Atlas

UNESCO to Release New Language Atlas

Earlier today, the AP reported on UNESCO’s release of the third edition of its Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger. The atlas is available online for free, and a print version will be released in May.

The atlas maps the location and gives details about each of the 2,500 languages that linguists classify as endangered or are already extinct.

According to UNESCO, these languages will probably vanish before the end of the century if efforts are not made to preserve them now.

What languages are on the list, and where are they spoken?

Endangered languages are everywhere, actually. If you look up UK on the Atlas, you’ll see 12 languages. Four of these, Norn, Manx, Cornish and Alderney French, are already extinct. Scots and Welsh are rated as “unsafe,” while Yiddish, Romany, Irish and Scottish Gaelic show up as “definitely endangered.” Guernsey French and Jersey French are severely endangered.

The US has 191 endangered languages, mostly belonging to Native American tribes like the Menominee, which has 35 native speakers remaining. Sioux, the language of the great Native American chief Sitting Bull, is listed as “unsafe” with 25,000 speakers.

Then, there are languages like Silbo Gomero, spoken by about 1,000 people on La Gomera, one of the Canary Islands. This language is made up entirely of whistles, to help shepherds communicate over long distances on the island. However, Silbo Gomero may benefit from the efforts of Busuu.com, a language learning website based in Spain that teaches endangered languages to people all over the world.

Can the Internet help preserve this language?

In the Associated Press article referenced above, Francoise Riviere, deputy director of culture at UNESCO, said “We are trying to teach people that the language of the country from where we come is important, and what counts is being proud of one’s own language.”

Hopefully, projects like Busuu.com can help people learn to take pride in their native languages. Having people across the globe learn endangered languages like Silbo Gomero can certainly help preserve a record of the language, but what’s really important is that the people of La Gomera keep speaking it and passing along to their children.

Preserving languages isn’t just about the number of speakers-it’s also about keeping the culture of the people speaking the language intact.

St. Patrick’s Day

A little history….

St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated on the 17th March.

St. Patrick himself is a man of mystery and very little is known about him. What we do know is that St. Patrick was born in Britain to a wealthy family. When he was 16 years old he was taken to Ireland as a bargaining prisoner.

After being transported to Ireland he worked in the hills as a shepherd. During this time he was lonely and scared and turned to Christianity to help him get through. To escape St. Patrick walked over 200 miles to the Irish coast and made his way back to Britain.

St. Patrick had visions of a Christian Ireland and after returning to Britain he gathered himself and returned to Ireland to preach to the people.

Celebrations….

St. Patrick’s Day falls in the time of lent, a time of fasting. In Ireland families would generally attend church in the morning and then celebrate in the evening. On this day they ignored the rules of lent and would have lots of good food and plenty of drink.
In Ireland up until the 1970’s pubs were closed by law (as they were on a Sunday) on St. Patrick’s Day. In 1995 the Irish government realised the potential profit in opening their doors to tourists and began a marketing campaign to showcase Ireland to the rest of the world. Last year they attracted almost 1 million people to the capital Dublin and I have to say the really do put on a good show.

Typically the first big St. Patrick’s Day parade was actually held in good old New York in the USA not in Ireland at all. In 1962 the city of Chicago took the day to a whole new level and actually dyed the river that runs through the city green!
It was an idea put forward by the cities pollution-control workers who used dyes to trace illegal sewage waste. They released 100 pounds of vegetable dye which was enough to keep it green for a whole week. Today they still carry on the tradition but only use 40 pounds of the dye to minimise the environmental impact. This amount keeps it green just for the day.

Shamrocks are everywhere on St. Patrick’s Day, also knows as the ‘seamroy’ to the Celts. It is a sacred plant which symbolises the rebirth of spring. It also became a symbol for the patriotic Irish, as the English claimed Irish soil the Irish men began to wear Shamrocks as a symbol of pride in their heritage and to state their displeasure with English rule.

The day has become more about advertising and drinking than the religious feast it once was. It is celebrated all over the world. So go out, celebrate and drink Guinness (please drink responsibly).

And while you are out enjoying yourself here are a few Irish ditties and toasts to say whilst raising your glass to good old St. Patrick….

The Scots have their whiskey
The Welsh have their tongue
But the Irish have Paddy
Who’s second to none

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I’ve drunk to your health in the pubs ,
I’ve drunk to your health in my home ,
I’ve drunk to your health so many times ,
That I’ve almost ruined my own.

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May you never forget what is worth remembering,
Or remember what is best forgotten.

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There are many good reasons for drinking,
One has just entered my head,
If a man doesn’t drink when he’s living,
How the hell can he drink when he’s dead?

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May the best day of your past be the worst day of your future.

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May you get all your wishes but one,
So you always have something to strive for.

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Here’s to you,
here’s to me,
the best of friends we’ll always be.
But if we ever disagree,
forget you here’s to ME!!

——————————-

Here’s to you as good as you are,
Here’s to me as bad as I am,
As good as you are,
And as bad as I am,
I’m as good as you are,
As bad as I am.

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May your blessings outnumber
The shamrocks that grow,
And may trouble avoid you
Wherever you go.

——————————-

Health, and long life to you
Land without rent to you
The partner of your heart to you
and when you die, may your bones rest in Ireland!

Removal of Language Learning Requirements for Teenagers

In England, concern has been growing that the country’s students are falling behind when it comes to learning other languages.

In 2004, England stopped requiring that students over the age of 14 take classes in a foreign language. Since then, the percentage of students that have chosen to take foreign language classes has continued to drop. For example, according to the BBC, the number of students taking French GCSE has fallen 30% in the past 4 years.

Most of the other countries in the European Union require secondary school students to continue taking foreign language courses, so there is a concern that England will be at a competitive disadvantage in today’s global economy.

There are several advantages to becoming fluent in another language. First, it can make you more employable, especially as more and more companies start to do business internationally. Second, learning a foreign language can improve your speaking and writing skills in English.

For example, an American study completed in 1992 by the College Entrance Examination Board found that students who had studied a foreign language for 4 or more years scored higher on the verbal section of the SAT than students who had not. Other studies have shown that learning a foreign language boosts creativity and math skills as well.

With language learning becoming increasingly important, why did England choose to drop the language learning requirement for children over the age of 14?

According to the BBC, the change was made as part of a package of curriculum reform with the intention of reducing truancy among secondary school students. England’s government began pushing hard to reduce truancy in the early part of this decade, even going so far as to put parents in jail when their teenage children consistently skipped school.

The thought was that kids who didn’t want to be in school anyway would probably be more interested in vocational courses than in learning a foreign language, so the requirement was dropped.

Starting in 2011, language learning classes will be required for primary school students instead. Hopefully, children who start learning languages early will feel more inclined to keep studying them as they get older.

Can Computers Help Preserve Indigenous Languages?

According to the BBC, nearly half of the world’s 6,500 languages are expected to disappear over the next 100 years. Languages die when people stop speaking them and stop teaching them to their children. This has happened all over the world, with one of many examples being the fate of Native American languages after Europeans began to settle the continent.

Native Americans were confined to reservations, and Native American children were taken from the parents and sent to boarding schools, where instructors would punish them for speaking their native languages.

However, many Native American tribes are now making efforts to revitalise their languages through language learning and immersion programs in schools. One Native American couple, Mary Hermes and Kevin Roach, founded a non-profit organisation called Grassroots Educational Multimedia to provide people with tools to learn Native American languages.

The organisation teamed up with a company called Transparent Language to create language learning software for the Ojibwe language. The software allows Ojibwe students to create flashcards and watch videos of native speakers conversing in Ojibwe.

Another benefit of this software is that it has helped to document the vocabulary and grammar of the Ojibwe language. Before this project, the language’s grammatical structure was poorly documented.

So, with this software, GEM and Transparent Language have created a portable system people can use to learn Ojibwe at home, created a record of native speakers’ conversations, and created a map of Ojibwe grammar.

Even better, this approach provides a way to circumvent the emotional issues involved in trying to revive a dying language. As the Earth Times notes,

‘The history of the near genocide of the indigenous people of North America and the repression of their cultures and languages has meant that many emotions can get stirred up when indigenous people try to learn their own languages. They may encounter feelings of shame that they don’t know their indigenous language, feelings of anger at the trauma their people have endured, and feelings of embarrassment when they attempt to speak their language with the vocabulary of a two year old. Tribal elders who are fluent in the indigenous language may feel too jaded or just be too few in number to offer enough assistance. Often the indigenous language learner hits a place of cultural loss and insecurity that they have great difficulty overcoming.’ –Earth Times

Practicing at home, at a computer, gives language learners a chance to overcome these issues privately, and means that elders who grew up speaking the language can more easily pass it on. Also, this software gives students learning the language at school a fun way to practice outside of class.

Hopefully, this approach will help linguists document endangered languages and help language activists teach them, at least in places where computers are readily available.

The Language of Love

Valentine’s Day is approaching fast, a time when we express our love with cards and presents. Love is honoured on this day throughout the world.

Valentine’s Day is shrouded with myths of sacred marriage, fertility and romance. The true St. Valentine was a Christian saint but very little is known about him. Originally St Valentine’s Day was celebrated as a Christian feast but it was abandoned due to lack of solid information. There are many Valentine’s in history martyred by the church and until 1969 the Catholic Church actually celebrated 11 Valentine’s Days throughout the year.

Language is a very important part of the Valentine’s celebrations. Billions of cards are sent on Valentine’s making it the second most popular time to send cards behind Christmas. What is said in the card can mean so much to the receiver even when the sender sticks with tradition and sends their words anonymously.

There are certain languages which have an association with love, French and Italian being the most famous romantic languages.French has a reputation for being the language of love; its flowing sound makes it perfect for flamboyant love poems. Descending from Latin, French is one of the ‘romance languages’ and is spoken as a first language by approximately 128 million people around the world.

Valentine’s Day has no real connection with French but the perception is that the French are very romantic. This may or may not be true, I would guess that it depends on the individual but the smooth, romantic tones of their language impress people from around the world on this day for lovers.

Valentine’s Day has become a very commercial event perhaps we should do something extra special this year, learn a phrase in French and recite it to your loved one. Below we have included some examples to get you started….

Bonne Saint Valentin! – Happy Valentine’s Day!

Je t’aime – I love you

Mon amour pour toi est éternel – My love for you is eternal

Je t’aime de tout mon cœur – I love you with all my heart

À toi, pour toujours – Yours forever

Tendres baisers – Love and kisses

Je veux passer la reste de ma vie avec toi – I want to spend the rest of my life with you.

Tu es la femme de ma vie – you are the woman of my life (a man talking to a woman and telling her)

Un bouquet de fleurs – a bunch of flowers
Une bague – a ring

With it being Valentines Day those romantic men among you may want to ask….
Veux-tu m’épouser ? – Marry me? (Will you be my wife?)

Or if you want to be cheeky….
On va chez toi ou chez moi ? – Your place or mine?

To Learn a Foreign Language, Listen

If you’re struggling with learning a new language, try listening to native speakers. That’s the conclusion of a new study from Victoria University in New Zealand.

According to the Daily Mail, researchers have discovered that listening to people talk or sing in a foreign language makes learning that language easier, even if you haven’t the foggiest idea what they are saying.

How is this possible? When babies start learning language, their brains develop neural structures that allow them to understand and process the different combinations of sounds in their native language. However, when you learn a new language, you are often confronted with combinations of sounds that you’ve never encountered before. It can be difficult to learn and remember words in a foreign language because your brain doesn’t have the appropriate neural structures to do so.

The good news is that over time, simply hearing a new language spoken will cause your brain to grow new neural tissue to process the new combinations of sound, just as a baby does when learning its first language. As your brain becomes more attuned to the sounds of the new language, it will become easier for you to speak and understand it.

Dr. Paul Sulzberger, the author of the study, summed the results up nicely when he told the Daily Mail, “To learn a language you have to grow the appropriate brain tissue, and you do this by lots of listening – songs and movies are great.”

Often, foreign language students wait until they can actually understand the spoken language to start watching television or listening to music in that language. This study suggests that is the wrong approach to take.

If you’re learning a new language, try to find music, movies and television that feature people speaking in that language. Listen to the music on your MP3 player or watch a TV show while you eat dinner. If you keep listening to native speakers and try to learn the language, it won’t be long before what you’re hearing starts to make sense!

Foreign Footballers Face Language Test

January can be a stressful month for any British football manager, as the transfer window opens clubs have 31 days in which to sell and buy players. New immigration laws which came in to affect in autumn 2008 will make things even harder.

The new points based visa system means that any players who are from outside the European Union will have to apply for a Tier 2 skilled worker visa and prove that they have a basic level of English before they will be allowed to permanently stay and play professional football in Britain.

In the premier league today there are approximately 100 players who came here from outside the EU. To qualify in the Tier 2 skilled category, elite sportspeople and coaches must accumulate sufficient points in a range of areas to do with their work and status.

It was revealed last week that footballers will be allowed to work in Britain under Tier 5 of the new immigration rules. Within a year in Britain they must take and pass an English language test to qualify for Tier 2 status and continue working in this country. This is excellent news for the Football Association as they now have time to educate their foreign players here in the UK rather than expecting them to learn proficient enough English before they come here. The exemption was brought in because of a request by the FA.

The WAGs (Wives and Girlfriends) who come with the players will be required to have a reasonable standard of English before they enter the country.

These new laws seem like a great idea, it will be interesting to see how they get on. It must be very hard for players who move here with very limited English or none at all. It will be good for English football clubs and the game itself as it will help players integrate into British life; a little English can go a long way. It’s understandable that a player from Brazil (or anywhere outside Europe) will struggle to learn the language at first but just a few simple phrases will help him settle in. Tolerance of foreign nationals is good in Britain and translation services are freely available.

If England’s manager Fabio Capello can do it so can the rest!


Chinese New Year 2009

Today is Chinese New Year an ancient festival which is celebrated not only in China but around the world.

This year is the ‘Year of the Ox’ which symbolises prosperity through fortitude and hard work.

Chinese New Year is an exciting, flamboyant event. As the clock strikes midnight the firecrackers are set off making a deafening sound and colourful fireworks fill the sky. Crowds of people meet in the streets to greet each other and exchange gifts.

There are many traditions and superstitions surrounding Chinese New Year. Red envelopes (also known as ‘lucky money’) are given from married couples and the elderly to young people who are not married and young children. They are filled with money, varying from a couple of dollars to a few hundred, which is said to suppress evil spirits.

The money enclosed in the envelope must be an even number. Although you will never find $4 in one as the number 4 is considered bad luck. The number 8 however is said to be good luck so it is very common for young children to receive $8.

Fireworks are incredibly popular on Chinese New Year. It started back in ancient China when they used to fill bamboo sticks with gun powder. These were burnt to create small explosions thought to scare away evil spirits.

In modern times the firecracker has taken the place of these homemade death traps. Usually firecrackers hang from a string, wrapped in red paper, with gunpowder at the centre. Firecrackers are known for their deafening explosions which as in ancient China it is said to drive away evil spirits.

Although Firecrackers are an integral part of the New Year’s celebrations they have been known to have caused many injuries over the years, which led to the government banning the use of firecrackers for years. Incidents of blinding, people loosing body parts and other grievous bodily harm incidents are reported every year, more commonly in the New Year’s festival season.

The bans on fireworks don’t seem to last forever as many major cities across China and around the world have lifted their bans on these products. It seems that after major incidents like the deaths of 6 people and 58 others injured, governments ban firecrackers for anything up to ten years. After that they start using them again until there is another major catastrophe where people loose their lives.

A lot of the traditions surrounding the festival are about scaring or driving away evil spirits, to start afresh going into the New Year. Everything is centred on the colour red, during the 15 days of Chinese New Year. All of these traditions and symbols are used to invoke luck, happiness and prosperity for the year ahead.

Cheeseburgery Hamburgers

Cheeseburgery Hamburgers

On the FT’s blogs today Tony Barber wrote this article about his recent experience of machine translation.

After hearing a recommendation that bloggers should use computerised translation to provide foreign language replicas of their own blogs, he decided to put Google Translate to the test.

I won’t spoil it for you – the full article is here but there is one section that made us laugh for a good fifteen minutes… taken from a Polish Newspaper (Gazeta Wyborcza) and translated into English using Google Translate it says,

“A sign of the collapse of the French culture of the restaurant is visible on the streets of Paris rash of quick-service bar, offering generally pogardzane a few years ago and cheeseburgery hamburgers.”

Cheeseburgery Hamburgers – brilliant.

BTW – I’ve been talking about how poor machine translation is for a long time (actually wrote a paper on it at uni).

Sell to foreign visitors

Everyone is being affected by the recession (which only really started on Friday) but perhaps the most visible is on the high street. Walk down any high street in the UK and it is apparent how hard the retailers are trying to sell their products.

In the FT this weekend was a great article titled, ‘Foreign shoppers cash in on falling pound’, to summarise it said that while UK shoppers are finding it increasing difficult to spend money as in 2007 people from abroad were travelling to the UK to shop. This is especially true of big ticket items such as TVs, jewellery and even new cars.

This is helped by the change in value of £ sterling. In case you’ve not noticed the value of the £ in the international currency markets has fallen dramatically, meaning that currencies such as the Yen and US Dollar are now respectively 70% and 35% stronger (in relation to the Pound) than they were in 2007. This on top of the discounts that UK shops are offering lead to massive savings for the shopper coming from abroad.

And they have money to spend, research carried out by the Financial Times shows the average spend per person to be as follows;
Middle East – £1,974
Nigeria – £1,496
Russia – £1,456
China – £1,252
Malaysia – £760
Hong Kong – £747
USA – £631
Japan – £542

The languages that they speak are, Arabic, Mandarin, Cantonese, Russian, French, Japanese and Malay. This is almost 80% of all foreign shoppers.

If you are in retail (and I include both online and high street) one way to differentiate yourself from the competition is to translate your marketing material into the 7 languages listed above, giving you a much greater chance of selling to 80% of the foreign shoppers.

Ask yourself – which is the more sustainable business model?
1) providing translation in 7 languages to take advantage of the cheap £, increased amount of foreign shoppers and their willingness to buy expensive items, or,
2) continually discounting your low mark-up goods by anything up to 80% in the hope that the UK consumer will buy from you and not the guy next door.

If you can read about a project/service before you can buy it and the sales assistants (via telephone interpreting) can converse in your language you are many times more likely to make a purchase.

Its not rocket science… translating your material opens up new markets.