lab mouse

Human Language Gene Helps Mice Learn

Creepy but cool: Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have inserted the “human language gene” into mice. The result:

Okay, not really. But the gene-spliced mice were able to navigate certain types of mazes faster than their un-enhanced counterparts.  So what does this tell us about how humans developed language?

Mice genetically engineered to carry the human version of the Fox2P gene learned to navigate a maze to find chocolate in only 7 days, compared to the 11 days it took regular mice. The maze was set up to encourage the mice to use two types of memory: procedural memory, which relies on conscious decisions using navigational cues like landmarks, and procedural memory, which relies on routine habits.

The mice with the humanized Fox2P gene only learned faster than regular mice when they were able to use both types of memory. In mazes that only allowed one type of learning, the two groups of mice performed the same. MIT professor Ann Graybiel, a senior author of the study, told MIT News that the results suggest the Fox2P gene helps enable us to use language by learning new words and then forming unconscious, routine associations with the objects they describe.

In the MIT News press release, Graybiel said:

 “This really is an important brick in the wall saying that the form of the gene that allowed us to speak may have something to do with a special kind of learning, which takes us from having to make conscious associations in order to act to a nearly automatic-pilot way of acting based on the cues around us.”

The FOX2P gene isn’t the only gene that affects language function, but it’s one of the most well-known. It was discovered in the 1990s in family with severe inherited speech and language issues.

There is no word yet as to whether the “humanized” Fox2P mice have begun making plans for world domination, but presumably it’s only a matter of time.

Photo Credit: AttributionShare Alike Some rights reserved by theglobalpanorama

os dahaan

Want to Learn Dothraki?

You can give a toast in Klingon. You can read poetry in Sindarin. What fantasy language should you learn next? Dothraki, of course! Thanks to a new online course, Game of Thrones fans can now follow in Daenerys’ footsteps by learning to speak the language of the Dothraki horse lords.

 The Dothraki course is being offered by Living Language, a language learning company that offers written and online courses “using techniques originally developed for the U.S. State Department.” The Dothraki course was developed with the help of David J. Peterson, co-founder of the Language Creation Society, who developed the language for the Game of Thrones TV series and works as a language creator and “alien culture consultant” for other fantasy/scifi shows. Basically, he has one of the coolest jobs on the planet.

You can choose from two different course options, depending on your desired level of proficiency. The Basic course costs $19.99, and will teach you how to pronounce words in Dothraki, how to construct sentences and how to say 200 different vocabulary words. The “expanded” online course costs $30.00 and gives you 500 vocabulary words, as well as more detailed guides to grammar and pronunciation, more ways to practice and more information about Dothraki culture. Finally, students in the either course have the option to buy a companion app for their smart phone, though there’s no word yet on which operating systems will be supported.

In a press release, Peterson said,

“I’m thrilled to be working with Living Language to produce the first official Dothraki text,” says Peterson. “This book will take you from arakh to zhavvorsa in no time, and the audio samples will help you perfect your pronunciation. I often get the question, ‘When will there be a Dothraki guide I can buy?’ The answer is now, thanks to Living Language. Me nem nesa!”

If you want to learn Dothraki but you don’t necessarily want to pay for it, you can always head over to the Tongues of Ice and Fire website, which has a full Dothraki dictionary, a wiki and forums available.

Photo Credit: Attribution Some rights reserved by PatLoika


Translating The World Retail Congress

One of the biggest retail events of the year takes place in Paris on the 29th September – 01 October 2014, it is the World Retail Congress. This year the theme is “Retailing in a disrupted world”. As retail faces new challenges with new technology “disrupting” the old ways of shopping and consumers behave differently, business models and strategies need to reflect this. This is especially true in my world of internationalisation and translation.

As some of you know K international works with some large retailers (like Tesco and M&S), helping them to put their products on shelves all over the world by providing a language translation service specifically tailored to the retail sector. If you are an emerging retailer and look to expand into new markets, we have the experience and knowledge to assist you in your journey. If you are already established in new markets we can work with you to improve the translation and artwork processes to smoothly run your linguistic operations. We supply a quality retail translation service starting with product specification and description and finishing on translation of your technology solutions. At all times we work along side our clients and in line with their brand message. Read more


13 Superstitions from Around the World

According my calendar of offbeat holidays, the 13th of September is Defy Superstition Day. I’d never heard of this holiday before and I’m not sure who founded it, but it’s supposed to be a day “to break those superstitious beliefs that you have been living with most, or all, of your life.”

Not sure how to celebrate? In honor of Defy Superstition Day, here are 13 superstitions from around the world:

1. Sleeping in a closed room with a fan on will kill you: This is a fairly common superstition in South Korea, dating back to the ’20s and ’30s. Death is believed to occur from hypothermia or asphyxiation.

2. If you chew gum after dark, it turns into dead flesh. This one hails from Turkey. 

3. If you have to re-enter a friend’s home to pick up something you forgot, you must look in the mirror before you leave again.  This one is from Russia. Forgetting things is bad luck; looking in the mirror helps reduce the bad luck.

4.  Whistling in the house is bad luck. Also from Russia.

5.  It’s bad luck to leave a house through a different door than you came in from. Country of Origin: Romania

6. Walking with only one shoe on could cause a death in the family.  This variation of “step on a crack, break your mother’s back” is from Romania.

7. Placing a loaf of bread upside-down on the table will cause everyone at the table to go hungry. This is from France, where it was once customary for shopkeepers to leave a loaf of bread upside-down for the town executioner.

8. Seeing a calico cat foretells your accidental demise. We’ve all heard of black cats bringing bad luck, but this belief about calicos comes  from Normandy, France.

9. The number four is unlucky in Chinese culture. The pronunciation for “four” is similar to that of the word “death,” so the number four is considered to be a very bad omen, to the point that Chinese people often go out of their way to avoid it. Some buildings are built without a fourth floor, license plates often omit the number, and many Chinese people simply will not accept a phone number with the number four in it.

10. Cutting your fingernails on a Saturday will bring bad luck, according to some in India.

11. Cutting your fingernails at night is bad luck, according to the Japanese. Cut them tonight for maximum defiance!

12. Leaving your purse on the floor is bad luck/will make you go broke. This one is apparently common to several different cultures. I’ve found it listed as Polish, Spanish and Chinese.

13.  We all know spilling salt is supposed to be bad luck, but in Italy, it’s also considered bad luck to spill olive oil! 

Can you think of any unusual local superstitions? Share them in the comments!

Supporting the MK Food Bank

Supporting the Community

What a massive heart!  The team at K International show yet another way of helping to communicate care in the local community.  Their contribution to the MK Foodbank during Harvest Festival will see many families being fed over the coming weeks.  Many thanks to the K International family

Donation to MK Food Bank

The Food Bank’s aim is that no child or adult goes to bed hungry in Milton Keynes!

Run By The Community, For The Community

Set up in 2004 by a local Christian Centre, led by Mark Sherratt, the Senior Pastor, The Food Bank relies entirely on donations of food and money from local schools, churches, businesses, organisations and individuals, working together to fulfil the aim and making sure that no child or adult should go to bed hungry.  It is manned purely by volunteers who donate their time in a variety of ways to make sure that the service is run to precision, whilst giving opportunities for school groups, offenders and those with all manner of disabilities to become involved in the sessions to develop skills in the warehouse

Milton Keynes Foodbank

How Does The Food Bank Work?

Referral Agencies identify families and individuals who need our support and issue a voucher entitling them to a food parcel. Clients can receive a food parcel 5 times in a rolling 12 month period although some cases may need a bit more flexibility for further help. Within this service there is also time for a chat and a cup of tea.

You can get involved by supporting your local food bank via the Trussell Trust, or if you are a fellow resident of MK, the Milton Keynes Food Bank

translation word cloud

Demand for Translation Services is Booming

Translation apps and machine translation tools like Google Translate are all the rage, but how is this affecting the translation industry? I’m sure everyone has a war story or two about potential clients who think they can get away with using Google Translate, but even with the availability of “free” translation services, demand for professional translation services is growing by leaps and bounds.

According to the The Dallas Morning News, in the United States alone the number of jobs available for translators has doubled over the past ten years, and is expected to increase by another 46 percent by 2022. Wages are going up, too. Jiri Stejskal, a spokesman for the American Translators Association, said:

“Good translators who specialize in a particular subject and become really good at it can really make six-digit figures annually. The professional translators and interpreters … they are pretty happy right now because the economy is good and the jobs are there.”

Meanwhile, the worldwide value of the language services industry is up to $37.2 billion this year, a 6.2 percent increase from last year. Market research firm Common Sense Advisory predicts that number to climb to $47 billion by 2018.

In March, Inc Magazine chose the translation industry as one of the best industries to start a business in 2014, citing massively increasing demand. More and more companies are choosing to go global, and as they expand into new markets, they need to translate their business materials for both customers and employees alike. As Rick Antezana of Dynamic Language told Inc:

“Tracking all that content and translating it accurately takes so much. There have to be multiple steps in the quality control process so the content doesn’t embarrass the company.”

And what about Google Translate? You might think it would hurt demand, but industry experts say the opposite is true. According to the Dallas Morning News,

Online translation services like Google Translate actually raise demand for human translators and interpreters, experts said. “Even Google doesn’t use Google Translate for their business documents,” [American Translator Lillian] Clementi said.

british army

New Foreign Language Requirements for British Army

The British Army is getting serious about foreign languages. According to The Telegraph, starting in 2018 soldiers will need at least some foreign language training if they wish to be promoted above the rank of Captain.

The move is meant to help improve cultural awareness and make it easier for the military to communicate with local people during overseas deployments.  Some experts believe that better cultural awareness would have improved outcomes in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

The requirement is new, but according to outside experts and senior military officers alike, the goal is a return to an older model of military service, one that is less reliant on brute force and more reliant on “people skills” to gain cooperation. For example,  James de Waal, senior fellow for international security at international affairs think-tank Chatham House, told the Financial Times,

“In part it’s a return to a traditional British empire policing role – chaps in long khaki shorts dealing with locals with low levels of force but high levels of nous.”

Meanwhile, a senior officer told The Telegraph that

“Many of our forebears would have been embarrassed to see how little knowledge we arrived with in Iraq and Afghanistan. In our great grandfathers’ time, when they served in those regions, they spoke the languages and knew the people.”

Starting this year, subunit commanders will be offered language training, primarily in French and Arabic.  Fluency is not the goal, an army spokeswoman said in a statement to Soldier Magazine:

“Bi-lateral relationships are essential for the Army’s future focus on defence engagement. Officers aiming to be considered for subunit command appointments starting in 2018 will need to demonstrate basic survival level speaking and listening skills in a foreign language.”

Do you think the new requirements are a good idea?

Photo credit: Attribution Some rights reserved by isafmedia


The Alligator Song: Resurrecting the Houma Language

The Houma are a Native American tribe who originally lived in what is now Mississippi and spoke a language closely related to Choctaw. After European colonists arrived, they allied themselves with the French and began to migrate further south, into what is now Louisiana.

Today, many Houma still live a somewhat traditional lifestyle, fishing and hunting in the Louisiana swamps.  Their language, however, has been lost since the beginning of the 19th century. They now speak English and Louisiana (Cajun) French.

Now, some members of the tribe are trying to resurrect it, despite the fact that the language was not written and was only minimally documented before it disappeared.

For the past year, efforts to rebuild the language have focused on translating a recording of an old Houma children’s song, called “Chan-Chuba” or “The Alligator Song.” Houma parents used to tease their children with this song, chasing their little ones while they “chomped” the air with their hands.

Nobody living could remember the words of the song, but last year Colleen Billiot found a tape of her great-grandmother singing it. Billiot told the News Star:

“When we played it, it was like we were unlocking a trunk that had been locked up and covered in dust. It’s my great-grandmother who died before I was born. I heard her sing it, and I said, ‘This is a connection to my past.'”

She and another tribe member, Hali Dardar, have been leading the effort to translate the song. They hope that doing so will give them a start on reconstructing the Houma language.

The odds would seem to be against them, unfortunately. The language was hardly documented before it vanished. In addition to the recording, tribe members are searching libraries around the globe for scraps of the language that might have been documented by long-ago missionaries.

Anthropologist John R. Swanton visited the Houma in 1907, and compiled a vocabulary list of 75 words. Unfortunately, according to Wikipedia there is some debate over whether or not these words are all Houma — they may instead be from a trade language called Mobilian Trade Jargon.

According to the News Star, a Louisiana State University student is translating a memoir in French that may contain some clues about the language, and there may be additional documentation in libraries in Canada and Paris.

Even if the entire language is never reconstructed, hopefully the song will be translated, and Houma parents can sing it for their children again.

Photo credit: Attribution Some rights reserved by Bogeskov


Endangered Languages: A Consequence of Prosperity?

Are languages dying as a result of economic growth? That’s the conclusion of a new study from researchers at the University of Cambridge.  But does it have to be that way? Dr. Tatsuya Amano, who led the study, has a background in animal extinction. Given that one in four languages around the world are threatened with extinction, the researchers decided to analyze where the languages most under threat were located and what those regions had in common. They found that the most developed regions of the world, like the US, Europe and Australia, had the highest rate of extinctions. As Dr. Amano explained to the BBC:

“World languages are now rapidly being lost. This is a very serious situation. We wanted to know how the extinction is distributed globally and what are the main drivers of this…As economies develop, one language often comes to dominate a nation’s political and educational spheres. People are forced to adopt the dominant language or risk being left out in the cold – economically and politically.”

Is language death a necessary consequence of development, though? Should we just let threatened languages die off in the name of spreading global prosperity? Some people certainly do see it that way. Tim Worstall of Forbes says that “ we shouldn’t worry too much about languages disappearing: because that is a signal that economic development is happening, people are becoming less poor.”  He advocates letting them die, but preserving recordings and dictionaries and other documentation for scholars to study. 

That argument ignores a few very important points, though. First, as a rule,  when a language dies people tend to feel like they’ve lost something of value, an important part of their cultural identity. Consider how many different groups, from Native Americans to minority language speakers in Europe, go through considerable amounts of  trouble and expense  to try to preserve or resurrect their languages.  In theory, at least, it should be easier to keep them from declining in the first place.

Besides, we now know that it’s not really an either/or choice between learning a dominant language like English and learning the native language of a given community. As long as children are exposed to both languages at an early age they are quite capable of learning both, and switching between them as required for business.

Also, as Gregory Anderson, the president of Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages pointed out on al-Jazeera, from a historical perspective most cases of language extinction aren’t voluntary. There is almost always some type of force involved:

“There is a whole complex of historical and social factors, including discrimination … and disenfranchisement behind communities who abandon their language,” Anderson said. “It’s in many cases a response communities have to being mistreated and having their very identity devalued.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments!

The Retail Conference 2014

Translation at the Retail Conference 2014

The Retail Conference 2014 is taking place on Wednesday 17th September 2014 at America Square Conference Centre in London.

This is the 8th time conference takes place and as a well established event it became a key platform to share industry knowledge and discuss retail`s hottest topics. This year’s retail conference will attract between 150 and 200 delegates making it a fantastic opportunity to network with some of the leading minds in this sector.

Clare RaynerA great example of the passion and professionalism found at this event is the founder and managing director of The Retail Conference, Clare Rauner. Known in the industry as The Retail Champion she is an expert in current and future trends and routes to success as well an exceptionally good visionary individual with a real feel for the market.

Clare wrote the books ‘The Retail Champion: 10 Steps to Retail Success’ and ‘How to Sell to Retail: The Secrets to Getting Your Product to Market’ both of these are an absolute must-read.

Personally I am very passionate about the world of retail and caught the retail bug whilst working in the industry with clients like Tesco and M&S. Working with these clients my company helps them to put their products on shelf all over the world by providing a language translation service specifically tailored to the retail sector.

The event will also be an opportunity to share opinions on matters that are important to retailers, subjects like what makes brands successful, how to conduct efficient market analysis and how to achieve effective true multichannel communication.

K International`s involvement in all this is to create emotional engagement with consumers regardless of the language(s) used. Two way communication between your brand and your consumers is a key builder of trust and therefore a vital element of your international retail strategy.

Some Presentations of Note

During the event I particularly look forward to seeing Jeremy Michael, Managing Director, Service Management Group. Service Management Group (SMG) is a research agency conducting store-level, ongoing customer experience measurement. The presentation will be a joined one with Bruce Gibson, Head of Retail, Hobbycraft. The tittle “Crafting the Future: How Hobbycraft has driven commercial success through listening to its customers” suggest that both listening to consumers and responding accordingly will be one of the key indicators that consumers mention when highlighting great shopping experiences. I wonder whether SMG had conducted studies on how translation and product adaptation to new regions influenced figures?

I am also very keen to see Karl Reindl, Managing Director, Youstice presenting “How to Build Consumer Trust in an Online World”. Technology is a key influencer in all industries, our clients talk about the ‘clicks and mortar’ business model (which we develop multilingual solutions for) and our own workflow technology is constantly being updated to handle the latest trends

Another interesting point of Karl`s presentation will no doubt be a discussion on the most effective communication channels for delivering customer care. I suspect that it will mention that how we communicate is crucial. To inform the customer about a product is not enough, we need to create a message that will be truly meaningful as this will be the catalyst to buy. If we think about it, with today`s content packed Online World the message needs to stand out to engage consumers, often the first two lines describing product will be all that customer will read, as we have more choice and less time, consumers will ignore boring, inadequate and dull messages.

Richard Wonnacott, Retail Business Consultant, Microstrategy will present on “Standing at the nexus of big data, business analytics and mobile”. Richard will present to highlight how important it is to efficiently manage information within the business. I look forward to seeing a presentation on how managing information can contribute to the success of a company as it is something that we have engaged in here, managing linguistic assets of our clients across countries and continents. Once your business goes global, you will face linguistic challenges both internally and externally. The staff will require training, the legal team will engage with local authorities, reports from local suppliers will be sent in different languages. Managing this asset centrally will guarantee consistency of terminology across communication channels.

I Hope to See You There

Agnieszka AnimuckaLooking forward to this great experience and I hope to meet real retail enthusiasts along the way.

Be very happy to talk about your language challenges and potential retail expansion plans. We are experienced partners to some of the UK’s largest retailers and would love to help you too.

Follow me on twitter or drop me an email, be happy to meet up.