Ian Mac Eochagáin
Trainers’ House: big name, top clients, terrible English
Trainers’ House is a significant Finnish consultancy firm that focuses on overhauling its clients’ strategy and coaching their employees. The firm is very well-known in Finland and has served some big-name clients such as Kone, OP and Metsä. It has an international presence, too, with offices in Estonia and Spain.
I’m not planning on a full-scale demolition of Trainers’ House’s English, as I did with Finnair and Neste. This is because the English on its website, www.trainershouse.fi, isn’t entirely bad: it’s just that critical parts of it are bad. Here, I’ll first review some painful examples of the firm’s bad English and then discuss why it’s so bad.
The pages which explain what the company does, under We will help you when, are in tolerably good English for such a large company. The part of the website with shockingly bad English is the success stories, or cases, as the firm calls them. Trainers’ House considers them so important that it links to them on the homepage. Unfortunately, the firm has not invested in this content.
These cases are translated word-for-word from Finnish: they are Finglish, pure and simple. They are so halting and juddering that the reader is distracted by the grinding and bumping sounds in their head as they read. This text doesn’t flow; it’s stuck. It’s not really English. Let’s take a few examples.
I’ll analyse a case study of cleaning company Lassila & Tikanoja. I only use examples from a single webpage in this blog post, but I have looked at other case studies on the Trainers’ House website, and the English in all of them is generally as bad as in this one.
First impressions last
The whole case study begins thus:
“Cleaning has been able to improve significantly its business compared to the previous periods and cooperation with Trainers’ House has played a role in that.” Lassila Tikanoja’s Business Director Antti Niitynpää says.
First: what does “cleaning” mean? I had to read the Finnish-language version to realize they meant “the cleaning department” or “cleaning business” in the company. “Cleaning” alone doesn’t work in the very first paragraph of this text.
Second, the adjective “significantly” is in the wrong place. Thus, this important first paragraph could instantly be made much clearer by making these two tweaks:
“Our cleaning operations have been able to improve their business significantly compared to the previous periods…”
But there’s more here to work on. The words “improve their business significantly” are not very exciting. This paragraph could get an injection of life through some rewriting:
“Our cleaning business is now performing much more strongly than before, and we have Trainers’ House to thank for that,” Lassila & Tikanoja’s Business Director Antti Niitynpää says.
(Did you note any other changes I made? I changed the incorrect full stop at the end of the quotation and inserted the ampersand into the company’s name, which had been incorrectly left out.)
Lightening the reader’s burden
These two sentences, further down, feel extremely laboured:
Lassila & Tikanoja wants to be the biggest and best cleaning company in Finland. The goal required a journey of change where job roles changed to support the strategy. The change is successful when people are able to take the new role into everyday life and thereby become visible to the customer. L&T wanted to develop the customer and personnel experience.
What are the problems in these two red sentences? The language doesn’t flow well. Each individual word feels like a job to process as you read it. Finnish grammar is strongly influencing the English here. The second sentence is a bit of a mystery: what exactly does “take the new role into everyday life” mean? These sentences are an extremely complex attempt at saying “we changed what we did to reach our goal”. Here is my attempt at rewriting them:
Achieving that meant change: people’s roles were adapted to support the strategy. If people can fulfil those new roles in practice every day, so customers see them too, then the transformation can succeed.
This is now easier for the average reader to understand.
Passive to active, woolly to specific
Further down the page we have this:
“Working according to the new roles has been achieved, the focus on solutions has improved, the critical weekly tasks have raised the level of requirements and the work has been made to focus on the right things. The increase in the level of requirements is the same for everyone. The measures of personnel satisfaction have gone in a better direction thanks to the cooperation.”
Finnish uses the passive a lot, which this paragraph reflects. But that’s not the only problem here: the tone of the second sentence, “the increase in the level of requirements”, is very abstract. It doesn’t seem to fit in. It could be inserted anywhere. Then in the last sentence, the final “thanks to the cooperation” is a huge missed opportunity. “The cooperation” is the whole point, it’s the product Trainers’ House is selling, and yet when they put these words in their client’s mouth in English, they’re making the product sound dry, generic, bureaucratic and anonymous.
“We’re now working in our transformed roles, we’re more solution-focused, we demand more of ourselves through our critical weekly tasks, and we make our work focus on the right things. Each one of now has to meet higher standards. The service we got from Trainers’ House means our staff are now more satisfied with their jobs.”
So: I made the passive active, I made the abstract words specific, and I put a name on what was previously nameless.
To summarize: why is the English in this case study so bad?
It is translated word for word from Finnish.
Adjectives are in the wrong places.
The punctuation is incorrect.
The sentences do not flow smoothly.
There are too many abstract words and too much passive voice.
Combined, all these mean one thing: the text does not do the work it is supposed to, promoting Trainers’ House services to prospective clients. Every case study on this website should help market the entire firm. As it stands, they don’t do that.
Two alternative recipes for failure
Why does such a large firm with well-known clients and an international presence have such unreadable English on its website? There are only two possible reasons:
Trainers’ House took the “DIY and save” route: its own or its clients’ employees wrote the texts, ran a spell check, and put them online.
Trainers’ House ordered a translation from a big, cheap agency. Large agencies generally don’t care about how the translation sounds: they just want to get the translation out the door as fast as possible.
So, which was it? Maybe the discussion here in the comments or on social media will answer that.
Finnish companies: don’t do your own English and save: it’s a false economy. And don’t waste your time with faceless translation agencies: contact me and I’ll give you English you won’t be ashamed of. And if you’re not happy, I’ll give you your money back.