Improving Accessibility: Why More Technology Isn’t Always the Answer

Out of all of the different technologies that science fiction writers have dreamed up, has anything lodged itself in the popular imagination as firmly as the “universal translator?” This fascination with shiny new technology extends to improving accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community, where it does more harm than good.

Witness the periodic hype around “sign language gloves.” Every couple of years, someone else invents “sign language gloves” that supposedly translate sign language into writing or speech. Journalists cover the devices enthusiastically.

We’ve seen the same tendency this month with the news of a workaround that allows Amazon’s Alexa to understand some signs. This is better than it relying on voice alone (and leaving deaf users out of the loop entirely).

But there’s a problem.  Just as machine translation is still no replacement for a skilled human translator, sign language gloves (and other technologies that rely on machine translation) are not a replacement for sign language interpreters.

Here’s why more technology isn’t always the answer to improving accessibility (as well as some suggestions for improving accessibility that can help).

Sign Language Gloves: Why They Don’t Work

Sign language gloves sound like such a great idea (if you’re not deaf, that is). Why don’t they work?  There are several reasons:

  • Translation is complicated, even between two verbal languages.
  • Translating between a verbal language and a sign language adds an extra layer of complexity.
  • When deaf people use sign language, they’re not just “talking” with their hands. They use their whole bodies and facial expressions. There’s no way a pair of gloves can capture all of that. Other devices that rely on cameras might be able to, but would be a pain for deaf people to use.
  • Because translating between sign language and spoken language is such a big job, the technology involved is too complicated and expensive to be practical.
  • Most of the time, these are projects done by engineering students with little to no input from the deaf community.
  • Most “sign language glove” prototypes only translate fingerspelling.  Do you spell out every word you speak? No? Yeah, neither do deaf people, if they can help it.

The root of the problem is that sign language gloves cater to the wants of the hearing population instead of the needs of the deaf signing community. Read more

The Aloha Poke Controversy: Naming Businesses Across Cultures

Naming a business is hard. Sometimes, it makes sense to look to other languages and cultures for inspiration. But beware: a poorly chosen trademark from another language can turn into a PR disaster later. A Chicago restaurant chain called Aloha Poke found that out the hard way earlier this month.

Here’s the controversy, in a nutshell:

The restaurant specialises in an Americanised version of a Hawaiian staple called “poke,” seasoned raw fish and rice bowls. The restaurant’s founder, Zach Friedlander, is not native Hawaiian in any sense of the word. He first discovered poke in Los Angeles. Aloha Poke has done well in Chicago and plans to expand nationwide.

So, its lawyers began sending out cease-and-desist letters to other restaurants that used the words “Aloha” and “poke” in their names. The targets included small family restaurants owned by native Hawaiians, some of which had been in business for years. Social media outrage ensued. So far, there have been protests, a threatened boycott, thousands of one-star Yelp reviews and a threatened lawsuit.

If you’re considering giving your business or product a name in a foreign language, here are four questions to ask yourself first.

Has the culture you’re taking inspiration from been historically marginalised or oppressed?

If you’re a cultural outsider, you need to be aware of the history of the culture that inspires your business. A little bit of research would have shown that native Hawaiians have historical reasons to be sensitive to and angry about exploitation from the mainland. Read more

The Apple School of International Marketing: 5 Strategies Worth Stealing

Last week, Apple made history when it became the first US company worth $1 trillion. How did they do it? Certainly not by selling their products in only one country using only one language.  In fact, since 2010, the share of Apple’s revenue generated outside of the United States has hovered between 55% and 70%.

What makes Apple such a coveted brand around the world? And what lessons can other businesses learn from Apple’s success? Here are 5 international marketing strategy ideas from Apple that are worth stealing (even if you aren’t Steve Jobs).

Maintain a consistent brand across cultures.

No matter what country you’re in, Apple’s products are the same. Their products, their adverts and their website use the same clean, minimalist design the world over. Apple iPhones all have the same features. The visuals on the website are the same no matter what language option you choose.

We talk quite a bit about the importance of customising your marketing and your website to account for different cultural preferences. But it’s also important that your brand maintains an underlying consistency.

Apple is not known for catering to their customers. When you buy an Apple product, you’re buying Apple’s vision. So, it makes sense that they would customise their content and products less than other brands.  Read more

8 Critically Endangered Languages of South America

When you think of South American languages, you probably think of Spanish and Portuguese. But South America is actually one of the most linguistically diverse areas in the world, with over 448 languages from 37 different language families.

Unfortunately, however, many of those languages may soon fall silent. UNESCO classifies 108 South American languages as “critically endangered,” the last step before extinction. Some only have one living speaker. Others have almost no documentation- once they’re gone, they’re gone for good.

Here’s the scoop on 8 of these critically endangered languages of South America.

Tehuelche (Argentina)

Number of speakers: 4

Tehuelche is the original language of the Tehuelche people of Patagonia. When the Spanish began to explore Argentina, they encountered giant footprints in the mud and believed they were exploring a land of giants.

Of course, the footprints weren’t those of giant Patagones.  There were left by the moccasin-clad Tehuelche people, going about their business and speaking the Tehuelche language. Today, only 4 Tehuelche speakers remain. The language began to decline in the late 1500s, when many of the Tehuelche tribes began speaking Mapudungun, the language of their Mapuche neighbours, instead. The Spanish conquest sealed the deal, as even the tribes who continued to speak Tehuelche began to speak Spanish.

Pacahuara (Bolivia)

Number of speakers: Somewhere between 4 and 96

Once, the Pacahuara people roamed the Amazon. But the rubber industry decimated them. Now, only a small handful remain, in 2 groups. One group was relocated by Christian missionaries in the 1970s. Only a few elderly members of this group still speak the Pacahuara language. They are often referred to as the “last Pacahuaras.” You can hear their language in this BBC broadcast from 2013.

There is also a group of “uncontacted” Pacahuaras that has refused contact with the rest of the world. Experts believe they number about 50 people in total.

Arikapú (Brazil)

Number of speakers (2)

Until the 20th century, the Arikapú people lived in the Brazilian rainforest, uncontacted by Western civilization. They hunted, fished, gathered and grew some crops. They also bred various types of edible insects, using the larvae as food.

But Western diseases decimated the Arikapú, and many of the survivors were exploited by the rubber industry and relocated to reservations by the government. Today, only 2 Arikapú speakers remain. The rest of the ethnic Arikapú now speak Tuparí and Portuguese.

Guarasu (Brazil and Bolivia)

Number of speakers: (4)

Attempts to collect data on this language in 2015 failed when linguists were unable to get on good terms with the Guarasu chief. The chief, Sara Durán, thought they were working with political enemies and told the linguists, “You don’t know me, we are wild and when I get angry, I take out my arrow… I have many skulls in my yard.”

Guató (Brazil)

Number of speakers: (4)

The Guató people used to be widespread in the southwest region of Mato Grosso, Brazil. They were known as “canoe people” and tended to live along lakes. But settlers in their territory brought smallpox and other diseases, and cattle ranches encroached on their traditional lands. Now only 4 Guató speakers remain.

Kanoê (Brazil)

Number of speakers (5) 

There are two groups of Kanoê Indians living in Brazil- one group, which is integrated into mainstream Brazilian society, and one isolated group that was uncontacted until recently. Only 3 of the first group speak their native language.

Of the second group, only a single family remains. This group sought refuge in the forest, pursued by loggers and ranchers who wanted free use of the land. The ranchers attacked them with bulldozers, and took down their houses and gardens, all the while denying that there were any indigenous people in the forest to begin with.

One day, the men of the Kanoê tribe left on an expedition. According to Povos Indigenas no Brazil,  they hoped to find neighbouring indigenous tribes and negotiate marriages for their daughters. They never came back.  When the women realized that all of their husbands and older sons had died, they decided to commit mass suicide. One woman, Tutuá, changed her mind at the last minute, and saved herself, her son, her daughter, her sister and her niece.

The man singing in the video above is her son, Pura.

 

Oro Win (Brazil)

Number of speakers: 6

The Oro Win live in Rondônia, Brazil. They were enslaved by rubber tappers in the 1960s, then forced off their lands in the 1980s. In 1991, they were finally given their land back and were able to return. But by that time, their language had almost completely disappeared. This language has a bit more hope than most of the others on this list, as the Oro Win have begun to teach it in schools.

Yaghan (Chile)

Number of speakers: (1)

The Yaghan people once lived in Tierra del Fuego, where they stunned European explorers by walking around mostly naked despite the frigid temperatures, gathering around the fires that gave Tierra del Fuego its name. But European diseases took their toll, and European settlers took their land. Now, 90-year-old Cristina Calderon is the last speaker.

That said, she’s been working with linguists for years to record and preserve the language. And now that the atmosphere toward native languages has become more welcoming, Yaghan is being taught in local kindergartens.

If nothing else, Yagan is likely to live on as a piece of internet trivia. The word “mamihlapinatapai,” usually translated as “To look at each other, hoping that either will offer to do something, which both parties much desire done but are unwilling to do,” has made its way into various online articles of untranslatable words.

It may be too late for many of the languages on this list, but many other minority languages still have a shot at survival. At K International, we’re all in favour of language preservation, and one way to do that is to make it easier for people to use their native languages in daily life. If you’re looking for a quote on a translation project, check out the services we offer and feel free to contact us. We’d love to hear from you!

10 Amazing Sign Language Music Videos

Sign language interpretations of music used to hard to find. Fortunately, that’s changed over the past few years. More and more musicians have sign language interpreters performing at their events. Deaf artists are harnessing the power of Youtube to share their own sign language music videos of their favourite songs, and even musicians who can hear are using the expressive power of sign language in music videos.

Want to see for yourself? Here are ten fantastic sign language music videos!

Please note: When we describe these videos as amazing, awesome, or cool, we’re not trying to trivialise sign language. We think all languages are cool (and deserving of respect). If you appreciate the artistry in these videos, take a moment to learn about the problems Deaf people still face when it comes to day-to-day communication. 

Sia- Soon We’ll Be Found

 

In this video, Australian singer-songwriter Sia signs the lyrics to the song in ASL as she sings. Throughout the video, her hands signing the words appear as shadow puppets, or covered paint, or glowing in the dark – it’s trippy, beautiful and a great way to showcase ASL. (However, it seems like the special effects might make it harder for Deaf viewers to understand her signs in a few parts of the video.).

Pharrell- Happy in ASL

If this ASL version of Pharrell’s “Happy” produced by Deaf students and staff at Deaf Film camp doesn’t make you smile, consider professional help.

Lamb of God’s “Ruin”

This is the latest sign language music video to go viral. Watch as the interpreter breaks out her best metal face to translate Lamb of God’s “Ruin.”

Sign Language Rap Battle with Whiz Khalifa

In 2014, Jimmy Kimmel hosted a “sign language rap battle.” Three popular American sign language interpreters face off, interpreting Whiz Khalifa’s “Black and Yellow” as Whiz himself performs. Although Whiz does not clean up the lyrics, ABC did censor them, so it’s still safe for work, and a lot of fun to watch.

I should note that this video is somewhat controversial amongst the Deaf community because 2 out of 3 of the interpreters are hearing.

Rosa Lee Timm-  What’s Love Got to Do With It?

Rosa Lee Timm is a Deaf performance artist who specialises in music videos and comedy. This ASL interpretation of Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” is one of her most popular videos, and for a good reason.

Rosa Lee Timm (and Sherry Hicks)- Uptown Funk

This ASL interpretation of Bruno Mars’  “Uptown Funk” is just incredibly fun to watch.

Pearl Jam- Given to Fly

During a tour in 2000, Eddie Vedder noticed ASL interpreter Kimberly Rae Schaefer and brought her up to share the spotlight for “Given to Fly.” I wish this video focused more on her and less on Eddie Vedder, but it’s still a sweet moment.

Keith Urban Rocking Out with ASL  Interpreter

In this video, from the Jazz Music Festival in Snowmass, Keith Urban performs a duet with the ASL interpreter.  So, she gets to share centre stage instead of being off to the side. One caveat: the audio quality for this video is poor.

Tommy Krångh, the 2015 Eurovision Interpreter


Swedish song language interpreter Tommy Krångh became an overnight sensation in 2015 when he signed for Sweden’s Eurovision finalist competition. This brief clip from the Guardian shows why.

DEAFinitely Dope- No sleep by Whiz Khalifa

This video of DEAFinitely Dope’s Matt Maxey interpreting Whiz Khalifa’s “No Sleep” with an unnamed female friend is infectious and adorable, and the lyrics are uncensored. So, if you click the link, be aware that you will encounter numerous curse words in both English and ASL.

What Does the Fox Say? in ASL

At this point, we know what you’re probably wondering: What does the fox say in sign language? Let the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind attempt to answer that question for you.

As noted above, it’s great to see sign language getting more attention. However, if the only experience you have with sign language is a viral video, you’re not seeing the full picture of the accessibility difficulties faced by the Deaf community. Like all languages, sign languages are both an art form and a means of communication. Thanks to the internet and the increasing popularity of sign language music interpreters, sign language as an art form is more accessible than ever. But when it comes to being able to communicate on a practical, day-to-day level, access is still limited.

If you’d like to make your information more accessible to the Deaf community, we can help.  We offer sign language interpreter services throughout the UK. As you might expect, our interpreting services are primarily in BSL, but if you need another type of sign language, please let us know when you order and we’ll try to accommodate.  We can also provide you with sign language video services and speech-to-text reporting.  For more information, please contact us. 

Families Around the World 

We probably don’t have to tell you that families around the world come in many different shapes and sizes. No matter where you go or what language you speak, families are important. That’s why so many marketing campaigns and advertisements are centred around family, whether the goal is to sell a product, a service, or an idea.

However, different cultures have different family structures and values. So, if you’re trying to sell to an international audience,  your marketing may have to adapt.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the similarities and differences in families around the world.

Families Around the World: Two-Generation Families

In the US, the UK and similar Western cultures, when we think of “family”, we think of one or two parents and their children.

This is a “two-generation” or “nuclear” family. Children usually move out of their parents’ homes either when they reach adulthood or after they marry.

Relationships with other family members, like grandparents, are still valued, of course. But the nuclear family usually lives by itself. So, those extended family members may not be present on a day-to-day basis. And parents make the purchases and decisions for the household.

Of course, even amongst two cultures that favour the nuclear family model, acceptance of different types of nuclear families can vary. For example, single parents are much more common in some countries than others. That includes some places that might surprise you, like Africa. And in some countries, families with same-sex parents are accepted and valued. Read more

cultural diversity in marketing

5 Things Marketers Should Know About Cultural Diversity in Marketing  

Like or not, we live in a world where it’s more important than ever to value cultural diversity. The world is more connected than its ever been before. There are more opportunities for businesses to expand – but there’s also more competition. Companies that wish to seek out new markets for their products must market them effectively, and that means targeting diverse audiences.

With that in mind, here are five things you should know about cultural diversity in marketing.

Cultural diversity in marketing matters, whether you’re “going global” or not.

Do you need to worry about cultural diversity if you only do business in the UK? Well, yes, if you want to reach all of your potential customers in a meaningful way. For example, according to the Office for National Statistics, 13% of the population in England and Wales were born overseas.  Around  8% speak a language other than English at home.

Language is essential (even if your target market speaks some English).

Speaking of language, your marketing will be more effective if you speak your customers’ language.  For example, according to a 2014 study by Common Sense Advisory, “more local language content throughout the customer experience leads to a greater likelihood of purchase.”

This is true even for people who speak some English as a second language. People feel more comfortable researching and buying products in the language they understand the best.

However, cultural differences matter, too.

Many human experiences and emotions are universal. Around the world, parents love their children. People love their families. That said, there’s also quite a bit of variation across cultures. So, just translating material from one language to another may not be enough to inspire the same emotions and actions in the new target audience. Often, transcreation is more effective. (For more, see Why Transcreation is Important for International Businesses.)

For example, teenage rebellion is expected and even grudgingly encouraged in Western cultures. And it’s been the basis of many a successful marketing campaign. However, in East Asian cultures,  teens are expected to remain obedient and respectful. (That doesn’t mean they always do, of course.)

The concept of “family” varies according to culture, as well. For example, in the US and the UK, “family” usually means two adults raising one or more children. But in other cultures, “family” might include grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, and it may make sense to adjust your imagery accordingly.

On the flip side, seemingly unimportant elements of your marketing campaigns can become deal-breakers in another culture. For example, the number “4” is considered unlucky in Chinese culture. If you’re trying to market your product in China or to Chinese immigrant communities, avoid using this number at all costs.

Culture matters in B2B marketing, too. For example, here’s just one example of how Spencer Waldron from Prezi customises his press outreach and content marketing efforts for the German market:

When dealing with journalists from Germany, I always talk about the security features of Prezi and how safe the data is.  I even had a security Prezi built in German, to talk about and showcase these issues.  This small step is crucial to gaining trust.

Representation matters, as well.

Want people to see themselves in your marketing? Pay attention to representation. Use models and imagery that are specific to the culture you’re targeting.

However, it’s also important to be authentic.

For example, Microsoft (in)famously tried to cut corners in this area when translating an American ad for the Polish market.

The American version featured a diverse group of people, including Asians and an African American. For the Polish version, Microsoft decided to change the African American model to a Caucasian model. But instead of re-shooting the ad with a new model, they photo-shopped a Caucasian head into the existing picture. They might have gotten away with it, too, except that they forgot to photoshop the original model’s hand to match the new head.

Oops! Cue a minor controversy and the removal of the Polish version of the ad.

Different cultural groups have different media consumption patterns

This is true both for different cultural groups within the same country and for different countries. For example, in the United States, Spanish-speaking radio and TV is the best way to target Hispanics. Meanwhile, newspapers are more popular amongst Asian-Americans.

Meanwhile, in countries like France, Germany and the UK, mobile Internet use is increasingly common, but most users also have access to desktop computers or tablets. In India, Indonesia and Mexico, on the other hand, more users access the Internet exclusively on mobile devices.

As you can see, understanding the cultural diversity of your audience is crucial to effective marketing. To reach all of a diverse audience, speaking their language is only the first step. You must also take cultural nuances into account, avoid unintentionally offending anyone, and create campaigns that accurately reflect and resonate with your target audience.

Does that sound like a tall order? At K International, our team of translators, multilingual copywriters, multilingual voiceover artists, and designers are here to help. Check out our language and translation services and feel free to get in touch.  We’d love to hear from you!

Translation at the World Cup

The 2018 FIFA World Cup is happening now. The opening ceremonies were held on 14 June, and the final game will take place in Moscow on 15 July. Football is one of the world’s top sports, and the World Cup is by definition a multilingual event. The focus is on the players and the games, of course, but it wouldn’t be possible without the translators and interpreters working behind the scenes. With that in mind, here are ten interesting facts and statistics about translation at the World Cup.

FIFA has four official languages.

They are  English, French, German and Spanish. They also translate content to and from the language of the countries hosting the events. This year, of course, that’s Russia.

Russian, the host of the language of the 2018 World Cup, is the most widely spoken native language in Europe. 144 million people speak it in Europe. 260 million people speak it around the world.

Instead of the Latin alphabet, Russian uses the Cyrillic alphabet. That’s part of what makes it such a challenging language to learn.

FIFA translates 3 million words per language, per year.

According to Slator, FIFA mainly uses a network of freelance translators, as well as some translation agencies. So, what does it take to translate for FIFA? According to Caitlin Stephens, Deputy Head of Language Services at FIFA,

“FIFA’s translators have to be both good specialists and generalists. They also have to be able to juggle working on long projects — often with short deadlines — with reacting quickly to translate urgent media releases or provide ad hoc linguistic advice.”

Press conferences are translated into as many as nine languages via a remote translation centre in Moscow

Russia launched a remote translation centre in 2017 for the Confederations Cup. For 2018, the translation centre is located in Moscow. According to Andrey Moiseev, head of Local Organising Committee Language Services, “there will be up to nine languages in play: five core languages (English, German, Spanish, French, Russian), the first team’s language, the second team’s language, language of the first team’s coach, language of the second team’s coach.”

Over 50 interpreters will be available so that the press conferences can be translated as quickly as possible.

Each country has their own football-specific slang.

The most striking example of this, of course, is the United States. For some odd reason, they insist on calling football “soccer.” But there are also loads of other colourful phrases in other languages to describe various aspects of the sport.

For example, according to the World in Words podcast, a chaotic moment in a football match can  be described in the following ways:

  • Vrouwen en kinderen eerst: Dutch for “women and children first.”
  • Andar aos papéis: Portuguese for “walking on papers.”
  • Hawaii football: Norwegian for “Hawaii football.”

This year, gender roles and relations keep getting lost in translation.

To assist Moscow-bound World Cup players, coaches, executives and reporters, the Argentine Football Association held a seminar on Russian Language and Culture.

Unfortunately, it went down in flames when organisers realised that the course manual included a section on “how to have a chance with a Russian girl.” It contained such earth-shatteringly obvious tips as “be clean,” and “treat Russian women as people instead of objects.”

Brazilian football fans could have used just such a manual. Some of them videotaped themselves insulting local Russian women in Portuguese or enticing the women to repeat obscene phrases in Portuguese. Of course, the women may get the last laugh. The men in question were dumb enough to post videos of themselves being jerks on social media. Some of them have already lost their jobs, and they may face prosecution.

Travellers in Moscow will face translation challenges.

As this video shows, people are friendly. However, there is not a lot of foreign-language material available to guide tourists.

Given the lack of multilingual tourist infrastructure, many fans rely on Google Translate.

And that’s not a bad thing. Apps like Google Translate are often the only practical option for leisure travellers. They certainly beat gesturing, or speaking English with a Russian accent and expecting to be understood.  But of course, they aren’t perfect.

As University of Minnesota language professor Andrew Cohen told the Associated Press, “In many ways Google Translate is remarkable” but it “may have considerable difficulty translating humor, sarcasm, subtle forms of criticism, curses, apologies so that they work, even requests in a way that they are appropriately mitigated rather than bossy sounding.”

For more ways to translate conversations while you travel, see 7 Powerful Translation Apps and Devices for Travelers.

Volunteer interpreters help meet the need for language services at the World Cup.

As the FIFA volunteer page explains, “Language services is one of the most important volunteers’ functional areas as the interpreters are irreplaceable at these high profile events.” Volunteer interpreters must know Russian and another foreign language and have prior experience in interpreting and cross-cultural communication.

Pure MT translation is not enough for FIFA.

As noted above, FIFA has quite a bit of content to translate. How much are they using machine translation?  As Caitlin Stephens told Slator, MT won’t be replacing human translators any time soon:

“The size of our translation memory has enabled us to increase productivity greatly. But as most of our work is creative and not repetitive, we will not be embracing pure machine translation anytime soon … Cost is not the only factor that we look at when outsourcing translation work as quality is of the utmost importance to us. Many of our translations are public documents and a poor translation could negatively affect FIFA’s image.”

Pure machine translation isn’t good enough for FIFA, and it shouldn’t be good enough for your business either.  To guard your brand image and communicate effectively with people from around the world,  partner with an experienced translation company like K International. Take a look at the language services we offer and feel free to get in touch!

Who are you cheering for this year? Let us know in the comments!

Refugees Around the World, and How Translators Can Help

20 June is World Refugee Day. To mark the occasion, the UN is hosting events in cities and refugee camps around the world. The goal is to show support for refugees and to increase awareness of this global problem.

With that in mind, here are some shocking statistics about refugees around the world, and some ways that translators can help.

By the end of 2017, there were 68.5 million forcibly displaced people in the world. All of these people were driven from their homes by persecution, conflict, violence, or human rights violations.

  • 40 million were internally displaced, which means they had to leave their homes but remained in their home countries.
  • 25.4 million had to abandon their countries, making them refugees.  This figure is the highest ever recorded, and it’s a 10 per cent increase over 2016.
  • 3.1 million sought asylum in another country.

In 2017 alone, war, violence and persecution drove 16.2 million people from their homes.

That’s 44,400 people a day, and it’s the highest number that the United Nations High Commissioner has ever recorded. 11.8 million people stayed in their own countries; 4.4 million left their countries to become refugees or seek asylum elsewhere.

52% of refugees are children.

These children have witnessed violence and war firsthand. They’ve lost their homes and their friends and had their schooling interrupted.  According to the UN, refugee children are more than five times more likely to not be in school than children in the general population.

Many of them have also lost their parents. The statistics include 173,800 children who were unaccompanied or became separated from their families as they fled.  Read more