Talking Translator

Have you ever been stuck in a foreign country desperately wanting to ask a local a question but limited by your language skills? Well the iPhone and iPod touch from Apple in conjunction with Coolgorilla have the solution.

Coolgorilla develop software applications for iPods and Mobile phones. They have just launched their first application for the iPhone and iPod touch called the ‘Talking Phrasebook’.

The application provides both text and audio translations in French, Spanish, German, Portuguese and Italian. A Greek version is expected to be released soon and if successful more languages will follow.

The software is sponsored by lastminute.com so it is available free of charge and can be downloaded from the Coolgorilla or Apple Apps websites.

The application contains over 300 hundred words and phrases in each language to help you get by when travelling abroad. It includes sections on Essentials, Travel, Accommodation, Food & Drink, Socialising, Romance, Shopping and Emergencies.

Simply select your required phrase from the English menu system and your iPhone or iPod touch will then display a written translation on screen and also provides a spoken translation using recordings of a native voice artists.

All the translations are stored within your iPhone or iPod Touch and so the application does not require that you access the internet whilst abroad.

While this is not a replacement for telephone interpreting this application is an exciting development in translation software and an ideal solution for holiday makers who need basic phrases to help them on their travels.

Text Messaging: A New Tool in the Struggle for Language Diversity?

Text messaging is quickly becoming one of the most common methods of communication worldwide. In fact, last year in the US, text messages surpassed voice calls in popularity.

However, the Wall Street Journal notes that texting can pose problems for some non-English speakers. Most of the time, when people send text messages, they use software called predictive text to make typing the messages easier.

Predictive text “predicts” what you are trying to type, so you don’t have to press as many buttons. Without predictive text, you have to press numbers multiple times to get to the right letter. This is frustrating enough in English, but it’s even more time-consuming if you’re trying to use a language with a longer alphabet, like Hindi.

As language advocates see it, the problem with text messaging is that influences people to communicate via text message using languages that predictive text software is written for. This is fine for native English speakers, but could be detrimental in other cultures that are struggling to preserve their languages and pass them on to the next generation.

According to the Wall Street Journal article, so far only 80 of the world’s 6,912 languages are supported by predictive text software. Linguistic experts hope that expanding the number of languages available will make it easier for people to communicate in their native languages.

For example, predictive text software is now available for Gaelic. According to Breandan Mac Craith, marketing director for Dublin-based Foras na Gaeilge, an organization that promotes the use of Irish, “They’re fabulous tools for us. It facilitates the Irish language as a communications tool for every day — not just in the classroom.”

However, as mobile phones become increasingly vital parts of doing business around the world, the availability of predictive text is vital for more that just language preservation. According to the Wall Street Journal, “text capability on mobile phones can be vital to economic development and helping people who don’t speak or read English buy and sell goods.”

New spelling in Brazil

Could you imagine what would happen if you had to adopt a new set of spelling and grammar rules? Well that’s exactly what has just happened in Brazil.

I’m sure you know that Portuguese is different in Brazil and Portugal. It all stems from 1911 when Portugal (and its territories) commissioned a standardisation of the writing system (orthography) for Portuguese; this was known as the orthographic reform of Gonçalves Viana.

Due to various disagreements and logistic issues Brazil set up an orthography of its own in 1934, with the same general principles as the Portuguese orthography, but not entirely identical to it, which lead to differences between the two languages.

Over the remaining 20th Century various moves were made to reform the languages and bring them closer together, many positive steps were taken. The main change was the signing of the Orthographic Agreement in 1990 by seven Portuguese speaking nations.

Orthographic Agreement of 1990

The agreement sets out new spelling rules for the language in an attempt to standardise its use across its 250 million users. This means that as from this week some Brazilian Portuguese spelling and grammar rules will be different.

The changes include,

  • Ruling out of letters c and p from the European/African spelling when silent
  • The removal of the diaeresis mark from Brazilian spelling
  • The elimination of the acute accent from the diphthongs éi and ói in paroxytone words
  • Spellings such as anónimo and anônimo, facto and fato, both will be considered legitimate, according to the dialect of the author or person being transcribed.
  • Common guidelines for the use of hyphens and capitalization.

What will it mean to you?

International websites such as BBC Brazil will be adopting the new way of spelling as soon as possible. If you sell/operate in this market make sure that you have your copy reviewed by a translator.

My friend can speak that language…

… So why do I need a translator?

During one of the medical industries biggest exhibitions, Medica 2008, we spoke to hundreds of people regarding their translation requirements.

Surprisingly many of the companies confirmed that their translation is done by employees who happen to speak the foreign language required.

It seems like a good and inexpensive option, but is it really?

Inexperienced translators, even if they have good knowledge of the product, might not have the sufficient knowledge of linguistic aspects of translation needed to convey the message accurately.

In addition, experienced translators are efficient and able to provide accurate translations under time pressures that are often exerted by print/launch deadlines. Inexperienced employees undertaking translation projects will spend much more time on it compared to an experienced language specialist.

The biggest cost comes from these employees not attending to their daily responsibilities; this “opportunity cost” is often higher than the cost of outsourcing translation to a specialist agency such as K International plc.

K International uses translation memory software (TMS) which helps its translators by storing all previously translated material, whereas, translation done by employees is never stored in a way that allows efficient re-use of previous translations.

By outsourcing to K International you can save considerable amount of money because of the enormous savings (up to 70% discounts) on previously translated and repetitious text. Therefore, using an established TMS will benefit your company in 3 ways.

  1. A reduction in cost – as the software will ‘remember’ what has been previously translated.
  2. Improve consistency across releases and updates.
  3. A reduction in time to market – i.e. reducing the amount of work that is required.

Summing up the opportunity costs, longer delivery times, late launches and losing benefits of TMS, can you really afford to translate your documents in-house?

Creating a More Linguistically Diverse Internet

The Internet has long been dominated by English-language content, but that may change over the next few years. The New York Times reports that many companies are responding to increased demand for content in languages other than English by translating existing online content and providing new tools that help users create content in their native languages.

English may be the most popular second language in the world, but many people who speak it as a second language still prefer to communicate in their native tongue whenever possible, including online. For example, a survey of 50 million Indian Internet users found that even though most could speak English, ¾ preferred to read in the language they grew up speaking.

However, people who want to communicate in languages other than English can face some rather frustrating obstacles. For instance, The New York Times describes how Indian engineer Ram Prakash Hanumanthappa wanted to use his native language, Kannada, to email friends and family. However, Kannada is written using a special script, and typing it on a regular keyboard involves using complex keyboard maps to create the special characters. Read more

Malaysians Debate Language

Malaysian politicians, schools, activists and parents have been engaged in a furious debate over what language to use for instructing the nation’s schoolchildren in math and science.

Now, MSNBC reports that negotiations between the different camps have reached a standstill. The issue is emotional and difficult to negotiate: Should Malaysian students receive math and science instruction in Malay, Malaysia’s national language, and the native language of most of its inhabitants? Or, should Malaysian students receive math and science instruction in English to better enable them to compete with students from other countries in an international job market?

Malaysia was once a British colony, and Malaysian schools once taught exclusively in English. However, after Malaysia gained its independence from Great Britain, Malaysian leaders had schools begin teaching in Malay again, to promote native culture and the use of the Malay language.

Unfortunately, this backfired on Malaysian students seeking work in an international marketplace, where English fluency is considered a desirable trait. Schools began teaching math and science in English in 2003.
Malay language activists have been trying for decades to help the Malay language evolve to meet the needs of modern Malaysians, as well as to develop a Malay vocabulary for math and science terms.

They feel that teaching math and science in English threatens their efforts. Another component of the mix is the desire of Malay’s main ethnic minorities to have these subjects taught in their native languages, Tamil and Chinese.

Since the different players in the language debate are unable to come to a resolution, a decision on the policy will have to be made by the Malaysian Cabinet. Nobody is sure what the Cabinet will decide, but one this is clear: Someone is going to walk away unhappy when the decision is announced next year.

Online Social Site Offers Machine Translation

One of the earliest Utopian promises of the Internet was that it would connect the world and give different cultures a greater understanding of each other. Imagine if you could sit at a coffee shop and talk to people from across the world, and hear what they have to say. In theory, at least, everyone would emerge from the coffee shop with a better understanding of and a deeper appreciation for each other’s views.

Of course, even though the Internet allows people to communicate across continents, there’s still one problem: the language barrier. Now, an online social networking site called Meedan aims to break down the language barrier between Arabic, Hebrew and English speakers. The site uses translating software to translate members’ comments and messages to one another. Unfortunately, translation software is never perfect, and Meedan’s is no exception, as the New York Times reports.

Programmers face a number of obstacles in writing translation software aimed at translating Arabic to English (and vice versa). For one thing, currently all translation programs work by having computers review copies of human-translated documents. By giving the computer a copy of the same text in each language, it can compare the two texts and “learn” which words correspond to each other.. The more translated text the computer sees, the more accurately it can translate. However, there is less common material available between English and Arabic than there is between English and many other languages.

Also, syntax is more fluid in Arabic than in English. Arabic speakers use content and meaning (basically, common sense) to determine the meaning of a particular sentence. Computers, unfortunately, lack common sense.

According to the New York Times’ article, Meedan’s software is “surprisingly good ,“ even for some abstract phrases and figurative language. However, human translators have no need to worry about being replaced by computers anytime soon-Meedan also produced this little gem:

“The mother your visit in Israel is a sleep to the favour or to the bed your mind on the conflict are Israeli Palestinian and on relational Israel Holland.”

As the New York Times’ astutely points out, given how fraught with tension the semantics of the conflicts in the Middle East are, it remains to be seen how well Meedan will be able to build to a bridge between here and there.

Don’t Jump…. Get yourself a donkey!

Translating documents is not an easy business, a word can mean one thing in one language but something different in another if translated literally. When translating important life saving information leaflets it is essential to proofread the text to make sure it reads correctly and fluently.

Here is a good example of when things go badly wrong…

A fire brigade leaflet produced for Strathclyde Fire and Rescue Service offering advice on how to escape from your home.

Written in English the text read,

Never jump straight out of a window, lower yourself onto cushions

This was translated into Urdu, the result was very interesting. It read…

Never jump out of a window straight. Put yourself on a donkey and come down.

Teacher Ilfan Malik explained: “The Urdu word for cushion is gadda. But the word for donkey is gadha.”

A spokesman for Strathclyde Fire and Rescue apologised, adding: “A replacement leaflet will be distributed soon.”

There’s never a donkey around when you need one!

An important lesson on how you must never confuse the letters h and d. It can have serious repercussions, particularly if you cannot find a donkey.

It would have been beneficial to have had the document proofread. Having another translator reading the translated text means the context and spelling etc… can be checked, eliminating the problem of misinterpretation.

Johann von Goethe

Germany Seeks to Enshrine the German Language

What could be more German than the German language? At least, that’s the question being asked by members of the German Christian Democrat political party, which is seeking to change the German Constitution to include the following 6 words:

“The language of the Federal Republic of Germany is German.”

The Associated Press notes that ever since World War II, the German language has been in need of an image makeover.

Long after the last vestiges of the Nazi regime were banished, the German language’s sinister reputation lives in on the accents of Hollywood villains and other aspects of pop culture.

For example, the American rock band Tool included a song in German  called “Die Eier von Satan”  on their album Aenima.

The song uses the popular association of German with fascism to make non-German speaking listeners think they are listening to a Nazi speech of some sort, but it’s actually just a recording of someone reading a brownie recipe in German.

It’s unfortunate that World War II has left a cloud hanging over the language of German Romanticism, and of poets and philosophers like Goethe and Hegel.

So, although Germany is seeing an increase in the population of immigrants, this proposal is presented as being more about rehabilitating German’s image than about making people feel unwelcome. The AP article states that “For many Germans, enshrining the language is more about strengthening the country’s image on the international stage rather than fears about foreign influence.” They also feel that the resolution would make it easier to have German listed as an “official” language of the EU.

Still, the proposal is opposed by Chancellor Angela Merkel and by other German political parties, including the Social Democrats and other opposition parties. For example, according to Speigel Online,

“Others worry that the CDU’s motion could be interpreted as offensive to minorities living in Germany, whether it be ethnic Danes in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein, the Sorbs in Saxony or the roughly 3.3 million Germans of Turkish origin living in the country. Ayyub Axel Köhler, the chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD), told the Hanover daily Neue Presse that the measure was “laughable and small-minded.” “No one doubts that German is the official language,” Köhler added. “It’s obvious that knowing German is a key requirement for integration.”

The whole world speaks Engrish

At a conference in Germany last week I was talking to a Japanese guy who worked for a manufacturer of medical equipment… This is how the conversation went.

Me: Do you translate your material for use in markets outside of Japan?

Him: No… hahaha… there is… er… no… er… need

Me: May I ask why?

Him: because… er… the whole world speak Engrish! [and then he burst into hysterical laughter]

While we make light of this (and to be honest the guy’s laugh did make me laugh as well to the point that we both stood there and wondered why we were laughing together) there are real reasons behind why documents should be translated.

Think about it… if you are a Japanese manufacture selling your products in Germany and all of your support material is in English, how are you going to generate leads? You are immediately restricting your potential business contacts to people who speak English and do business in Germany.

And there are legal obligations to translate your material into the mother tongue of the country that you are distributing. Without the proper translation to accompany your products you may not attain your CE Mark, making it impossible (and maybe even illegal) to sell in other countries.

Which languages?

Deciding to support alternative languages is the first step, after that you have to pick which ones to support. Given that there are around 6,500 languages spoken on planet earth this can be a daunting task. So we’ll look at which ones will make you the most return for your investment (this will change from market to market – but it is a great starting point).

According to The World Bank the largest economies in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) are as follows (highest first); United States, Japan, Germany, China, United Kingdom, France, Italy, Canada, Spain and Brazil.

They constitute over 70% of the world’s economy (which is $33 trillion combined) consuming the majority of world’s products and services.

So… if you want to communicate with the people who live in these countries you need to do so in the following languages; US English, Japanese, Germany, Mandarin, Cantonese, UK English, French, Italian, Canadian French, Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese.

Translate your material into 11 languages and you can cover $33 trillion of the world’s trade. If you don’t translate your material people who can’t read your material won’t buy your products.