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.

8 Facts Businesses Need to Know About Languages in India

Earlier this week, on the 15th of August, India celebrated its Independence Day.  In the 70 years since it was founded, India has made itself into one of the world’s largest and fastest-growing economies. To celebrate, let’s take a look at 8 things businesses need to know about languages in India.

English is an official language in India . . .  but that doesn’t mean your organization can get away without translation services.

English and Hindi are the two main languages used by the Central Government. But even when you include people who speak English as a second language, only 12% of India’s population speaks it. So, if you want to reach more than just a small percentage of the people there, you’ll need to translate into some local languages, too.

Hindi is the most commonly spoken language in India.

With as many as 551 million total speakers, Hindi is the most common language in India. It’s also the 4th most common language in the world in terms of native speakers. Even so, translating your content into Hindi will only make it accessible to 53% of the population.

That’s because . . .

India has 122 major languages and up to 1599 other languages.

India is a vast country, and it contains multitudes, of both people and languages. According to the 2001 Indian Census, there are 122 “major languages” spoken by more than 10,000 people.

That said, some of these languages are more commonly spoken than others.

India has 22 “scheduled” languages.

Obviously, different languages predominate in different regions. So, while Hindi and English are the languages used by the central government, the states also have the power to set their own official languages.

The Indian Constitution recognizes 22 of these languages as “scheduled languages”. These languages are used by state and local governments. Additionally, the Indian government is required to protect them and encourage their development.

The 22 scheduled languages are: Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, Dogri, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Maithili, Malayalam, Manipuri, Marathi, Nepali, Odia, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Santali, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, and Urdu. Read more

9 Books to Read for Women in Translation Month

Did you know that August is Women in Translation Month? If you’re wondering what that means, let me explain.  Women in Translation Month is a month to highlight translated works by female writers. In the world of literary translation, women are seriously underrepresented.

How underrepresented? You’re probably familiar with the statistic that only about 3% of published works in the US and the UK are translated from other languages. Well, of that 3%,  only about 30% of new translations into English are books by women writers.  Books by female authors are translated at a lower rate around the world, even in Europe.

With that in mind, here are 9 books to read for women in translation month. Read the ones that pique your interest and you’ll soon start to wonder what else you’re missing out on!

Kalpa Imperial: The Greatest Empire That Never Was


Author: Angélica Gorodischer, translated by Ursula LeGuin

In a 2016 interview, Meytal Radzinski, the scholar behind Women in Translation Month, called this book her “go-to first choice for just about any type of favorite book these days! It’s such a special book, gorgeously written and so utterly magical.”

Kalpa Imperial: The Greatest Empire That Never Was is the history of an imaginary nameless empire, as told by multiple storytellers.  Translator Ursula Le Guin is an acclaimed fantasy author in her own right.  So it’s not surprising that publisher Small Beer Press boasts that “Rarely have author and translator been such an effortless pairing.” Read more

Google Translate Vs. Sir Mix-a-lot, RuPaul Gets Lost in Translation, and More: 10 Language Stories to Read Right Now

Happy Monday! Looking for something to read while you readjust to the working world? Here are 10 interesting, funny or thought-provoking stories from the language and translation world to make you seem like the most interesting person in the room:

ET, Phone Home 

If extraterrestrials ever make contact, how in the world would we speak to them? According to Carl DeVito, a math professor at the University of Arizona, mathematics might be the key to communicating with ET. And he’s developed a math-based language that could, in theory, allow us to discuss physics with an alien race.

Japanese Prisoners Get a Translation Upgrade

Even prisoners deserve help in their own language. But deploying interpreters efficiently can be difficult. Japan is addressing the issue by providing prisoners access to translation services using video phones and tablets. This will also make it easier for families of non-Japanese inmates to visit their loved ones since they are not allowed in without an interpreter to help prison officials monitor their conversation.

Baby Got What? Google Translate Mixes Up Sir Mix-A-Lot On the Tonight Show


What happens when Google Translate gets hold of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s classic “Baby Got Back?” Somehow, “I love big butts and I cannot lie” becomes “I love large saplings that is the truth . . .”

And that’s just the beginning. Watch the video to see Jimmy Fallon and Idris Elba sing Google Translated versions of songs by Sir Mix-a-Lot, Britney Spears, and Boyz II Men. Read more

Literary Translators: Unsung Heroes of the Literary World

Today, let’s take a moment to highlight some of the unsung heroes of the publishing world: Literary translators.

Literary translators do not have an easy job. Books, short stories, and poems can be quite challenging to translate.  For example, word play, slang, and humor often lose meaning if they’re translated word-for-word. They have to be carefully rewritten to create the same effect in the target language as they do in the original.

So literary translation is difficult, but it’s also extremely valuable.

Why is Literary Translation Important?

Literary translation is important for a number of reasons. Translation introduces authors to new audiences and readers to new worlds. It promotes understanding and empathy between cultures.  It preserves ideas and knowledge and helps transmit those ideas across time and space.

Literary Translators: Unsung, Outshined, and Underpaid

But literary translators are clearly not in it for the glory.  As Tim Parks noted last year in the New York Review of Books, “Glory, for the translator, is borrowed glory. There is no way around this. Translators are celebrated when they translate celebrated books.”

If they are successful, the author gets the credit. Of course, the author deserves most of the credit. But literary translation is an art, too. Read more

6 Useful Facts About Time in Different Languages and Cultures

This thing all things devours;
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats mountain down.
 ” – Gollum

Time should be easy to translate, right? Wrong! The passage of time is universal and inevitable, but the way different cultures experience it is not. And that can lead to confusion, especially when you’re traveling, or when you’re trying to socialize or do business with someone from a culture that treats time differently than your own.

With that in mind, here are  6 useful facts about time in different languages and cultures.

Most Western cultures are monochronic. Here’s what that means and why it matters.

Social scientists classify cultures are “monochronic” or “polychronic” based on how they view time.  Monochronic cultures see time as a limited resource, something that can be “saved,” “spent” or “wasted.” In a monochronic culture (like the US or the UK), it’s normal to schedule tasks and appointments to start and end at a certain time.

But in a polychronic culture, time is seen as flexible. And that means that appointments and deadlines may be more flexible as well. In polychronic cultures, it’s also more common to do many things at a once. Interruptions are regarded as normal instead of undesirable.

(One caveat: These are just generalizations. They aren’t universal. Japanese culture is generally regarded as polychronic, but the culture is also quite fast-paced and punctuality is important).

Time isn’t always a line

Monochronic cultures also tend to see time as a “line,” stretching forward into the future and backwards into the past.

But that’s not universal. In some cultures, particularly Asian cultures and some Native American cultures, it’s a wheel, moving in reoccuring cycles. On a practical level, that means they may need to carefully consider past events before making decisions for the future.

And of course, if you’re a Time Lord, it’s a big ball of wibbley-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff that you can travel through. Read more

ROI of Translation: 4 Ways Translation Makes Businesses More Competitive

Is translation just an expense to be minimized, or is it an investment? Of course, the answer depends in part on the situation. But considering how often potential customers ask our CEO why they can’t just use Google Translate instead of a professional translation company, it’s clear that some people are overlooking the value.

What’s the ROI of translation?  Here are 4 ways investing in translation can give your business an edge over the competition.

Get Found Online With Multilingual SEO

“If you build it, they will come.” That advice might have worked for Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams but it’s bunk when it comes to building websites.

It’s not enough to build a website, you also have to appease the search engine gods.  Then, and only then, will the customers come.

And as the rest of the world comes online, more and more people will be searching in languages other than English. If those people can’t find your site, they’re not likely to become your customers, now are they?

Keep in mind that search engines don’t like error-ridden, automatically generated translations, and users don’t like them either.

Attract New Customers By Catering to Unmet Needs

Whether it’s online or in person, customers almost always prefer to do business in their native language. Often, these language needs aren’t being met. And that gives savvy businesses an opportunity to differentiate themselves with multilingual content. Read more

Why Are There So Many Languages?

Why Are There So Many Languages? 

There are approximately 7,000 languages in the world today. But why? Why are there so many languages?

It’s an ancient question, almost as old as humanity itself.  Explanations for why people speak so many languages are common in myths from cultures around the world. The story of the Tower of Babel in the Bible is one well-known example, but there are many others.

The truth is, we don’t have an easy answer for why people speak so many languages. That’s probably because there isn’t one.  Instead, linguistic diversity is a response to a variety of different elements that we’re only beginning to understand.  We may not have an answer, but here are 6 factors that encourage new languages to form.

Language May Have Developed In More Than One Place

Did humans ever speak just one language? We don’t know. There are two schools of thought:

  • Monogenesis, which holds that all languages evolved from a single ancestral language as ancient humans migrated out of Africa.
  • Polygenesis, which holds that multiple ancestral languages developed independently, as did agriculture and the domestication of animals.

So there may have been quite a bit of language diversity right from the start. But even if there was a single common human language to start out, humans would still speak thousands of different languages. That’s because . . .

People Move, and Languages Change

The main reason why there are so many languages has to do with distance and time. Groups of people are always on the move, seeking new opportunities. And languages change over time, too. Even English. Do remember trying to read Chaucer for the first time?  English has changed so much over the centuries that it’s difficult for modern English speakers to “get” Chaucer without footnotes.

What happens when you combine these two factors? Groups of people who speak a common language get divided by distance, and over time their dialects evolve in different directions. After enough time passes, they end up speaking two separate, but related languages. Read more

8 Facts About Emoji Around the World for World Emoji Day

Monday was World Emoji Day. Over the past decade, these little icons have become essential to online communication. But how much do you know about them?

To celebrate, here are 8 facts you should know about emoji around the world.

Love emoji? Thank the Japanese.

Emoji were invented in Japan in 1999 by Japanese designer Shigetaka Kurita.

Why Japan? As Wired notes, linguistic and cultural factors may have played a role:

“Spoken, written, lived Japanese is rich with context, honorifics, and layers of meaning. Perhaps more than anybody speaking English or a European language could imagine, Japan needed some way to indicate the tone of a text.”

At first, emoji were confined to Japanese phones. But when Apple released the iPhone in Japan, the company soon discovered they needed to add emoji support to compete in the Japanese market. And when iOS 5 came out, emoji were suddenly easily available to iPhone users worldwide.

New emoji are approved by the Unicode Consortium.

How hard is it to come up with new emoji? Harder than you might think. In order for new emoji to be usable across different devices and platforms, they have to be approved by the Unicode Consortium.  The approval process can be difficult, and time-consuming, often taking a year or more.

69 new emoji were unveiled earlier this year, including a woman in a headscarf and 2 separate emoji of people in a sauna (one male, one female).  The people in a sauna represent Finland, of course, though the Finns would have preferred them to appear without the towel.  The “person with headscarf” emoji is the brainchild of a 15-year-old girl.  Read more

6 Ridiculously Bad Translations from Amazon Prime Day

If you’re an Amazon Prime junkie, I don’t need to tell you that Tuesday was Prime Day. Your bank balance is probably enough of a reminder. For everyone else, Prime Day is Amazon’s self-created sales holiday, with deals on just about everything.

Amazon itself excels at localization. And we’ve held them up as an example of a company that gets it right.

But that’s not always true of the third-party sellers that offer their products in the Amazon marketplace. Product descriptions are provided by the sellers, not by Amazon. All too often, the sellers lack either the will or the resources to make quality translations a priority.

And the results can be hilarious, as these 6 examples of bad Prime Day translations prove. Here are a few of our favorites:

That Amorous Feeling

I mean, really, who wouldn’t want to adorn their house with a “decorative fish net of strong Mediterranean Sea amorous feelings?” Read more

12 Powerful Translation Apps and Devices for Travelers in 2017

You’d love to see the world, but fear holds you back. You’re afraid of being isolated in a foreign country, unable to speak the language. How are you going to communicate? Charades? Well, stop worrying, and book those tickets! Here are 12 futuristic translation apps and devices for travelers in 2017 to help you get your point across.

This post was originally published in 2016. It has been updated for accuracy and to include new apps and devices. 

Best Translation Apps: Google TranslateTranslation Apps 1

When it comes to translation apps, Google Translate is obviously the elephant in the room — and for good reason. It supports more languages than the competition, and its comprehensive feature set makes it especially well-suited for travelers.

Languages: Google Translate offers varying degrees of support for 103 languages:

  • Type to translate: 103 languages
  • Offline support: 52 languages
  • Real Time Video translation: 30 languages
  • Camera Mode: 37 Languages
  • Speech-to-speech translation: 32 languages
  • Handwriting translation: 93 languages

See which features work with which languages here.

Cool Tricks: Translate signs, menus and other written content using your phone’s camera. Offline support for some languages, plus excellent integration with the Android operating system for translating text messages and websites.

Recently, Google added neural machine translation (NMT) for improved accuracy on some languages.

All this, and it’s free. Free is good.

How to Get It: Download it from the App Store or from Google Play.

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