Posts

A Gaijin in Tokyo

A Gaijin in Tokyo

In our last article, Alison noted how lazy we Brits are when it comes to getting a handle on the native language when preparing to travel abroad. From my own experience I’ve seen just how extensive this can be and I’m guilty as charged.

In both 2011 and 2012 I travelled to Tokyo for a combined total of 5 weeks. As a generally reserved chap, I wanted to try and make sure that I could be polite and avoid any basic cultural faux pas. So I learnt how to say “please”, “thank you”, “excuse me” & gave myself a crash course in Japanese numeracy and most important of all, ensured I could order a beer. A bit of light reading from a guide book and off I went.
Read more

It's the year of the snake!

Chinese New Year Celebrations

Chinese New Year, a festive event celebrated by people all around the world (the image above was taken in Yokohama, Japan). As you may well know, the Chinese New Year is represented by one of 12 different animals which cycle annually, the sheep, the monkey, the rooster, the dog, the pig, the rat, the ox, the tiger, the rabbit, the dragon and the snake.

Read more

Plane-translation-mistake

Lost In Translation: French Panic On Plane

French passengers on board an Aer Lingus Dublin to Paris flight had a fright when the captain made a routine announcement earlier this week.

On the 4th August the A320 Airbus flight took off with around 70 people on board many of whom were French.

Twenty minutes into the flight after leaving Dublin, an English announcement was made that the plane was due to hit some turbulence and could all passengers return to their seats and belt up. Air Lingus Airlines then played a pre-recorded message for the French passengers.

Unfortunately the pre-recorded message told the French passengers that the plane was coming down and they should prepare to ditch!

One passenger is quoted in the Irish Examiner newspaper today saying that there was a French gentleman sitting next to him on the plane who was asleep. As soon as the announcement was made the man sat up looking very startled.

The announcement translated into English as ‘prepare for an emergency landing, note where the nearest emergency exit is and wait for further instructions from the captain.’

Scary stuff considering they were flying out over the Atlantic at the time. It’s reported that it took the cabin crew a few minutes to figure out what had happened. They immediately made an announcement via the PA system apologising for playing the wrong announcement in French.

Thankfully it wasn’t a real emergency but it would have been very scary for all the people involved.

Notes from Hong Kong

Notes from Hong Kong

This week we have an interesting piece for the language blog from one of our exceptional team members, Liz Kim. After a whirlwind tour of Hong Kong, here’s Liz’s write up of the attractions she encountered in one of the world’s most impressive cities. Over to Liz…

Hong Kong is a fascinating, vibrant and exciting place to visit. It’s cosmopolitan yet integrally Chinese. 95% of its’ 7.1 million inhabitants are Chinese, and the city is constantly fuelled by newcomers from across the border. Now officially a Special Administrative Region of China with one of the highest population densities in the world but at the same time it is efficient, clean and very well organised. It was originally built by pirates, merchants and adventurers in the pursuit of wealth, the top dollar is still the main preoccupation of its current inhabitants. Nowhere is it more evident than in the myriads of shops of all types and sizes, and huge elegant shopping malls housing the famous high-end retailers. Shopping is a favourite past time of Hong Kong’s designer label conscious dwellers. Read more

Muuzii: Accurate Translation for Travelers

If you’re looking for a translation app to travel with you, there’s no shortage of contenders.  Translation apps are easier to use than a clunky phrasebook, and many of them can do cool things like translate text from pictures and translate text to speech. However, the vast majority (if not all) of these apps have two main drawbacks:

  • They require that you own a smartphone.
  • Their translations are automatic and not 100% accurate.

For example, check out this amusing (but confusing) translation from celebrated translation app Word Lens, purchased by Google back in May:

 

What are they doing to that poor mozzarella?

Translation errors like that are good for a laugh, but in more serious situations you might want something a little bit more accurate.  Also, not everyone owns a smartphone, oddly enough. Muuzii is a new translation tool for all mobile phones (not just smartphones) that promises more accurate results because it does not exclusively rely on machine translation.

With Muuzii, users send the text they need translated over SMS. Muuzii automatically translates it, then has a professional translator review the translation to ensure that it is accurate. According to Venturebeat, they’ll not only make sure the translation is accurate, but also fix any awkwardness or ambiguity:

“Each team member makes sure that the response is not only accurate, but also the best way to get your message across. If the human translators think there might be a better way to phrase it, they’ll train the database to choose their preferred option next time it encounters a similar request.

So, when you find yourself in a sticky linguistic situation, you won’t deal with the awkwardness that the limitations of app technology create.”

Then, the service texts your translation right back to you.

The main drawback is that the service is only available in English and Chinese, as a subscription for American AT & T customers.

Would you use something like Muuzii? Let us know in the comments!

Rainbow Bridge, Tokyo

Travel Photography: A simple guide for the social media crowd

Most people take a camera with them on their travels, whether it’s a phone, a compact or a full blown DSLR. Travel photography is now easily accessible to the wide majority, even if just to relive a few memories or to make your Facebook contacts jealous. Read more

Autumn colours of Shinjuku

Picture Postcards from Tokyo

Being part of a company working with languages every day really helps stoke the desire to travel. I have just returned from another trip to Tokyo, my third time in as many years. If you have followed some of my previous articles you may be forgiven for thinking I am developing something of an affinity for the place. It’s true, I think if I could, I would relocate there in heartbeat. Read more

All I want for Christmas

It’s the 25th of November today and in exactly 1 month, it will be Christmas! I can’t believe that this year went so quick… You get caught up in your daily routine and often birthdays, weddings or celebrations come quicker than you first thought. I realise that I have 30 days to buy the presents for my family, to be honest with you guys, I’m stressing out!! Because we live in a society of consumption, people already have what they want and it’s become harder each year to find original and unique gifts to offer. I regret these times when putting an orange underneath the Christmas tree used to make kids happy! Now they are all about PlayStation, Apple devices, designer clothes or fancy bags. (Same with adults really)

So today, I took my mission very seriously and surfed the web for a couple of hours looking for some unusual ideas. Because if you are an avid reader of this blog, you must be interested in travels and languages, I found the top 10 Christmas gifts especially for you guys.

1. A Language course

Very useful if you plan of moving to another country next year.

2. Lonely Planet ‘s “Best in Travel 2011”

Best guide ever, I remember I bought one when I went to Australia.

3. Lessons in foreign cooking

Be the next Chinese/French or Italian Chef 🙂

4. A Trailfinders gift card

Helping you out with the cost of your flight or hotel.

5. A pocket translator

Always handy to translate some easy sentences like a menu, directions or features.

6. Downloadable language learning tools for your iPod

For all of you guys sleeping, eating and breathing Apple!

7. A Travel journal

Record your amazing adventures and experiences.

8. A Charity donation in your name

It’s good to do something for others.

9. A Dictionary/book of verb tables

Not very exciting but indispensable to your survival abroad.

10. A TEFL course (Teaching English as a Foreign Language)

Become a teacher and hopefully get a visa downunder.

Which one are you going to ask to Santa Claus? And why?

11 Foreign Phrases to Stop Using Right Now

Some English speakers love peppering their speech with foreign phrases. We think it sounds sophisticated. But here are 11 foreign words and phrases that don’t go over quite as well in their home languages. Let’s all agree to stop using them now.

Phrases to Avoid in French

Bon Appétit! 

According to the Daily Mail, [you can’t really trust this poor excuse for a paper] language learning app Babbel has identified this innocuous-sounding phrase as one of the most common gaffes made by Brits abroad: “It literally invites diners to ‘a good digestion’, suggesting that they are so hungry that they are willing to jump at any food offered.”

There is, however, some controversy about this. A 2007 New York Times article, for example, quotes a French etiquette teacher who says,  “In France, ‘Bon appétit’ is not proper.” But an article in the Guardian a year later found that most Parisian locals had no problem with “Bon Appetit.” Ironically, the few people who did think it rude were English speakers.

So, perhaps the key here is to know your audience. [Our in house French natives say there’s nothing with it]

Garçon for Waiter 

Did you know garçon actually means boy? You might think you sound suave when you address your French waiter this way. But really, you sound like a jerk. Don’t be a jerk. Use “monsieur” instead.

Sacrebleu!

If you’re visiting France, don’t expect the French to express dismay by exclaiming “Sacrebleu!” Unless, of course, you have a Tardis and you’ve time-traveled back to the 19th century.  And if you use it, expect to get some odd looks at best.

Entrée

Watch out for this one if you’re American.  While we tend to use it as a fancy word for “main dish” or “main course”, in France it means an appetizer.

Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?

Yeah, yeah, it’s the French-language chorus of a famous sexy pop song. But it’s not likely to win you any friends in France, and it almost certainly won’t win you any bedmates.  It might win you a slap across the face, though . . .   Read more

Travelling with Google Translate

Going travelling? Rich recently covered why you might be wary about using Google Translate for business materials, but what about personal travel?

Google Translate’s mobile apps promise to replace bulky phrasebooks and time spent memorizing key phrases with instant, real-time automatic translation. The question is, do they live up the hype? Looking at recent tests of the service, the answer is clearly “it depends.” Google may aspire to build Star Trek’s “Universal Translator,” but they’re not there yet.

 LA Times writer Sarah Hashim-Waris recently took the app on a test drive during a trip to Tokyo, where she was more often than not left struggling to communicate and dependent on the kindness of bilingual strangers. She describes one particularly egregious example here:

“’You are using me kimono I think Nishika. Kimono Nishihata large four.’ Say what? These were the responses from a shopkeeper in the Asakusa district, who spoke only Japanese, when I asked him about the items he sold in his traditional kimono store. Or at least that’s what Google Translate told me he said. What the patient shopkeeper was trying to say was that he designed the pieces he sold in the store – something I wouldn’t have been able to pick up from what Google Translate relayed to me, if some English speaker hadn’t kindly stepped in.”

The quality of translation depends on the languages you’re translating between, as this comparison from The New York Times shows. And to be fair, The Frugal Traveler used the Google Translate app on an off-the-beaten path assignment in China and found it quite adequate, with a little bit of prep work to save frequently translated phrases. Still, even the Frugal Traveler recommended carrying a phrasebook for backup.

Have you used Google Translate’s app while traveling? How did it work for you?