Why do we need multilingual technical manuals?

A workman consulting a manual
I wish I could understand the manual

My background

I have always loved learning languages and I studied French and German as subsidiary subjects at university.  However  my first real job when I left college was as a technician in a metallurgical laboratory in a large engineering works. The laboratory was headed by a formidable female Russian engineer.  We would often be asked for help by other departments who had bought equipment from abroad and  were struggling to understand the technical manuals that came with it. Often these manuals would also have very poor and difficult to understand illustrations. Sometimes the text in the pictures was different from the text on the page leaving everyone baffled. Staff were often reluctant to be the first one to use the new machine in case they damaged it.

Getting the right manual

When you buy a piece of equipment which costs several thousand pounds it is important that it comes with a manual that is accurate and easy to understand. The person doing the translating needs to understand the technical side of what they are translating but also needs to be able to write in a way that sounds natural and is enjoyable to read. If the manual has been translated into English it is important to think that the person using the equipment may not have English as a first language and may not be familiar with obscure technical vocabulary. The quality of the technical documentation can help determine if the equipment will be used properly and looked after.  If a product has a good easy to understand and attractively presented manual the buyer is far more likely to consider purchasing further equipment from the same manufacturer.

Now  I enjoy travelling and we usually stay in a rented apartment. I have found it can be difficult trying to use a cooker or washing machine if  the user manual is only in German or Spanish. In an ideal world all equipment would come with multilingual technical manuals

Although English is rapidly becoming the main world language many people lack the  vocabulary needed to understand a technical manual and would prefer a manual written in their mother tongue with familiar illustrations. This would give them the confidence to use the piece of equipment properly. I think it also shows that a company is going the extra mile if they provide a well thought out manual in the local language.

Have you had problems understanding a manual when you have tried to use a piece of equipment you have bought?  Did you struggle to use the washing machine when you were renting abroad.?  I would love to hear your stories in the comments below. Perhaps we can help persuade firms to provide instructions that are clear, simple and easy to understand.

A day out in Wells

Sightseeing in Wells, England’s smallest city

Anyone who is following this blog knows that I earn some pocket money by mystery shopping.  Last week I was asked to go to Wells to buy some chocolate  ice cream. My husband came with me and we had a good lunch at the Quarter Jack and visited the first world war exhibition in the museum.  We both love Wells so I have written a few notes and taken some photos to encourage you to visit.

Wells is England’s smallest city with only 12,000 inhabitants. It is a very easy bus ride from Bristol or Bath across the Mendips hills. You can also combine a visit to Wells with a trip to Glastonbury, home of the music festival, the Clark’s shopping village in Street or Cheddar caves.  The tourist office has a town trail map and this provides  a  short walking tour of the main attractions.  Wells takes its name from a spring in the garden of the bishop’s palace and water from it is still made to flow through the gutters to clean the streets.  The Wells tourist website has more information about the city and its history.

The Cathedral


Wells is probably best known for its enormous gothic cathedral built between the 12th and the 15th century.  It has one of the oldest clocks in England and a chained library.  (Think Harry Potter).  Admission is by donation and free guided tours are offered every day except Sunday.  The city has a famous choir school and choristers sing at many of the services. Also be sure to look out for the resident cathedral cat.  More information can be found here Wells cathedral website

The Bishop’s Palace

Men playing croquet in front of the bishop's palace Wells
A croquet match in progress on the lawn in front of the bishop’s palace

The bishop’s palace is next to the cathedral and is famous for having its own moat which is home to a family of Swans.  For centuries they have rung a bell when they need feeding.  Once a year the bishop holds a raft race on the moat.  Wells has adopted the swan as its emblem.  The palace has been home to the bishop of Bath and Wells for 800 years.  It also has a beautiful 14 acre garden  and a tea shop I can personally recommend.  You can buy tickets from the gift shop.    Bishop’s palace website

The photo shows a pair of swans with seven small cygnets
This was the Swan family on the moat taken a couple of years ago.

The cathedral close

This is a beautifully preserved street originally used to house officials from the church.  The houses date back to the 14th century and the street is still cobbled.

Terrace houses with high chimneys from the cathedral close in Wells
This shows part of the cathedral close in Wells

The last fighting Tommy

Outside the museum is a memorial to Harry Patch the last surviving soldier from world war 1.  He died in 2009 at the age of 111 and his funeral in Wells cathedral was televised by the BBC.  In later life he became a very fervent pacifist.

The photo shows a soldier sitting in a trench
Wells museum has an exhibition to mark 100 years since the end of the first world war.  I took this photo of a Tommy sitting in a trench.

Eating, drinking and shopping

Wells has a very busy high street with a variety of shops  coffee bars and restaurants to suit all budgets. A farmers market is held twice a week where you can buy a wide variety of West country delicacies including cheddar cheese and Somerset cider. We normally eat in the Quarter Jack (named for the figures who strike the quarter hours on the cathedral clock) which I can recommend for a reasonably priced meal.

If you want to find out more about Wells, Cathedrals or Harry Patch.  Here are three books I recommend.  If you are staying in the area you might want to check out a couple of my other blog posts: Two national trust properties to visit near Bath or Westonbirt Arboretum



Visiting the Alhambra



Gateway to the Alhambra photograph Richard Fraser

The Alhambra is one of the most visited monuments in Spain.  It is probably the main reason  why most people visit Granada and it has certainly been on my bucket list for quite while. It is also a UNESCO world heritage site.

So when my son said he would like to visit it I was keen to join him.  We had been advised to book tickets online before we flew to Spain  to save time.   I was surprised how reasonable ticket prices were at between seven and fifteen  Euros each.  We also booked an English tour and we were very pleased we did.  Our guide actually had an M.A. in Islamic studies and was able to translate the classical Arabic inscriptions which decorate the walls. We were given headsets which enabled us to hear her clearly.

Click here to book tickets up to three months in advance

If you are visiting the Alhambra you will need to show your passport or identity card.  We caught the bus from Malaga which took about two hours and then took a taxi to the Alhambra.  I am lucky that my son speaks Spanish and was able to act as our interpreter.

The Alhambra was built between the 11th and 15th century during the Moorish occupation of Spain. The name means the red one and reflects the colour of the local clay. I had not realised quite how big it is.  It is a fortress and palace complex covering  35 acres. It was once home to several thousand people including a sizable Jewish population.  We did a three hour walking tour and my pedometer recorded almost twenty thousand steps.  Yet I still felt I had only seen a small part of it.

This shows the layout of the soldier's quaters
The remains of houses for the soldiers. The modern city of Granada is in the background. photograph Richard Fraser

The complex evolved organically over time but most of the palaces were built in the 14th century by the Nasrid dynasty.  In 1492 the Moslems were defeated by king Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain and the Alhambra fell into disrepair. Now Ferdinand and Isabella are probably best known for backing Columbus’s voyage to America and for historians 1492 marks the end of the middle ages.

Looking out through an Islamic window in the Alhambra
A window with Islamic arch and decorated plasterwork

Our ticket did not include the Nazerini palaces but did include the Generalife gardens. The Generalife palace was used as a summer palace and the gardens are planted with fragrant roses, oranges and jasmine. Like most Arabic gardens they are filled with pools and gentle fountains. Water was suppled by a five mile conduit from the local river.

Garden showing a pool and low hedge.
The Gardens of the Generalife palace. photograph Richard Fraser

The Alhambra is on top of a steep hill and we walked through pine woods to reach the top. Although it is in southern Spain it was quite windy and cold at the top and I wished I had worn a coat.

The site has cafes and souvenir shops and for the less adventurous a car and coach park near the entrance.

You can see the White walls and redish brown roofs of Granada
The modern city of Granada seen from the Alhambra

This post follows on from Half term in Malaga

Half term in Malaga


The photo is of an orange bird of Paradise flower
Bird of Paradise flower

One thing I was looking forward to when my children grew up was not having to go away during the school holidays.  However two of them decided to become teachers.  When my son asked if we fancied going to Spain for half term I leapt at the chance.  I am pleased to say I have managed to pass on my love of history and languages.

He wanted some late sunshine and suggested a visit to Malaga the southernmost large city in Europe.   The southern Coast of Spain is known as the Costa del Sol, sun coast and is only about 80 miles from the north coast of Africa.  I had never stayed in that part of Spain  but my daughter,    my son’s twin, spent three months in Seville working in a primary school as an English language assistant  with the Erasmus scheme a couple of years ago.  We loved the photos she sent  us of Andalucia.

We were able to get a last minute Easy  Jet flight from Bristol and my son found an apartment to rent close to the sea.



Malaga is one of the oldest cities in Europe. It  was probably founded by the Phoenicians about  700 B.C. and seems to have kept the same name with slightly different spellings for over two thousand years. Now it is the sixth largest city in Spain and the fourth largest in terms of economic activity.  It has over six hundred thousand inhabitants. Today  Malaga is  a large cosmopolitan city with a good public transport network, lots of shops restaurants  and best of all a long sandy beach. The  cathedral is known as the one armed lady as curiously one tower was never finished.  I was surprised at the large number of parks and trees.  I think this year has been unusually rainy which meant that everywhere looked very green which I had not been expecting.

Antonio Banderas and Pablo Picasso were both born in the city.  The airport is named after Pablo Picasso and there is also a Pablo Picasso Museum.


The centre of the city has remains from the Roman, Arabic and Christian Era.

The city has a Roman amphitheatre which was only rediscovered about a hundred years ago.

A picture of the Roman amphithetre
The Roman amphitheatre is free to visit.


The Moors occupied Southern Spain for about 600 years until 1492:  The same year as Columbus sailed to America. Malaga was an important city and the Alcazabah  (the Kasbah) which was their fort and also the site of a palace for the Nazerini family is very interesting and suprisingingly well preserved with lovely gardens and thick walls.  It is surrounded by palm and pine woods.

This shows walls and arches in the Alcazabi
Arches in the Nazarini Palace in the Alcazaba. photo William Fraser
The path up the hill in Malaga
The climb up the hill. photo Richard Fraser

A combined ticket for the Gibalfaro  and the Alkasbah costs about 5 Euros. The Gibalfaro  which is higher up the hill can be reached on the city hop on hop off bus or by a steep climb.  At the top you are rewarded by beautiful views over the city.

A bell tower and Flags at the top
The top of the Gibalfaro (lighthouse rock).

I also learnt a new Spanish word abuelita (little grandma)  as I was climbing up but we made it.

We are standing in the gardens of the Gibafaros
La abuelita. It was a long climb but we made it.

A good guide book for the region