Undercover Staff

The Secret Life of Staff

During a typically random conversation between the members of the sales team here at K International it came to light that one of us had failed to mention certain things about her past. As it turns out we have a British Champion in our midsts, luckily for the rest of us Youtube still has all the evidence so we can share it with you…

So here goes, we can present Sherrien Collins, account manager & news to us, member of street dance crew Street Shock , 2007 & 2008 British Champions

Here’s the proof from the final in 2008, Sherrien is first on stage..

It also came out that she’s a former boxer… (just in case you were going to say something)

Don’t mess 😉

Scientific Translation: A Lost Art?

Despite the popular stereotype of the mad scientist working alone in his lab, science is a collaborative effort.  The ability to share research and knowledge with other scientists is vital.  As Isaac Newton once wrote, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” But what if those “giants” don’t speak your language?

In fact, translators have historically been an important part of the scientific community, translating, passing on and preserving knowledge from advanced civilizations like ancient Greece and Rome, ancient China and from the Islamic Golden Age.  But these days, according to The Times Higher Education, there are not enough translation resources to go around and language barriers are hampering scientists’ ability to share knowledge.

For scientists from non-English-speaking countries, translating their work into English is essential. However, to do this well, you need a translator who is both fluent in both languages and has some understanding of the nature of the work itself. As the Times explains:

“In an effort to disseminate their work, many foreign scientists spend precious research funds on private translation services. But standard translators may not understand the science, the structure of scientific papers or the technical language. The only alternative is to rely on bilingual colleagues to provide translation services as a favour.”

What’s the solution? The Times suggests that universities and other research institutions make translation more of a priority from the beginning, instead of putting the burden on individual scientists:

 “We suggest that university departments in non-anglophone countries could hire professional translators with a science background, just as they hire statisticians and technical specialists.”

It’s not just non-English speakers who need to step up their game. The Times points out that even English language research can benefit from translation:

Much less appreciated is the potentially important role of translators in universities in English-speaking countries. Translating research into any of the world’s main languages (Mandarin, Spanish, Portuguese or French) could boost a paper’s citation rate…The translation of papers into different languages should allow more rapid accumulation of data supporting or refuting hypotheses and increase knowledge sharing in applied areas, such as agronomy or conservation, where, in some countries, English-language publishing and citation is not currently pursued.”

Any other ideas to make it easier for scientists to get their work translated? Share them in the comments!

Photo credit: Attribution Some rights reserved by Horia Varlan

Chimpanzee Language: Apes in Translation

We’ve known for decades that chimpanzees and their smaller cousins the bonobos have the ability to learn some human sign language.  They also use their own signs and gestures  in the wild, but until recently most research had focused on teaching them to communicate on our terms.

However, in two new studies published earlier this month, researchers were able to decode some of the apes’ own gestures.

The first study looked at a group of chimpanzees in the wild. Over a period of 18 months, primatologists carefully noted every gesture the chimpanzees seemed to be using for communication, as well as how each gesture was responded to by other chimps. Then, the researchers used computer analysis to break down the data and find out which gestures seemed to have consistent meanings. They were able to uncover 36 commonly used and understood gestures, with 15 different meanings.

Study co-author Richard Byrne, a primatologist at the University of St. Andrews, told Wired,

“What we’ve shown is a very rich system of many different meanings. We have the closest thing to human language that you can see in nature.”

The other study, from the University of Neuchâtel in Switzerland, decoded a complex hand sign used by bonobos. Bonobos are the free-love hippies of the primate world; they are known for having sex and lots of it. So, it’s only appropriate that researchers translated the gesture to mean something like “Hey baby, let’s you and me go someplace where we can be alone together.”

Dr. Catherine Hobaiter, the other co-author of the chimpanzee study told the BBC that the way the chimps used gestures indicated that they are closer to us linguistically than we might like to believe:

“The big message [from this study] is that there is another species out there that is meaningful in its communication, so that’s not unique to humans. I don’t think we’re quite as set apart as we would perhaps like to think we are.”

However, not everyone agrees. Evolutionary biologist Dr. Susanne Shultz, of the University of Manchester, told the BBC that the study’s results were  “a little disappointing”. She went on to say,

“The vagueness of the gesture meanings suggest either that the chimps have little to communicate, or we are still missing a lot of the information contained in their gestures and actions.”

It’s quite possibly the latter. Dr. Hobaiter told Wired that she believed their ability to analyze and understand chimpanzee gestures was limited at best:

“I have the impression that there were some meanings we couldn’t capture,” Hobaiter said. Sometimes, she recalled, a chimpanzee would gesture to another, then appear satisfied, though nothing else seemed to happen. Said Hobaiter, “I’d love to know what was going on!”

Photo credit: Attribution Some rights reserved by nzgabriel

Muuzii: Accurate Translation for Travelers

If you’re looking for a translation app to travel with you, there’s no shortage of contenders.  Translation apps are easier to use than a clunky phrasebook, and many of them can do cool things like translate text from pictures and translate text to speech. However, the vast majority (if not all) of these apps have two main drawbacks:

  • They require that you own a smartphone.
  • Their translations are automatic and not 100% accurate.

For example, check out this amusing (but confusing) translation from celebrated translation app Word Lens, purchased by Google back in May:

 

What are they doing to that poor mozzarella?

Translation errors like that are good for a laugh, but in more serious situations you might want something a little bit more accurate.  Also, not everyone owns a smartphone, oddly enough. Muuzii is a new translation tool for all mobile phones (not just smartphones) that promises more accurate results because it does not exclusively rely on machine translation.

With Muuzii, users send the text they need translated over SMS. Muuzii automatically translates it, then has a professional translator review the translation to ensure that it is accurate. According to Venturebeat, they’ll not only make sure the translation is accurate, but also fix any awkwardness or ambiguity:

“Each team member makes sure that the response is not only accurate, but also the best way to get your message across. If the human translators think there might be a better way to phrase it, they’ll train the database to choose their preferred option next time it encounters a similar request.

So, when you find yourself in a sticky linguistic situation, you won’t deal with the awkwardness that the limitations of app technology create.”

Then, the service texts your translation right back to you.

The main drawback is that the service is only available in English and Chinese, as a subscription for American AT & T customers.

Would you use something like Muuzii? Let us know in the comments!

Learn a Language In Your Sleep?

“Learn a language in your sleep!” It sounds like a scam, doesn’t it? However, according to researchers from the Swiss National Science Foundation, it just might work. Sort of.

The researchers played a series of Dutch vocabulary words to a group of 60 German-speaking volunteers. Half of the volunteers were then allowed to go to sleep, and while they slept, the researchers played the newly acquired Dutch words for them again. The other half were asked to stay awake, and they also got to hear the new Dutch words played again.  Then, the researchers woke the first group up and tested everyone to see how well they had retained the vocabulary.

You might expect the group that stayed awake to do better on the test, since they’d had the opportunity to hear the words repeated while they were actually conscious. In fact, the group that went to sleep remembered the vocabulary more accurately.

As Wired noted in its write up of the study, “[i]t is, of course, entirely reasonable to assume that sleep deprivation versus rest played a part in the results.” The vocabulary test took place at 2 AM, after all. 

However, the researchers also had the sleeping subjects hooked up to EEG machines to measure their brainwaves.  When the sleeping volunteers heard the Dutch words being played, they showed increased activity in parts of the brain that are associated with creating memories.

So, can you learn a new language in your sleep?

Not completely. Listening to a foreign language while you snooze falls under the category of “passive listening.” As Benny Lewis of Fluent in 3 Months puts it:

“When you already understand the language, it’s different – but to learn the language? The problem with embracing a passive means of learning a language is that a language is active. It requires your attention to understand and your ability to produce to actually converse.”

Note that even in this study, the volunteers initially learned the new foreign vocabulary words actively, while they were awake. Hearing them in their sleep later may have helped reinforce what they had already learned while they were conscious, but without that conscious effort, your language learning dreams are doomed to remain just that…dreams!

Have you tried to learn a language (or anything else) in your sleep? Did it work? Tell us about it in the comments!

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