Translation, in its simplest context, involves converting words from one language to another, in order that the same information can be shared with audiences of different nationalities. However, translation is rarely that simple in reality. Messages that are acceptable in one culture can cause offence in another. The same is true of individual words. This can cause headaches for translation companies in many areas of their work, from general marketing documents to the translation of information on more sensitive topics.
Translation and interpreting have long played a role in the global sporting industry. The international nature of a great many sporting competitions brings together athletes, trainers, coaches, judges, sponsors, fans and more from all corners of the globe. All of those participating need to understand the rules of the competition, local regulations, safety announcements and a myriad of other details. Meanwhile, those attending the event as spectators need to be able to understand the practical details of the venue (where to find exits, toilets, food and so forth) as well as associated information such as the event schedule etc.
Translation in sport is key to facilitating international competitions such as the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup. However, that is far from the only role of applied translation when it comes to the sporting industry. Read more
Need something to get you over the hump this Wednesday? Get your language and translation water cooler fodder here! We’ve selected 10 stories from the past month that are interesting, thought-provoking or just plain funny. Enjoy!
Translation is about so much more than words. Context matters, too. In this article, Pakistani writer Rafia Zakaria examines how the words of female Arabic writers often lose meaning in translation, as Western translators interpret them in the context of their own stereotypes. Even the nickname of Arab poetess Al-Khansaa is usually mistranslated, according to Zakaria: It’s rendered as “pug-nosed” in English when it actually refers to a gazelle.
For more on the difficulties of literary translation, read: The Challenges of Translating Literature
But does it work? Boomerang is an app that is supposed to help you avoid those ubiquitous Google Translate errors. Here’s how it works. First, you plug in the phrase you want to be translated. Then, Boomerang runs it through Google Translate. Finally, it translates the result back into your language.
Of course, back translation by human translators is a common quality control procedure. And back translation with machines could certainly catch some errors . . . but it’s unlikely to catch all of them. And it doesn’t tell you what to say instead. Read more
Last month, the United Nations officially recognized our favorite holiday (and no, it’s not Christmas). In a new resolution on 24 May, the UN declared September 30th International Translation Day to recognize the important role translators and interpreters play in the organization.
And it’s hard to overstate how much the UN depends on these services. Here are 5 ways translation and interpretation keep the United Nations running.
Translation at the UN: Support for 6 Official Languages
The UN has 6 official languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. As an organization, it is committed to multilingualism. Naturally, almost everything the organization does is translated into each of these 6 languages.
As the UN website observes,
The correct interpretation and translation of these six languages, in both spoken and written form, is very important to the work of the Organization, because this enables clear and concise communication on issues of global importance.
Without the efforts of translators and interpreters, working in 6 different languages would be difficult, to say the least. But why not just choose one language for everyone to use? First of all, doing so would create a situation that favors native speakers of one official language over the other five. Most people are simply more comfortable communicating in their native language.
Secondly, in politics, appearances count. And favoring one official language over the others looks bad for an organization that’s supposed to fairly balance the interests of 193 different nations. Read more
When it comes to cultural and linguistic differences, few regions stand as far apart as China and the Western world – the US in particular. One is a communist state that prioritises cooperation and collectivism, the other a democracy that sees itself as a paragon of meritocracy. While both may fall short of their ideals (which country in this world can truly live up to its values across all parts of its society?), this does not change the vast differences between their fundamental principles.
When it comes to population size, China dwarfs the US, with 1.38 billion citizens, versus just 326 million in the US. Nevertheless, the US reigns supreme when it comes to GDP – at least for the moment. The US economy is worth $18.5 trillion, accounting for 24.5% of gross world product. China has the second largest global economy, at $11.3 trillion.
Linguistically, too, China and the West are very different. Mandarin, is a tonal, analytic language that uses a subject-verb-object word order and topic-prominent organisation. It is written using logograms known as hànzì. The English language, on the other hand, is a Germanic language that uses a Latin script, modal verbs and the palatalisation of consonants, though it does share the subject-verb-object order of Mandarin. Read more
But content marketing can be hard to get right, even in one language. Not just any content will do. You need content that attracts attention, provides useful information, builds relationships, and helps potential customers learn to trust you.
How do you do that in multiple languages? Here are 4 multilingual content marketing strategies worth stealing from brands that have been successful:
Unbounce’s Winning Multilingual Content Marketing Strategy: Hire a Local Marketing Ambassador
Unbounce is a landing page and conversion marketing platform that helps marketers build, test and optimize landing pages. The company relies heavily on content marketing to grow their English-language business. They have a popular blog, a robust social media presence and a treasure trove of resources for marketers.
In 2015, they began expanding into the German market. Naturally, there’s an excellent post on the Unbounce blog about the process they used. One key recommendation: Hire a local marketing ambassador.
Unbounce’s Ben Harmanus uses his knowledge of the local area to select content to translate from English, position it appropriately, and build Unbounce’s German language community on social media.
As Unbounce’s Stefanie Grieser put it, “The day a brand gets a local ambassador is the day they truly become a local player.” Read more
Literary translation is the translation of creative and dramatic prose and poetry into other languages. This includes the translation of literature from ancient languages and the translation of modern fiction so that it can reach a wider audience.
Why is literary translation important?
Literary translation is of huge importance. It helps to shape our understanding of the world around us in many ways. Reading Homer and Sophocles as part of a classical education in school helps to build an understanding of history, politics, philosophy and so much more. Meanwhile, reading contemporary translations provides fascinating insights into life in other cultures and other countries. In a fast-paced world so rife with misunderstanding and confusion, such efforts to share knowledge and experiences across cultural boundaries should be applauded.
The history of literary translation
An entire history of literary translation is far too big for the scope of a single article. Indeed, The Oxford History of Literary Translation in English runs to five whole volumes, such is the depth and complexity of the subject. Suffice to say that literary translation has been taking place for thousands of years.
History has seen countless translators come and go. Many of their names we will never know, but some – King Alfred the Great and Geoffrey Chaucer, for example, who both translated Boethius from the original Latin – had the power and influence to ensure that their translation efforts were not lost to the sands of time. Read more
Have you ever wondered why some letters in languages like German have those funny dots above them? Do they have a purpose? And if so, what is it?
Fear not, we’re here to help! Those little dots are called umlauts. Here’s a brief history to explain what they are, why they exist and what they mean.
What is an umlaut?
In linguistics, an umlaut is “a sound change in which a vowel is pronounced more like a following vowel or semivowel.” Languages change over time. And since people are inherently lazy, these changes are often motivated by a desire to reduce the amount of effort needed to create a given sound. Hence, the umlaut.
In German, the umlaut punctuation mark is used to indicate this sound shift. In medieval times, scribes indicated umlauted vowels by placing a small letter “e” directly above them. Over time, the “e” evolved into 2 bars, and then finally into two dots.
German orthography includes ä, ö, ü as “special characters.” They aren’t considered part of the alphabet in their own right. But they’re still important.
So, what do they sound like? If the words “vowel fronting” don’t mean anything to you, this handy YouTube video should clear up the confusion:
Umlauts Are Kind of a Big Deal
The concept of machine translation has existed for centuries, but it was not until the early 1950s that it began to become a reality. Since then, machine translation has advanced hugely, though it still cannot yet compete with the skill and finesse that a human mind can apply to translating a document.
The birth of machine translation
In 1949, Warren Weaver of the Rockefeller Foundation put together a set of proposals on how to turn the idea of machine translation into reality. He blended information theory, code breaking lessons learned during the Second World War and the principles of natural language to pave the way for machines to translate one language to another.
One of the earliest machine translation successes was the Georgetown-IBM experiment. In 1954, IBM demonstrated at its New York office a machine that could translate Russian sentences into English. Though the machine could only translate 250 words (into 49 sentences), the world was delighted by the idea. Interest in machine translation around the world saw money being poured into this new field of computer science. The Georgetown experiment researchers, bursting with the confidence of their initial success, predicted that machine translation would be mastered within three to five years. Read more
By the end of this century, linguists expect more than half of the languages in the world to die. It’s a bleak statistic, especially given how deeply language and cultural identity are bound together. But linguists, language activists and the people who speak endangered languages are fighting back.
Want to save an endangered language? There might be an app for that! There are apps to teach endangered languages to people who don’t speak them. Alternately, some apps make it easy to record native speakers of any endangered language, translate what they’re saying, and share it with linguists and language preservationists.
If you’re interested in learning or preserving an endangered language, here are 6 apps for endangered languages that might interest you:
Language: Iwaidja, an indigenous Australian language. There are only about 150 Iwaidja speakers left, although children are still learning it. This app serves two purposes:
- It teaches the language, with a dictionary, a phrasebook and a “Wordmaker” that lets users experiment with phrases and sentences to see how different elements of Iwaidga grammar and syntax work together.
- It allows anyone working with Iwaidja speakers to input new words, phrases, and translations.
About K International
Our translation, interpreting and technology solutions have been relied on by corporations and Government since 1986. We operate in more than 150 languages across every conceivable industry, our broad experience and commitment to quality is reflected in our client portfolio. Read more about us
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