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Apple's Tone Deaf Translation

Whenever a company expands into a new country, it’s essential to try to avoid making linguistic and/or cultural blunders. Even the largest corporations can make mistakes, as Apple recently found when it opened a version of the iTunes store for the Hong Kong market.

To make the iTunes store accessible to people in Hong Kong, music from local artists was featured prominently and all of the text was translated.

Unfortunately, Apple decided to translate the text into Mandarin pinyin, a system invented in the 1950’s that translates Chinese characters into Latin script. Hong Kong is part of China, so that makes sense, right? Not so fast. People in Hong Kong actually speak Cantonese (not Mandarin), and they are fiercely protective of their language, which sounds quite different from Mandarin and is generally written using traditional Chinese characters. The Wall Street Journal explained:

“A former British colony, Hong Kong returned to mainland Chinese rule in 1997, but has stayed proudly loyal to its own native dialect and customs. Many locals resent the intrusion of Mandarin—which China’s government has promoted for decades as the official language across the border—and fear that Cantonese, spoken by 96% of the population, is gradually being shunted aside.”

With that in mind, it’s easy to understand why some Hong Kong residents became irate and started venting on Twitter.

As one user quoted in the Wall Street Journal tweeted:

“Those are CANTO pop [songs]. Use cantonese [sic] phonetics.”

Even Hong Kong residents who were impressed by iTunes’ local music selection were frustrated by the tone-deaf translation:

“I thought iTunes wouldn’t have many good Cantonese songs, but they even have [Cantopop singer] Paula Tsui,” wrote one Hong Kong user on Twitter. “Still, they’re all in Mandarin pinyin. Unless you actually listened to them, you wouldn’t know what songs they were.”

In retrospect, given the controversies surrounding language use in Hong Kong, Apple made an obvious and avoidable error. It’s understandable why they would want to use pinyin, as there’s not a similarly standardized way to transliterate Cantonese into the Roman alphabet and translating the entire iTunes catalog into traditional Chinese characters is a daunting task.

Still, you can’t expect people to be happy with your product if they feel they’re having another language pushed on them, especially when they already feel like their language is threatened. Anyone with an in-depth knowledge of Hong Kong’s culture and history should have been able to point out the potential for problems. This shouldn’t be more than a bump in the road for Apple, but that’s because they’re Apple. A brand that doesn’t inspire the same level of cult-like devotion might find its Hong Kong expansion plans in trouble!

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apple translation fail

Apple Translation Fail

Translation fails are a well-trodden internet path for people looking for a quick giggle. Whether it’s that Chinese toilet sign inviting you to ‘pee in the pool’ or a coffee shop in Bulgaria that proudly boasts a poster saying ‘we hope you lick our coffee and our waiters’, the idea that something so inappropriate could reach public display is just plain comedy gold. These well-meaning attempts at transmitting a message aren’t just funny though; they remind us that translation is more complex than a lot of people imagine. I mean how obvious are some of those classic examples weve all seen? Well, not very if you have little understanding of the language.

There are situations where this kind of innocuous mistake can have more serious implications, though, if say it was made by a giant multinational technology company for example. Take the Apple iPhone 7 slogan ‘This is 7’. Hilariously, in September when this ad was shown in Hong Kong it became apparent that in Cantonese the slogan read as ‘This is male genitalia’. Read more

Global-Branding - Coke-Can

5 Examples of Powerful Global Branding in Action

Image by Pixabay

In the 1980s, only a handful of brands, such as Coca Cola and IBM, ruled the global stage. However, as the internet continues to lower the barriers to entering new markets, an increasing number of companies are able to achieve this level of influence.

Today, building a global brand requires a lot more than simply translating your website into different languages. The most successful companies understand that consistent and universally appealing messaging has to be combined with an understanding of local culture and tastes – a tactic that’s known as a ‘glocal’ strategy.

Here are five examples of powerful global branding in action. Read more

iPhone Now Supports Cherokee

IOS 4.1, the latest software release for the iPhone and the iPod Touch, adds support for a new language: Cherokee. Now, all but the oldest iPhones are capable of using the Cherokee syllabary to send and receive text messages. In addition, now that Cherokee is supported, it will be easier for the Cherokee Nation to develop and release Cherokee-language apps.

iPhone users can access the Cherokee keyboard via the “international keyboard” option in the keyboard settings. Once the keyboard has been added to the device, it’s easy to toggle between Cherokee and English when using the phone.

Apple’s decision to include Cherokee is important because it makes it easier for the tribe to teach their children to use the language. As Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chad Smith explained to the Native American Times:

“People communicate differently today. Including our language on the iPhone and iPod makes it accessible to more people, especially our youth.  This is critical to the survival and growth of our language.” Read more

Translation by Siri

Siri may have difficulty understanding English when it is spoken in a Scottish accent, but Apple’s virtual personal assistant now has another trick up her sleeve: translation.

A team of developers recently introduced an app called Lingual, which turns Siri into your own personal translator, allowing your iPhone to translate spoken words and phrases into 30 different languages. All you have to do is ask Siri “How do you say “_____” in “_____?” and a translation will appear on your screen in the language of your choice.

Before you venture off to another country with your iPhone in hand, though, there are a few drawbacks to consider. The first, as reported by The Verge, is the simple fact that Lingual’s translation capabilities are far from perfect.

“We installed the tweak and can report that it works flawlessly, quickly pulling in results using Microsoft’s Bing Translate API as a backend. Its only limitation is that backend, which isn’t as strong as Google’s offering, and regularly fails to correctly translate phrases.”

Poor translation is a pretty big limitation, isn’t it? Google Translate has issues enough, so you may want to think twice before relying on this app as your sole means of communication.

Another potential issue: in order to use Lingual, you must jailbreak your iPhone if you haven’t done so already. Not that big of a deal, but it does make installation a bit more complicated than simply firing up the app store and downloading it.

Finally, if you are travelling, you may be charged extra for using data while roaming. That means that you may end up paying an arm and a leg for Lingual’s translation services when you get back home – not a good way to end a vacation! It’s not as flashy, but you might be better served by downloading a translation application that is stored on your phone and doesn’t require access to your carrier’s data network.

New Apps Help Keep Canadian Native Languages Alive

In an attempt to keep some of Canada’s most endangered native languages alive, advocates are turning to Apple, according to Canada.com. Working in conjunction with First Nation tribes and the First Peoples Cultural Foundation, a group of developers called FirstVoices has just released apps for the Sencoten and Halq’emeylem languages on the iPad, iPod and iPhone.

Sencoten is spoken by the Saanich people of Vancouver Island. The language is in dire straits; at this time, only about 10 people can speak it fluently.  Halq’emeylem, which is spoken by a group of related tribes in Vancouver’s Fraser Valley, has about 225 speakers according to Ethnologue. However, according to Wikipedia in 2000 it was estimated that less than a dozen were actually fluent. Read more