I remember one of my first news shifts in the BBC World Service Pashto department. The instruction from the day producer was to translate some 74 lines into Pashto, my mother tongue. The story was written in simple and clear English, yet on many occasions my heart jumped: 'how do I translate this?' 

I still remember the phrase 'this has been seen as an olive branch'. I looked in the dictionary: there was 'branch', then 'olive', a small oval, bitter fruit. But what did that have to do with a news story about the Arab-Israeli conflict? 

Time was pressing and there was no alternative but to ask. My question brought a loud laugh from my colleagues, and a lesson for a lifetime: without a thorough knowledge of idiomatic English, translating a simple news story can be a very difficult exercise. 

Today, more and more journalists around the world for whom English is a second language are relying on news agency output in English, as well as many press briefings and news conferences held in English.

Many journalists are aware of the need for specific training in the language of news. Imagine you are writing a piece about defence. How obvious to a non-native English speaker would be the difference between 'call for', 'call up', 'call out' and 'call on'?

The BBC College of Journalism has been trying to help BBC journalists and others around the world to learn the kind of English they need. Three unique modules have been launched - and you can see them here or via the 30 College of Journalism language sites.

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  • Comment number 1. Posted by dennisjunior1

    on 12 Jun 2010 18:20

    Najiba~Hope you succeeded in the task that was given to you during the initial shifts at BBC World Service; And, you are doing many innoviative things..


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