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the-spanish-language

The Origins and Importance of the Spanish Language

The Spanish language or Castilian, as native speakers sometimes refer to it, has become one of the most popular languages used in the world today. Its history is vast and it has spread and developed steadily throughout the centuries.

The name Castilian originates from the Castile region in the Cantabrian Mountains in northern Spain where Latin mixed with indigenous dialects was spoken after the decline of the Roman Empire. As the kingdom of Castile spread, so did the so-called Vulgar Latin commonly spoken in this region. With the conquest of the southern regions, this northern dialect, by then known as Castilian, spread south, replacing other provincial dialects.

As Castilian became more widespread it adopted vocabulary from Moorish Arabic and was influenced by medieval Judeo-Spanish (Ladino) and Mozarabes (the Romance speech of Christians living in Moorish territory). Sadly, these languages died out in the late 16th century as Spanish took over the peninsula. Read more

You Can Haz Spanish!

Last month, we wrote about the potentially dire consequences of the UK’s foreign language shortage for our economy. How do we get more people to learn another language? As it turns out, the common housecat  may hold the key.

Say what? According to research performed by a company called Memrise, people retain information better when it is presented in the form of cute cat pictures. As Memrise COO Ben Whately explained to the BBC:

“We wanted to know what kinds of visual mnemonics were most effective at helping people to learn fast. The pattern began to emerge that pictures of cats always featured disproportionately among the most effective.”

Now, you can channel your obsession with funny cat memes into something productive: learning another language. Read more

Does the UK Need More Foreign Language Speakers?

Is the UK facing a shortage of foreign language speakers in the near future?  That seems to be the case, a new study from the CBI confirms.

Last year, the British Council released a report describing the potential economic harm caused by not having enough UK workers with the right foreign language skills.

The 2014 CBI/Pearson Education and Skills Survey supports those conclusions. According to the CBI survey, two thirds of UK employers prefer to hire employees with foreign language skills.

Which languages are companies looking for? The most requested language was French, with 50% of businesses looking to hire French speakers. 49% were looking for German speakers, and 44% were looking for Spanish speakers. However, the number of businesses looking for Mandarin and Arabic speakers is growing. For example, 31% of the firms surveyed considered Mandarin a  useful language for their business. In 2012, only 25 percent did. Likewise, demand for Arabic language skills is up 4 percent since 2012.

In a statement,  CBI deputy director general Katja Hall expressed concern about the number of UK students learning these languages:

“With the EU still our largest export market, it’s no surprise to see German, French and Spanish language skills so highly prized by companies. But with China and Latin America seeing solid growth, ambitious firms want the language skills that can smooth the path into new markets. It has been a worry to see foreign language study in our schools under pressure with one in five schools having a persistently low take-up of languages. The jury remains out as to whether recent government initiatives can help spur a resurgence in language learning. Young people considering their future subject choices should be made more aware of the benefits to their careers that can come from studying a foreign language.”

To address this problem, the  government is making foreign  languages mandatory in UK schools starting at age seven.

Is there anything else we should be doing to encourage British children to learn foreign languages? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Photo Credit: Attribution Some rights reserved by mklapper

The Spanish-Language Rule Book Gets a Much-Needed Update

Spanish is spoken all over the world. It is the official national language in 21 countries, but in each of those countries, it sounds just a little bit different.

For example, according to Wikipedia, in Spain, butter is called mantequilla. In Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay, it is called manteca. Coche means car in Spain and Mexico, but almost everywhere else Spanish is spoken, it means “baby stroller.” There are also variations in which verb forms are used when.

Historically, the Spanish Royal Academy has determined what “proper” Spanish sounds like, but since they only focused on the language as it was spoken in Spain, their guidelines were out-of-step with the way Spanish is spoken by the majority of the world’s Spanish speakers. That’s why the Spanish Royal Academy’s new guide, the Nueva Gramática, is so important.

To write the  Nueva Gramátic, Spanish-speaking scholars spent more than 11 years looking at how people speak Spanish in every country where it is commonly spoken. The result is a 3,000 page, 2 volume guide that describes Spanish in all of its many regional variations. Since the last grammar guide was released in 1931, this represents a much-needed update.

According to the Latin American Tribune, in a presentation ceremony for the new book, the Spanish King Juan Carlos called the work “an historic service to the unity of Spanish and, overall, to better cohesion among the Hispanic peoples.”

The director of the Spanish Royal Academy, Victor García de la Concha “comes from the people and seeks the people. Here are all the voices, all the ways of speaking forming a great polyphony. Within the lines of scientific analysis a discourse of humanity circulates throughout (its) 4,000 pages.”

US Healthcare Website Lost in Translation?

Spanish is the second most commonly spoken language in the United States, so the US government has made a concerted effort to include Spanish speakers in the roll-out of the country’s new healthcare laws. However, their outreach efforts have come under criticism a number of times.  The most recent example is CuidadoDeSalud.gov, the Spanish-language version of Healthcare.gov, an official website where Americans can view and purchase insurance plans available under the Affordable Care Act.

According to a recent Associated Press Story, the website was full of translation errors. The AP called the translation “Spanglish” and said  “the translations were so clunky and full of grammatical mistakes that critics say they must have been computer-generated — the name of the site itself can literally be read “for the caution of health.” Read more

More UK Students Studying Spanish 

Spanish is set to overtake French as the most dominant foreign language studied in UK schools, according to the head of the AQA exam board.

Andrew Hall, AQA’s chief executive, made the prediction based on this year’s GCSE statistics, in which a record number of students sat for Spanish GCSEs, even as foreign language entries declined overall. Approximately 93,000 students took the Spanish exam this year, 2,000 more than last year. Meanwhile, the number of French entries declined from from 177,288 to 168,042 and the number of German entries declined from 62,932 to 59,891.

Why is Spanish making gains even as other languages fall? Some educators are calling it the “Messi effect,” crediting the popularity of Argentinian football player Lionel Messi, but that’s far from the whole story. 

As Andrew Hall told The Telegraph, learning Spanish is increasingly being seen as a smart career move for students:

“It is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. I went to factories in California where people had to have Spanish as a fluent second language. I think more and people are speaking Spanish. I think students recognise that it is a very important language to have.”

In The Independent, Pearson vice-president Lesley Davis referenced the “Messi effect,” but also underlined the importance of Spanish to UK businesses:

“We know it’s becoming an increasingly important language for business with our recent Pearson/CBI Skills Survey showing that half of employers want Spanish speakers. Young people are also more exposed now to Spanish culture from music to food to high-profile Spanish speaking personalities.”

Meanwhile, Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, told TESConnect that more students were choosing to “work smarter, not harder” by choosing Spanish, which is considered one of the easier foreign languages to learn:

“It’s very similar to our language in many ways,” he said. “It’s quite a straightforward structure. They find French more difficult, particularly because of the accent and so on. A lot of schools have found it’s a very popular subject.”

Photo Credit: Attribution Some rights reserved by mikecogh

Learn a Language

The Top Languages to Learn in 2018

Fancy learning a new language this year? As one of the UK’s leading translation service providers, we’re in just the right place to give some tips on the most useful ones to pick. Whether you’re still a student or you’re just looking for a way to improve your career outlook, we’ve selected the top languages to learn in 2018.

1. Mandarin

Guanhua

The official language of China, Mandarin is already the most widely spoken language in the world. Per Wikipedia, 955 million people, 14.4% of the world’s population, claim it as their native tongue.

The demand for Mandarin speakers will only grow in the years to come, as China nudges the United States out of the top spot as the nation with the world’s largest GDP.  According to Bloomberg, as of November 06, 2017 the Chinese economy is projected to overtake the United States economy in 2028.

Meanwhile,  China is busy constructing a “New Silk Road” to connect the Chinese mainland with Europe, the rest of Asia, and emerging markets in Africa. 

Mandarin is also the second most popular language online. And according to Statista, while the US will probably remain the largest economy overall for a few years yet, by the end of 2018 China will be the largest digital economy in the world. 

When you look at the facts, it’s easy to see why the British Council ranked Mandarin as one of the most important languages for the future of the UK.  If you’re learning a new language this year and you’re up for a challenge, Mandarin is definitely one of the top languages to learn.

Want to learn more about the languages of China? See our beginner’s guide to Chinese translation services!

Read more

Newspaper Discovers Limits of Google Translate

In the United States, Spanish-speaking Latinos are a rapidly growing demographic. Naturally, some news organizations cater to them with Spanish-language editions, especially online.

However, according to Fox News, when the Hartford Courant decided to follow suit, they did not hire a translator, choosing instead to run all of their articles through Google Translate.

The results were about what you’d expect: embarrassing.

Former Hartford Courant columnist Bessy Reyna collected some of the most ridiculous examples of poor translation on her blog. Here are a couple of the juiciest nuggets of failure on display:

  • ”El hombre florero Over Head Smashed novia, policía dice” Literal translation: “The man flower vase Over Head Smashed Girlfriend, police said”
  • Este mujer Hartford acusado de apuñalar con el hombrepelador de patatas” which literally reads: “This woman Hartford Accused of stabbing the man with potato peeler.”

To address the criticism, the paper issued the following disclaimer:

“However, readers should be aware that due to limitations in the Google software some of the translations of the English headlines and articles don’t always translate accurately word-for-word into Spanish.”

Duh. On one level, it’s understandable that a local paper might not have the resources to devote to hiring a full-time Spanish translator. However, simply plugging all of their content into Google Translate appears to be counterproductive. According to Bessy Reyna, Latinos perceived the error-ridden translations as insulting, even offensive:

“Their reactions ranged from “This isn’t even Spanglish” to “Did you see the one today about Norwich? It’s to laugh and cry at the same time.” Others thought it was simply lack of respect and yet another way to humiliate the Latino community.”

The truth is, no matter what business you’re in, if you’re trying to communicate with customers in another language, there’s no substitute for a translator who knows both languages in and out. It’s impossible to put your best foot forward using Google Translate, or any other machine translation program for that matter!

Do you think newspapers should rely on Google Translate?

Translator Helps Deliver Baby

In Tucson, Arizona, a Language Line translator helped deliver a baby over the phone last weekend, according to this article in the Arizona Star. The baby’s family all spoke Spanish, so when the father-to-be called 911 to report that his wife was about to give birth, the language barrier made an already nerve-wracking situation even more complicated.

The dispatcher who received the call, James Charron, is not bilingual and doesn’t speak Spanish. He understood just enough to figure out what was going on, but not enough to communicate accurately with the family. Tucson’s emergency dispatch system relies on Language Line to translate for non-English speaking callers.

Through Language Line translator Paola Anderson, Charron was able to provide instructions to the baby’s father and father-in-law to help them deliver the child safely on their own.

During the ordeal, the woman and her family were not the only ones who were nervous. Anderson was nervous too, afraid that making a mistake in translation could have serious consequences. As she told the Arizona Star, “I thought a little mistake could have resulted in something bad.”

According to the report, the baby girl was born healthy. Both Charron and Anderson are proud to have helped bring her into the world.  “I feel like a godmother,”  Anderson told the Arizona Star.

This story underscores why it so important to have well-trained, knowledgeable interpreters. Especially in medical situations!

You Never Know When You'll Need to Translate

Students sometimes grumble about requirements that they take classes in a second language. “Why bother? When am I going to use this?” they ask.

The truth is that knowing how to speak a second language can come in handy at the most unexpected moments, even if you don’t become a world traveler or get a job as an interpreter. As often as not, the world comes to you.

I was reminded of this on a recent plane ride. Read more