Does the UK Need More Foreign Language Speakers?

Is the UK facing a shortage of foreign language speakers in the near future?  That seems to be the case, a new study from the CBI confirms.

Last year, the British Council released a report describing the potential economic harm caused by not having enough UK workers with the right foreign language skills.

The 2014 CBI/Pearson Education and Skills Survey supports those conclusions. According to the CBI survey, two thirds of UK employers prefer to hire employees with foreign language skills.

Which languages are companies looking for? The most requested language was French, with 50% of businesses looking to hire French speakers. 49% were looking for German speakers, and 44% were looking for Spanish speakers. However, the number of businesses looking for Mandarin and Arabic speakers is growing. For example, 31% of the firms surveyed considered Mandarin a  useful language for their business. In 2012, only 25 percent did. Likewise, demand for Arabic language skills is up 4 percent since 2012.

In a statement,  CBI deputy director general Katja Hall expressed concern about the number of UK students learning these languages:

“With the EU still our largest export market, it’s no surprise to see German, French and Spanish language skills so highly prized by companies. But with China and Latin America seeing solid growth, ambitious firms want the language skills that can smooth the path into new markets. It has been a worry to see foreign language study in our schools under pressure with one in five schools having a persistently low take-up of languages. The jury remains out as to whether recent government initiatives can help spur a resurgence in language learning. Young people considering their future subject choices should be made more aware of the benefits to their careers that can come from studying a foreign language.”

To address this problem, the  government is making foreign  languages mandatory in UK schools starting at age seven.

Is there anything else we should be doing to encourage British children to learn foreign languages? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Photo Credit: Attribution Some rights reserved by mklapper

Translating the World Cup

The World Cup is by nature a multicultural, multilingual event. Teams from 32 different countries have spent the past two weeks facing off in Brazil, and of course interest in the event is worldwide. Even our American friends are getting in on the game this year,prompting one particularly trollish commentator to call America’s newfound interest in “soccer” a “sign of moral decay.”

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Document Translation Top Tips

Document Translation: Top 5 Tips

Document translation services have become a huge industry as the drive for closer global integration and communication increases, to keep up the translation industry has turned to a plethora of digital tools to help manage the surge in demand. As one of the UKs leading specialists in document translation, we receive all manner of file types & formats on a daily basis, with more than 90% of clients providing digital files.

To that end we’ve got 5 key considerations that you can take into account to help protect your document translation project against higher costs and delays to your delivery schedule.

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How a Second Language Keeps You Young

Looking for the fountain of youth? Look no further than a foreign language class, at least as far as your brain is concerned. According to a new study from the University of Edinburgh, learning to speak a second language actually keeps your brain younger and protects against age-related cognitive decline.

The study looked at 835 men and women, all born in Scotland to English-speaking families. They were tested for mental abilities once at age eleven  and then again in their seventies.

The subjects who spoke more than one language did much better than would normally be expected on the second round of tests, especially in the areas of general intelligence and reading. Research has clearly established that children are “wired” to learn a second language more easily than adults, and there are cognitive advantages to being raised bilingually.

However,  in this study the beneficial effects were seen even in people who learned their second language after the age of 18.  So, it’s never too late to reap the benefits of learning another language.

Study author Dr. Thomas Bak, of the Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, wrote:

“These findings are of considerable practical relevance. Millions of people around the world acquire their second language later in life. Our study shows that bilingualism, even when acquired in adulthood, may benefit the aging brain.”

Dr. Alvaro Pascual-Leone, professor of medicine at Harvard, confirmed the importance of the study to the BBC:

“The epidemiological study provides an important first step in understanding the impact of learning a second language and the ageing brain. This research paves the way for future causal studies of bilingualism and cognitive decline prevention.”

Image credit: Attribution Some rights reserved by brain_blogger

Language Learning Lessons From the Mormons

NPR has an interesting story up on language learning at the Mormon’s Missionary Training Center in Utah.  The Missionary Training Center equips young Mormons with the language skills to preach their version of the gospel to people overseas.

It does so incredibly quickly, with most students going from zero to at least conversational in just nine short weeks.

MTC student Kirsten Weiss told NPR:

“The five weeks that I’ve been at the MTC, I’ve seen people go from having zero experience with Mandarin — or even learning any language — to going where I was maybe about my third year of studying at a university. It’s very impressive.”

How do they do it? Here are four of the MTC’s language learning secrets:

1. “Speak Your Language. “

“Speak your language” is the “unofficial motto” at the Missionary Training Center.  Rather than simply doing vocabulary and grammar drills, students focus on using their chosen language in a variety of real world situations.

2.  Practice makes perfect.

MTC students spend 10 hours every day studying.   That’s a lot of practice!

According to commenter James Picht, who went through the program:

10 hours/week (including out of class study, for a serious student) at a university versus 10 hours/day at the MTC or another intensive program – it’s exposure to the language that really determines progress, and the MTC provides about the same exposure in 9 weeks that a serious student would get in 3 semesters at a university. Then add in the advantage that at the MTC, you haven’t had a chance to forget any of what you learned between semesters and that you’re going straight from there to the country where you’ll speak the language, and it’s unsurprising that motivated missionaries will be doing very well in relatively short order.

3.  Don’t expect immediate perfection.

According to some of the commenters on the article, students usually don’t leave MTC fully fluent in another language. In fact, sometimes they are barely conversational.  However, they have a foundation they can build on, and most become  fluent after six months in a foreign country.

4. Stay motivated.

Staying motivated is key. For the farm boy in those old Rosetta Stone ads, it was his love for an Italian supermodel. For students at the MTC, the motivation is spiritual, with one telling NPR

“”Everything we do is trying to learn by and with the Spirit, so that’s really the only way you can … stand it here.”

Decide what your motivation is to learn the language, and remind yourself of it whenever you get discouraged.

Have you ever tried to learn a foreign language quickly? Share your experience in the comments!

Photo Credit: Attribution Some rights reserved by katherinejarmstrong

Twitter Expands Use of Bing Translation

To celebrate the beginning of the World Cup in Brazil, Twitter has begun using Bing Translation to make it easier to read tweets in other languages.

The translation feature was already available on the Twitter webpage and Windows phones, and Twitter began testing it on its Android app a couple of weeks ago. Now, it’s been made available on the iOS app for Apple devices. That should cover most smartphone users, with the exception of the last few stubborn BlackBerry users.

Currently, to translate a tweet from the one of the mobile apps, you have to exit the timeline by clicking on the individual tweet. However,  Twitter also just made it easier to translate tweets on its webpage directly in the timeline. Now, all you have to do is click on the grey globe icon in the top right corner of the tweet, and you’ll get an option to view the translation. The translation appears below the original tweet.

According to CNET:

“The changes could increase Twitter’s already considerable utility and influence as a global communications medium. People use Twitter not just to find about about sporting events in Brazil, but also political protests in Turkey, elections in Europe, and civil war in Syria.”

While machine translation is the only realistic option for a service like Twitter, it’s important to keep in mind that machine translation is far from perfect at this point.  Combine that with how quickly information and misinformation alike spread on Twitter, and it will be interesting to see what happens. I predict that in the months to come, we’ll have plenty of examples of both the potential and the pitfalls of this technology.

What do you think of Twitter’s new translation options?

Did Disney Drop the Ball With Frozen’s Arabic Translation?

Just when you thought Disney might be running low on “princess stories” to adapt, along came “Frozen.”  Inspired by the old fairy tale “The Snow Queen,” “Frozen” quickly became one of the most successful Disney movies ever. In fact, it is number five on the list of the highest-grossing films of all time.

No matter what part of the world you live in or how old you are, “Frozen” is unavoidable. It’s been translated into 41 different languages. However, if you are one of the world’s 290 million native Arabic speakers, Disney’s translation might leave you a little cold.

Arabic is what’s called a diglossic language, which means there is a formal standardized version that almost everyone in the Arabic world learns in school (Modern Standard Arabic), and there are the localized dialects used in everyday life.

Previous Disney Arabic translations used the Egyptian Arabic dialect, which has the most speakers and is widely understood in other countries thanks to Egypt’s movie industry. For “Frozen,” they decided to go with Modern Standard Arabic (MSA). While this might seem like a good way to maximize their Arabic audience, using MSA changes the casual, modern language of the English original into something much more biblical, as Elias Muhanna writes in the New Yorker:

The Arabic lyrics to “Let It Go” are as forbidding as Elsa’s ice palace. The Egyptian singer Nesma Mahgoub, in the song’s chorus, sings, “Discharge thy secret! I shall not bear the torment!” and “I dread not all that shall be said! Discharge the storm clouds! The snow instigateth not lugubriosity within me…” From one song to the next, there isn’t a declensional ending dropped or an antique expression avoided, whether it is sung by a dancing snowman or a choir of forest trolls. The Arabic of “Frozen” is frozen in time, as “localized” to contemporary Middle Eastern youth culture as Latin quatrains in French rap.

“The snow instigateth not lugubriosity within me?” Awkward! There’s a more accessible translation from a fan on YouTube here, but even so the lyrics come across as awkward and stilted. Reaction in the Arabic world has understandably mixed- some people love it and some people hate it. So why not make multiple Arabic translations for a few of the more widely spoken dialects?  Disney obviously has the resources, and they’re willing to put forth the effort for European languages like Spanish and Portuguese.

Muhanna proposes one possible reason for the shift in an interview with NPR:

I think that it has something to do with the fact that last year, Al Jazeera inked a big deal with Disney to basically buy all of its distribution rights for its children’s programming. And if you go on to the website of Al Jazeera’s Children’s Channel, you will find a policy document there that states very clearly that all of its content will be in what they call Classical Arabic.

Do you think Disney dropped the ball with its Arabic Arabic translation of “Frozen?” Let us know in the comments!

The Last Navajo Code Talker Died This Week

Chester Nez, the last of the original “Navajo Code talkers” who encrypted US military communications during World War II, died this Wednesday.

In a time when Native Americans were still widely discriminated against by the US government, the code talkers created a code based on the Navajo language.  The idea to use Navajo as a code came from civil engineer Philip Johnston, a missionary’s son who was raised on a reservation.  He believed Navajo would make an ideal military code because at the time there were no written records of it, and it is so linguistically distinct that even speakers of related languages can’t understand it.

Recruited by the Marines, a group of 29 Navajo men (some, including Chester Nez, were really just boys) joined the Marines and developed a code based on their native language.

The code was used in Asia to keep important information from being intercepted by the Japanese. It was never broken.

Ironically, like many Native American children, Chester Nez was sent away to a government-run boarding school as a child. There, he was punished for speaking Navajo. As Simon Moya-Smith wrote on CNN:

“One can’t help but think that, had it not been for the resilience of the Navajo people and their resistance to these early oppressive American policies, it’s quite possible that World War II could have ended differently.”

Even after the war, the Navajo Code Talkers were sworn to secrecy for decades after their service.  However, in 1982 their efforts were officially recognized by President Ronald Reagan, and in 2001 the original 29 Navajo code talkers were awarded Congressional Gold Medals.

Nez’s memoir, Code Talker: The First and Only Memoir by One of the Original Navajo Code Talkers of WWII, was published in 2011.

In a 2002 interview with Larry King, Nez said:

“Our Navajo code was one of the most important military secrets of World War II. The fact that the Marines did not tell us Navajo men how to develop that code indicated their trust in us and in our abilities. The feeling that I could make it in both the white world and the Navajo world began there, and it has stayed with me all of my life. For that I am grateful.”

Chinese Language Teacher Becomes Internet Celebrity

In China, Jessica Beinecke is kind of  a big deal.

The 27-year-old language teacher has become an internet celebrity for her work on OMG Meiyu (OMG American English), a YouTube program produced by Voice of America that teaches American slang terms like “twerk” and “swag” to Mandarin speakers.  She also has two programs of her own: Crazy Fresh Chinese, which teaches English-speaking students how to say words like “totes” and “hipster” in Mandarin, and Bai Jie LaLaLa. Like OMG Meiyu, Bai Jie LaLaLa is aimed at Chinese speakers.

With her offbeat, bubbly personality and model-pretty good looks, Ms. Beinecke ( Bai Jie to her Chinese audience) has attracted a loyal army of fans, including 400,000 followers on Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter.

Why the focus on slang, especially the type of slang words that more conservative English scholars see as a sign of the coming apocalypse? Ms. Beinecke told the Wall Street Journal that the show’s format makes the language more accessible to young students:

“I kind of spice it up and give them something to use. They can say when they go to Starbucks, ‘Hey, get me a zhong bei dou na tie – give me a medium soy latte. It’s something they can use in the moment. So I think that’s what really connects.”

The effect goes both ways, also making Mandarin more relatable to an American audience, she says:

“The looks on their faces when they learn there’s a word for swag and twerk in Mandarin, they instantly have this new connection to Mandarin and they can more instantly relate to a language that they thought up to that point was foreign to them.”

The videos are fun, bite-sized and almost addictive. For example,  if you’ve ever wondered how to say “hipster” in Mandarin, wonder no more:

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