their money?)

In my next post, I will give some a summary of responses to client perception of translation more generally. But I think the figures above are in themselves telling and give concrete evidence for the general perception of being undervalued that is expressed in translators' blogs and forums.

May 15, 2011

New translation survey

Eagle-eyed views (well actually, you don't need to be that eagle-eyed) will have noticed that I'm running another translation opinion survey on the French dictionary home page. I'm essentially interested in finding out what companies and individuals think of translation services from the point of view of pricing and quality.

I've written on the subject of translation processes and budgets in the past, and it's generally a hot topic among translation communities. But I'm interested in sounding the ground from translation "users" on the latest situation and know that many users of the site's French dictionary will also use translation services.

The survey is of course completely anonymous.

Many thanks to those who have already replied, and I look forward to writing on the trends that it reveals in due course once more have had change to respond.

March 18, 2011

Slight disruption this weekend

There will be one or two momentary disruptions this weekend to the French Linguistics site as a few updates are installed (and tested, fixed and reinstalled... :-) Thank you for your patience!

New grammar section: French prepositions

Readers are invited to comment on an initial version of a new addition to the French grammar section of the site dealing with prepositions in French.

The prepositions are split into various sublists: "basic" prepositions, less common prepositions, rare/archaic and compound prepositions. As with much of the site, this section will be expanded in due course, and suggestions are always welcome.

March 10, 2011

Context-sensitive phrases enabled in the automatic trandslator

Those who have been using the automatic French translator may recall that some time ago, the translator included a "context-sensitive" feature offering a set of common phrases alongside the translation. For example, if you were asking the translator for what appeared to be the translation of a business letter, a list of common letter openings and closures would be included.

This feature had to be disabled a few months ago when a change was made to the translation system. However, it has now been re-enabled.

Any feedback and suggestions on this feature or any parts of the site are always welcome.

Suggestions for new French vocab/phrases

I am looking for suggestions for expanding the French vocab and phrases section of the web site. At the bottom of the page, I invite users to enter new topic suggestions.

Updates/corrections to French grammar articles

A number of updates and corrections have been made to the French grammar articles as a result of feedback that has been sent to me via the site. I am always grateful for such feedback, so if anyone spots any more typos, please feel free to let me know!

March 4, 2011

March 1, 2011

Currency Quoter tool

Users of the French Linguistics site may be interested in the Currency Quoter tool, of which an update was released today. The tool is designed for those who operate with different currencies and need to convert between them frequently, for example in order to quote prices to their clients in other currencies.

As well as converting amounts at the current exchange, the program allows you to view previous exchange rates and calculate currency exchanges at historic rates. It also includes a feature to display the likely range of values that a particular currency exchange will have in the future. This feature is designed to be useful when billing in a particular currency, to help decide how much the value billed will actually be worth when it is paid at the term of the invoice.

January 21, 2011

Sign-ups to the French Language forum

Unfortunately there have been a few instances of spam postings appearing on the French Language forum over the last few days. So while I assess the situation, I've taken the decision to moderate all sign-ups to the forum for the next few days. This means that people signing up to the forum will experience a delay-- hopefully of just a couple of hours or so-- between signing up being able to participate in the forum, chat room etc, and I apologise in advance for this inconvenience.

January 19, 2011

Improvements to the French dictionary

Some improvements have been made to make the French-English dictionary cope a little better with lookups of feminine and plural forms. In most cases, looking up a feminine or plural form will now direct you to the entry for the base form. (In total, around 20,000 extra plural forms and around 6,000 feminine forms are now accepted in this way.)

Further work is underway to improve the dictionary's ability to recognise feminine and plural forms of nouns and adjectives and these improvements are due to be released over the coming days.

January 16, 2011

Information about the French spelling reform

The site's French grammar tutorial section contains some new information about the French spelling reform (rectifications de l'orthographe, 1990).

What may be of particular interest to learners and writers is that, as well as explaining the main reforms proposed, this section also reports on some partial results from a survey conducted last year on French speakers' opinions about the reforms. The survey revealed just how unpopular some of the proposals are: for example, the proposal to re-spell j'appellerai as j'appèlerai received the approval of only 20% of respondents. Some proposals that more clearly rectify an anomaly were more popular: just over half of respondents reported that they prefer the form cèderai over the traditional spelling céderai.

January 3, 2011

French forum: "follow thread" feature enabled

A change has been made to the gubbinry of the French Language forum that means that the "Follow" option should work in many cases where it didn't before. When you ask a question or get involved in a discussion on the forum, you may wish to click on the "Follow" button at the bottom of the page. You will then receive an e-mail when a new post is made to that thread, be it a response to your question or a continuation of the thread.

Updates and fixes

As mentioned in a previous post, the French Linguistics site was moved to a new server over the weekend.

Following this move:

- The French dictionary is being updated to include the latest additions and corrections. This means that some dictionary entries may be temporarily unavailable today while the data is being uploaded.
- A few minor corrections have been made for problems caused by compatibility issues with the new server. In particular, automatic translation quotes should now function correctly provided that the document submitted to the system is in a format recognised (currently DOC and DOCX files are recognised; for a translation quote for a PDF file, you may still have to submit it by e-mail: see the main translation service page for more details).
- Other "housekeeping" tasks are currently underway on the new server, such as running checks on the database. These may have a slight impact on the performance of the site over the next day or so. Thank you for your patience!

January 2, 2011

Happy New Year and Server Move

Happy New Year to all users of the French Linguistics web site!

The French Linguistics web site is currently being moved to a new upgraded server. This will likely cause the site to be periodically unavailable today (Sunday). Your patience is appreciated...!