Interesting & varied language stories from all around the world, curated by our dedicated writer. From the topical to the absurd, the grand and the obscure, it’s all here for you to enjoy.

technology-language-diversity

3 Ways Technology Leaves Some Languages Behind

When it comes to preserving language diversity, technology is a double-edged sword. On one hand, the Internet makes it easier than ever before to preserve dying languages and to allow people to learn them. On the other hand, technological advances often favor certain languages over others.

Here are some of the ways technology geared toward English speakers is leaving some languages behind, along with the people who speak them.

Lack of Online Content

In the beginning, most Internet content was in English. This has steadily declined over time, and the latest numbers show only 52% of languages are written in English.

That’s good news for people who don’t speak English . . . but only if they speak one of the select few other languages with a significant online presence. As Katherine Schwab noted in the Atlantic, only 5% of the world’s languages are even represented online.

Even national languages like Hindi, with the third-highest number of total speakers in the world, are woefully under-represented, used on a mere .01 percent of the 10 million most popular websites.

And what good is Internet access if you can’t understand the content? Read more

why-french-is-important

Why French is Important: 12 Facts You Should Know

March 18-26 is French Language Week (or more properly, Semaine de la Langue Française et de la Francophonie).

In that spirit, we’d like to offer our own salute to the French language.  Over the past few years, it’s become somewhat fashionable to say that French is passé. For example, see this article in the New Republic, called “Let’s Stop Pretending That French Is an Important Language.”

So, why is French important in today’s world?

Here are 12 reasons  why French is still an important language (and one that global businesses can’t afford to ignore.)

80 million people around the world speak French as a native language.

61 million of them live in France, naturally. But French-speaking communities exist around the world:

  • Quebec and New Brunswick, Canada
  • Wallonia, Belgium
  •  Parts of Switzerland
  • Monaco
  • 24 French-speaking countries in Africa

Amongst EU citizens, French is the fourth most common mother tongue. Or maybe it’s the second most common. It depends on who you’re asking.

12% of EU citizens speak it. And while the number of French native speakers may pale in comparison to the number of native speakers of Mandarin, Spanish or English, that’s only half the story.

Because . . .

274 million people around the world speak French.

190 million people speak French as a second language, and experts estimate that a total of 274 million people around the world can speak French as either a first or a second language.  Out of that number, 212 million use it daily.

Meanwhile, 1 out 5 Europeans speaks French as a second language. Read more

facts-about-the-irish-language

11 Interesting Facts About the Irish Language

It’s St. Patrick’s Day! In honor of the occasion, let’s get to know the Irish language a little better. Here are 11 facts about Irish that will make you sound smarter when you’re out celebrating with a pint tonight:

Approximately 1.77 million people speak Irish in Ireland today.

Anywhere from 30% to 40% of the population of Ireland can speak Irish.  However, only around 140,000 of them are native speakers. Most learn it as a second language. Only around 82,000 people speak it daily outside of school.

The language has spread outside of Ireland, too.

For example, about 18,000 Americans speak Irish at home.  There are about 9,000 Irish speakers in Great Britain. And there is even a (small) official “Gaeltecht” in Ontario, Canada. 

Irish used to be one of the main languages of Newfoundland, Canada.

Starting in the late 1600s, Irish immigrants began arriving in Newfoundland to work in the cod fishery there. Between 1750 and the 1830, the stream of Irish arriving on the island turned into a flood. By 1815 there were more than 19,000 Irish in Newfoundland, and the majority of them spoke Irish.

The language died out in Newfoundland by the 19th century, but it left some traces in the local dialect that still persist today.

The Irish language has even been used in space.

In 2013,  Canadian astronaut Commander Chris Hadfield sent a tweet captioned in Irish from the International Space Station. This marked the first time the Irish language was used in outer spaceRead more

funny-sign-translations

Funny Sign Translations: 30 More Signs We Didn’t Translate

Signs, signs, everywhere there’s signs . . . but sometimes they get lost in translation! We’ve scoured the Internet for funny sign translations, and this is what we found. We certainly didn’t translate any of these, but we hope they give you a laugh:

Well, that’s not helpful

Lost in translation

If this place catches fire, we’re in trouble…

What AM I supposed to do then?

tsinc2x

Imgur/ JaromirAzarov

I’ll just stand here looking bored, I suppose . . .

It’s the end of the world as we know it…

datnbyh

As if pressing the big red button wasn’t tempting enough, pressing this particular big red button appears to bring on the apocalypse. You know you want to push it, just to see what happens. Don’t you?

Bad trip, man, bad trip!

kywqwrh

Sounds like someone should have passed on the brown acid…

I think I’ve lost my appetite. . .

wyciqf2-1

Imgur/JaromirAzarov

I’m not sure what they serve here, but I don’t think I want it for breakfast.

Brilliant idea

 6rw1gul

Just what everyone needs after a night out of Indian food! Someone is going to make a fortune off this. Read more

st-patricks-day-traditions

Irish Translations and Traditions for St. Patrick’s Day 

It’s almost St. Patrick’s Day, the time of year when everyone is at least part Irish (or pretends to be.) But put down the green beer – it’s time to take your St. Patrick’s Day celebrations to the next level.  And we’re here to help, with a round-up of St. Patrick’s Day traditions from around the world and some helpful Irish translations for a more authentic St. Patrick’s Day experience.

St Patrick’s Day Traditions Around the World

St. Patrick’s Day originated in Ireland as the feast day of St. Patrick. But it really came into its own amongst Irish immigrant communities in the United States. And since Ireland has historically been a nation of emigrants, St. Patrick’s Day is now celebrated around the world.

St. Patrick’s Day Traditions Around the World: Parades6995631593_da7b3ac6b3

Surprisingly, the first St. Patrick’s Day parade didn’t even take place in Ireland. It was held in New York City in 1762. Ireland didn’t get in on the action until 1903!  Read more

human translation vs machine translation

A Translation Showdown: Man vs Machine Translation

Computer scientists began trying to solve the problem of machine translation in the 1950s.  Since then, both the availability and quality of machine translation have improved tremendously. But in the battle of human translation vs machine translation, are humans now expendable?

Some scientists working on machine translation claim that with recent improvements, algorithms are almost as good at translation as humans.  And when the subject of “jobs that will soon be taken over by robots” comes up, futurists almost always put “translation” in the crosshairs.

But what happens when machines take on human translators? Earlier this month, Sejong Cyber University and the International Interpretation and Translation Association of Korea decided to find out. 3 machine translation programs went up against a group of human translators. It was a translation showdown: human translation vs machine translation.

Man versus machine, the translation industry’s version of the famous contest between John Henry and the steam-powered hammer  Guess who won? Read more

countries-with-most-english-speakers

Which Countries Have the Most English Speakers?

Around 840 million people speak English around the world, according to Ethnologue. (335 million people speak it as a first language, and 505 million speak it as a second language.) That’s a lot of people, but where do they all live? Read on to find out which countries have the most English speakers and the highest English proficiency.usa-globe

United States: 268M English Speakers

No surprise here: Those arrogant former colonists may not speak the Queen’s English correctly, but they do have the world’ s largest English-speaking country.  Approximately 225 million Americans speak English as a first language, while 43 million speak it as a second language.

India: 125M English Speakersindia

India is next on the list, with 125 million English speakers. But only 226, 449 of those speak it as a first language. For the rest, it’s a second language.

However, as BBC reporter Zareer Masani noted in a 2012 article, the patchwork state of English education means that many Indians speak “not so much English as Hinglish, or what my parents’ generation called Babu English – the language of clerks.”

Pakistan : 94,321,604  English Speakerspakistan

Surprised?  English is one of Pakistan’s official languages, along with Urdu. Although virtually nobody in Pakistan speaks English as a first language, around 49% of the population do speak it as a second language. Read more

movies-for-language-nerds

13 Movies for Language Nerds 

Are you in love with all things linguistic? Do you fancy staying in to watch a movie this weekend? We’ve got some recommendations for you. Presenting . . . 13 movies for language nerds like you!

 Arrival (2016)


A science fiction movie that centers on translation and interpretation, with a linguist as the main protagonist? Yes, please! 

Most movies about “first contact” smooth over the inevitable language barrier. In Arrival, the language barrier is the plot. And in the process, the movie reveals truths about translation that language nerds of all stripes can appreciate. Read more

star-wars-spoilers

Star Wars Spoilers, Revealed in Translation 

We often talk about information getting “lost in translation.” But translation can also reveal information that was originally concealed. For example, earlier this week, the studio released translated versions of the title for the upcoming Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi. 

As the Star Wars storyline expands, dedicated fans play detective, trying to anticipate upcoming plot twists. So everything Star Wars-related is scrutinized, including foreign language versions of material that’s already been released in English.

How Many Jedi Are Left? English Conceals, Spanish Reveals


Fans have been scratching their heads for months, trying to figure out who The Last Jedi is and what the title means. Is it Luke?  Rey? Kylo Ren? Some new character we haven’t met yet?

Or is the title plural? After all, in English, the plural of Jedi is . . . Jedi. As the Telegraph speculated in an article from January,

[I]t took  us a while to cotton on to this fact. But after spending  a fair few hours last night contemplating the question “Who is the last Jedi?”, we realised that that, because the word Jedi can be both singular and plural, “Who are the last Jedi?” in fact works equally well.

Read more

which-city-speaks-the-most-languages

Which City Speaks the Most Languages?

Which city speaks the most languages? It’s not London, nor any of the metropolises of Europe.  It’s actually New York City. This city of immigrants is also the most linguistically diverse city in the world. Want to learn more? Here are 7 interesting facts about New York City and its languages.

There are over 800  languages spoken in New York City.

For reference, the most linguistically diverse country in the world is Papua New Guinea, with 820 languages. New York crams almost that many into a single city. Nowhere else comes close. Even London “only” has around 300 different languages.

Queens is the most linguistically diverse neighborhood in the entire world.queens_montage_2012_1-1

“The capital of linguistic diversity, not just for the five boroughs, but for the human species, is Queens,” according to Rebecca Solnit and Joshua-Jelly Schapiro’s  Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas.  Residents of Queens speak approximately 138 languages, according to 2000 census data.

It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that Queens also holds the Guinness World Record for the most diverse place on the planet. Read more

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