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

Translation’s role in times of crisis

Translation’s role in times of crisis

Recent tragedies have highlighted the important role communication has in supporting victims of a crisis, both during and after an incident, not to mention the responsibility placed upon it in terms of prevention and reducing the overall impact when such an event is unavoidable. Given the diversity of local populations, particularly in cities, this is an important consideration in modern times. For example, 22% of London’s population – equating to 1.7 million people – don’t speak English as their first language. In fact, according to the 2011 Census, some 320,000 of the capital’s residents speak little or no English at all. While such diversity brings with it many reasons to celebrate, it can also create challenges for the authorities in supporting those in need during a crisis.

In this article, we take a look at three recent examples and consider how translation, or lack thereof, has affected the people caught up in an incident. 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

Translation in Video Games

Translation in Gaming: You Must Defeat Sheng Long

Video games have come a long way in the past 30 years. The cinematic masterpieces offered today bear little resemblance to the pixelated classics that so many of us remember fondly from our childhood.

Gaming has become a huge global industry. There are believed to be up to 2.6 billion gamers in the world, with an estimated industry value of $128.5 billion by the end of 2020. The revenue from international video games surpassed that of the international film industry some years ago. Indeed, by 2013 it had reached more than double the revenue that the film industry commanded.

Video game translation

Video game translation plays a key role in the international sale of modern video games. Game producers’ enhanced budgets mean that they can afford top notch translation services in order to ensure that their offerings are word-perfect around the world. However, that wasn’t always the case, as one of the gaming industry’s most famous hoaxes reveals. Read more

Translation Gone Wild: 5 Translation Mistakes from 2017

Over the past year, machine translation has made significant progress. Tech giants like Google, Microsoft, and Facebook are building powerful Neural Machine Translation (NMT) systems modeled after the human brain.

NMT offers improved accuracy compared to older machine translation systems. To hear the headlines tell it, that means all of our translation problems are solved. Who needs a human translator when you’ve got artificial intelligence?

But if that were true, we wouldn’t have these amusing translation mistakes to share with you, would we?

Google Can’t Translate the South African Parliament


Voice-to-text translation sounds amazing, in theory. Just speak into a microphone, wait a few seconds, and “Voila!” The system automatically translates your words, and you don’t even have to lift a finger.

And it is amazing when it works. But therein lies the rub. Regional accents and dialects can throw these systems off.

For example, the video above shows what happens when Google tries to translate a South African Parliament session.

Read more

Avoiding Poor Sales due to Flawed Label Translation

Avoiding Poor Sales due to Flawed Label Translation

This is a guest post from the team over at Globalvision Inc. They produce specialised software solutions for managing the packaging creation and artwork process.

As global sales opportunities continue to increase, in part due to the growth trend of emerging markets, companies continue to benefit from investing in international advertising and product exports. As well as adhering to packaging quality control regulations, which are often not clearly defined in developing countries; companies have to pay attention when adapting their offerings to the cultural and social customs of their international customers, as well as language use and verbal expressions. This is an extremely important factor when it comes to both branding and label translation.

Famous brands such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Milka, and The American Dairy Association have all learned about this the hard way. Due to an inadequate translation process and careless research, these companies have all suffered huge product recalls and sales losses at some point in their localisation history.

So, new brands hitting the global market should learn from the lessons the big guys taught us, instead of trying to promote and sell brands and products as you would within a domestic market, it is imperative to understand the cultural differences between countries that tend to prevent this from being a successful strategy. Read more