Engineering – how the UK has shot itself in the foot

Last night, we went to see “Passengers”, a film about engineering! Two people are stuck on a huge spaceship on a 100+ year journey travelling to a colony planet. Basically, they are awake when they should be in hibernation.

Four things were particularly striking: Spoiler alert if you haven’t seen it!


Four main things struck us about the whole trip:


  1. There was an excellent ad by EDF before the film which is clearly focused on promoting engineering careers to women (their Pretty Curious campaign, see
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How native French speakers remember gender

Language challenge

My wife is a native English speaker, which means we often have debates of the “is it le or la?” variety when in France, or when translating into French. Questions like “How can a table be female?” are often asked. For English speakers, where all inanimate objects are gender – neutral, it can be hard to remember which it is. (I do often remark: “Huh! What about German, where it could be feminine, masculine or neutral?!”).

How I learned “le” or “la”

It’s a challenge to answer. Like most people whose first language has genders for nouns, I don’t remember being rote-taught the rules. I never chanted at school: “La table, le jardin, la pomme, le stylo”. It feels like I just absorbed it through my skin…

Don’t split the words

We did spend some time discussing this issue as native speakers of French and English respectively. Finally, we concluded that when foreigners learn French, they kind of separate out the article from the noun, eg “table (f)” or “stylo (m)”. But I never learned my vocabulary this way as a child. I learned the words as if the article was part of the word: “lestylo”, “latable” etc. So, because the article and the noun were never separated, it was easy to remember which gender it was. It became instinctive and automatic – as language should be.

I have tested this language theory on speakers of Spanish and Italian and it seems to be similar for them.

English doesn’t have genders

English learners usually just memorise the noun, as the article is always the same : “the”. This is why learning different genders is more of a challenge when you aren’t used to it.

So there’s the answer if you are learning French. Embed the vocabulary in your brain with the article as if it is part of the same word. Hope it helps!

If Trump doesn’t want to trade with the rest of the world, it suits us fine..

Trade is global, like it or not

Donald Trump has stated that it is his intention to restrict imports to the USA. In theory, that sounds fine – but supposing the rest of the world says, “OK Donald, same to you!” ?

I have recently bought something from China. OK, I didn’t realise it was in China, but the miracle of online shopping makes it easy. One or two clicks on Amazon (or was it ebay?) and I had bought and paid. Didn’t notice it was going to take a month to arrive at first…

Plus side for Europe

There are plenty of countries inside and outside Europe happy to take up trade opportunities that the USA lets slip.  Most speak English, but for those that don’t translation is widely available – although it’s obvious who has relied on machine translation.

Sell to French speakers

Someone rings up, wanting to sell to you. Do they say “Want to buy…..?” in any language other than English? What would you think if they asked in French? Or Spanish? Or Chinese? There’s a clue here to effective sales technique. You need to approach customers in their own language, not yours.

Sell in the right language

Supposing you want to sell to French speakers…not necessarily in France.  In Europe, French speaking countries are France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Monaco and Switzerland.

French further afield

What about countries in Africa- with hugely successful, growing economies? French speaking countries (ie where French is an official language) include Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic,  Chad, Comoros, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Congo, Republic of the Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritius,Morocco, Niger, Réunion, Rwanda, Senegal, Seychelles, Togo and Tunisia.

So if you are interested in expanding your exports, you could do a lot worse than target one or two of these countries. Also, there is a lot to be said for being able to escape the British winter and flying to one of those sunny places…

Finding customers after Brexit

Brexit – remember that?

Well, all the hoo-ha following the referendum has died down a bit. We are in the somewhat scary no-man’s-land between Vote Out and How to Deliver.  I’m really glad it’s not my job to sort that one out…

What’s the future for British businesses in this new scenario? One thing’s for sure – businesses like yours are ahead of the game. How do I know this? Because you’ve already had documents translated into French, haven’t you? You are aware that there customers who want to read about your products in a language other than English.

Where is French spoken?

French speakers aren’t just in Europe.  There are many other countries around the globe where French is a main language. Lots of them have fast-growing economies: Algeria, Canada, Rwanda, Morocco, Cameroon, Madagascar, Ivory Coast and Senegal to name a few. Around 388 million people speak French around the world. Businesses presenting their offer in French as well as English can reach a lot of extra customers.

Easy way to find new customers

If you are actively seeking to find new customers overseas, it is well worth your while signing up here:

This government site will automatically send you details of relevant business opportunities around the world. Sounds good, pointing out directly for you, potential customers, doesn’t it?

I hope it’s useful to you – have a good November!

The French are like the Italians!

Here are ten ways they are similar:
Words and language

They have lots of vocabulary in common – because the languages come from the Latin eg “sud” for”south”. Being French translators, we can often guess the meaning of signs in Italian.


They both like very expensive pastry and croissant-like things which are outrageously pricy, and they eat these things for breakfast!
Both countries grow very delicious tomatoes, unlike the pallid, crunchy drink of water types we have in the UK.

On the road

There are some real nutcase drivers on French roads, and even more on Italian roads (mostly on motorbikes). Translators spend a lot of time helping foreign drivers who have accidents on French or Italian roads!


Both the French and the Italians are predominantly Roman Catholics and even small villages often have churches which resemble cathedrals!

Culture and attitude

The Italians and the French both have many heartfelt songs about love – and it’s the words and story that really matters – eg the opera.

The French and the Italians are equally proud of their food and their wine.

Identity and politics

Both the Italians and the French describe their flag as the 3-coloured flag – the tricolore, spelled the same (but pronounced differently).

Both France and Italy are relatively recent republics.

In both France and Italy, local government (commune – the same in both languages) power is often vested in the local mayor who can have significant decision-making power and responsibility even in small towns.

And here is a very important 11th – the French and the Italians enjoy much more sunshine than the Brits!

French dogs are more amenable than English dogs!

More differences between the French and the English

Something which always puzzles us when we are travelling around in France is the number of dogs you see hanging around without a lead, including in towns.

Several times we have seen really quite young puppies (no more than 3 months) obediently following their French owners while they trot along the street. Quite often you see a French dogs, NOT TIED UP, sitting quietly outside a shop. They are waiting patiently for their owner to make his/her purchases and come out.  I really don’t understand how they manage this. I know some dogs are amenable in this way in the UK but you don’t see so many owners confidently expecting them to abide by the rules of the road/pavement. We have had two labradors. The last one could be 100% trusted to walk alongside you and not run off, whatever the temptation. The current one, however, is given to taking unreasonable dislikes – extending to murderous intent! – to other dogs on a pretty random basis and has been known to shoot off ignoring frantic calls to come back when attracted by, say, a squirrel or any kind of food.

Dogs welcome in restaurants

The other thing which is quite different between French and English dog owners is that you quite often see French dogs sitting in restaurants and cafes, even sometimes at the table! Shops in the UK (food or otherwise) nearly all have signs forbidding entrance by dogs except guide dogs. Does this mean that French owners are more inclined to see their pets as equal family members, in the same way as they see them being entitled to wander around the street without being on a lead?