London Cabbies to Take Language Lessons for 2012 Olympics

As London prepares to host the 2012 Summer Olympics, even cabbies are getting in on the act. In order to better communicate with foreign visitors, around 3,000 cabdrivers working for Radio Taxi are taking CD and MP3-based courses in  French, Spanish and Chinese.

In an article on the BBC, Radio Taxi CEO Geoffrey Riesel explained the purpose of the program:

“In 2012 we expect to see an extra 10 million people in London…We are attempting to ensure many more of our drivers can pick up some of the basic phrases of a number of languages.”

However, lest the Olympic attendees be deprived of the wit and wisdom of London cabbies, the lessons go a step beyond basic phrases. According to The Australian,  while the lessons are not designed to make the cabbies fluent in the various languages, they are designed to allow them to go beyond transactional phrases and engage in some light, playful banter with their clients. Sample course phrases include: “I had that Michael Caine in the back of my cab last week” and “It’s political correctness gone mad.” For each language they learn, the drivers will receive a flag to put on their vehicle, advertising their linguistic proficiency to potential customers.

Carlos Oliveira,a driver for Radio Taxi, told the Australian that he believes the language classes will be beneficial:

“The first people these foreigners are going to see are cab drivers, so if we can show them that we parlez a bit of their language then that’s got to be a good thing. To be able to say ‘welcome’ in Chinese would go a long way.”

Chicago Overcome Olympic Translation Problem

Chicago is bidding to host the 2016 Olympics but they have had to change their official slogan from ‘Stir The Soul’ to ‘Let Friendship Shine’ over problems with mistranslation in some countries.

Mistranslation is quite common; context is easily lost especially in countries such as Japan and China.

Chicago Olympic bid officials are hoping the International Olympic Committee will like their new slogan. Chicago hopes to welcome the world in ‘the spirit of friendship’ in 2016.

Many friendships  are formed at the Olympics, athletes living together in the Olympic village often share tips and experiences. The historic friendship of Jesse Owens and Luz Long is an excellent example of a friendship formed at the games.

The Chicago bid aims to continue to tell many more stories of friendships born out of the Olympics movement. The bid will even be celebrating National Friendship Day on 2nd August 09.

The new slogan will be appearing across the city of Chicago very soon and the host city will be announced in October 2009.

7  Fun Facts About Translation at the Olympics In 2016

Since the birth of the modern Olympic Games in 1894, the event has grown from a mere 24 countries to over 200. As you might have guessed, the linguistic challenges involved are tremendous. The Games are in full swing in Rio de Janeiro right now. To celebrate, here are 7 fun facts and interesting stories about translation at the 2016 Olympics.  Enjoy!

The 2016 Games Have 3 Official Languages: English, French and Portuguese

The Olympics always have two official languages: English and French. Other official languages are assigned based on the languages spoken in the host country. This year, that’s Portuguese, a Romance language with 215 million native speakers and the only official language of Brazil.

This Year, As Always, the French Are Watching

Manu_dibango1Pity the Francophiles! Unless the Olympic Games are being held in a French-speaking nation, the French language seems to get the short end of the stick when compared to English and the language of the host country. Every year, the International Organization of la Francophonie observes the games to make sure that the French language  gets its due. They also appoint a language watchdog called le Grand Témoin, which translates to “the Great Witness.” This year, le Grand Témoin is jazz musician Manu Dibango of Cameroon, pictured at left.

Rio De Janeiro Sought Out 8,000 Volunteers for Translation at the Olympics

Translation at the Olympics is always a huge concern, and this year was no different. In preparation for the 2016 Olympic Games, Rio de Janeiro sought out 8,000 volunteers with language skills to act as interpreters and translators for athletes, delegates and the press.  Read more

Amount of French Content in the Olympics Ruffles Feathers in Canada

The Olympics are supposed to be about mutual respect and harmony. However, the games that bring the world together are reigniting a long-simmering cultural feud in Canada. Canada is officially bilingual; French and English are both official languages. But, the Opening Ceremony left some French-speaking Canadians feeling slighted, according to this article on

Olympics Mascott

Although the opening of the Games was announced in French and then in English, the speech given by Games CEO John Furlong was almost entirely in his native tongue, English. Also, there was only one French-speaking performer in the line-up, which also included English and First Nations performers.

Complaints have been voiced by Canadian government officials including Quebec Premier Jean Charest, Heritage Minister James Moore, and Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff. The Official Languages Commissioner’s office has also begun an investigation.

Adele Mercier, a professor of philosophy specializing in language at Queen’s University, told that:

“I think the problem is that the French were treated . . . as just another subculture that Canada has, that we are all happily tolerating. This is irksome for official and historical reasons…It strikes a chord among French Canada because French Canadians have a historical memory…the first colonists’ approach to French Canadians was to try to assimilate us and this was almost as good a representation of the fact that it has succeeded.”

Hopefully, the closing ceremony will be enough to make up for the opening ceremony for those who felt slighted. The Globe and Mail quotes executive producer David Atkins:

“The closing ceremony actually [has] a little more French in it, to be honest, and it was a creative choice we made right from the outset. I think that the critics of the amount of French content, hopefully, will find the closing a little more palatable.”