Malaysians Debate Language

Malaysian politicians, schools, activists and parents have been engaged in a furious debate over what language to use for instructing the nation’s schoolchildren in math and science.

Now, MSNBC reports that negotiations between the different camps have reached a standstill. The issue is emotional and difficult to negotiate: Should Malaysian students receive math and science instruction in Malay, Malaysia’s national language, and the native language of most of its inhabitants? Or, should Malaysian students receive math and science instruction in English to better enable them to compete with students from other countries in an international job market?

Malaysia was once a British colony, and Malaysian schools once taught exclusively in English. However, after Malaysia gained its independence from Great Britain, Malaysian leaders had schools begin teaching in Malay again, to promote native culture and the use of the Malay language.

Unfortunately, this backfired on Malaysian students seeking work in an international marketplace, where English fluency is considered a desirable trait. Schools began teaching math and science in English in 2003.
Malay language activists have been trying for decades to help the Malay language evolve to meet the needs of modern Malaysians, as well as to develop a Malay vocabulary for math and science terms.

They feel that teaching math and science in English threatens their efforts. Another component of the mix is the desire of Malay’s main ethnic minorities to have these subjects taught in their native languages, Tamil and Chinese.

Since the different players in the language debate are unable to come to a resolution, a decision on the policy will have to be made by the Malaysian Cabinet. Nobody is sure what the Cabinet will decide, but one this is clear: Someone is going to walk away unhappy when the decision is announced next year.

Online Social Site Offers Machine Translation

One of the earliest Utopian promises of the Internet was that it would connect the world and give different cultures a greater understanding of each other. Imagine if you could sit at a coffee shop and talk to people from across the world, and hear what they have to say. In theory, at least, everyone would emerge from the coffee shop with a better understanding of and a deeper appreciation for each other’s views.

Of course, even though the Internet allows people to communicate across continents, there’s still one problem: the language barrier. Now, an online social networking site called Meedan aims to break down the language barrier between Arabic, Hebrew and English speakers. The site uses translating software to translate members’ comments and messages to one another. Unfortunately, translation software is never perfect, and Meedan’s is no exception, as the New York Times reports.

Programmers face a number of obstacles in writing translation software aimed at translating Arabic to English (and vice versa). For one thing, currently all translation programs work by having computers review copies of human-translated documents. By giving the computer a copy of the same text in each language, it can compare the two texts and “learn” which words correspond to each other.. The more translated text the computer sees, the more accurately it can translate. However, there is less common material available between English and Arabic than there is between English and many other languages.

Also, syntax is more fluid in Arabic than in English. Arabic speakers use content and meaning (basically, common sense) to determine the meaning of a particular sentence. Computers, unfortunately, lack common sense.

According to the New York Times’ article, Meedan’s software is “surprisingly good ,“ even for some abstract phrases and figurative language. However, human translators have no need to worry about being replaced by computers anytime soon-Meedan also produced this little gem:

“The mother your visit in Israel is a sleep to the favour or to the bed your mind on the conflict are Israeli Palestinian and on relational Israel Holland.”

As the New York Times’ astutely points out, given how fraught with tension the semantics of the conflicts in the Middle East are, it remains to be seen how well Meedan will be able to build to a bridge between here and there.

Don’t Jump…. Get yourself a donkey!

Translating documents is not an easy business, a word can mean one thing in one language but something different in another if translated literally. When translating important life saving information leaflets it is essential to proofread the text to make sure it reads correctly and fluently.

Here is a good example of when things go badly wrong…

A fire brigade leaflet produced for Strathclyde Fire and Rescue Service offering advice on how to escape from your home.

Written in English the text read,

Never jump straight out of a window, lower yourself onto cushions

This was translated into Urdu, the result was very interesting. It read…

Never jump out of a window straight. Put yourself on a donkey and come down.

Teacher Ilfan Malik explained: “The Urdu word for cushion is gadda. But the word for donkey is gadha.”

A spokesman for Strathclyde Fire and Rescue apologised, adding: “A replacement leaflet will be distributed soon.”

There’s never a donkey around when you need one!

An important lesson on how you must never confuse the letters h and d. It can have serious repercussions, particularly if you cannot find a donkey.

It would have been beneficial to have had the document proofread. Having another translator reading the translated text means the context and spelling etc… can be checked, eliminating the problem of misinterpretation.

Johann von Goethe

Germany Seeks to Enshrine the German Language

What could be more German than the German language? At least, that’s the question being asked by members of the German Christian Democrat political party, which is seeking to change the German Constitution to include the following 6 words:

“The language of the Federal Republic of Germany is German.”

The Associated Press notes that ever since World War II, the German language has been in need of an image makeover.

Long after the last vestiges of the Nazi regime were banished, the German language’s sinister reputation lives in on the accents of Hollywood villains and other aspects of pop culture.

For example, the American rock band Tool included a song in German  called “Die Eier von Satan”  on their album Aenima.

The song uses the popular association of German with fascism to make non-German speaking listeners think they are listening to a Nazi speech of some sort, but it’s actually just a recording of someone reading a brownie recipe in German.

It’s unfortunate that World War II has left a cloud hanging over the language of German Romanticism, and of poets and philosophers like Goethe and Hegel.

So, although Germany is seeing an increase in the population of immigrants, this proposal is presented as being more about rehabilitating German’s image than about making people feel unwelcome. The AP article states that “For many Germans, enshrining the language is more about strengthening the country’s image on the international stage rather than fears about foreign influence.” They also feel that the resolution would make it easier to have German listed as an “official” language of the EU.

Still, the proposal is opposed by Chancellor Angela Merkel and by other German political parties, including the Social Democrats and other opposition parties. For example, according to Speigel Online,

“Others worry that the CDU’s motion could be interpreted as offensive to minorities living in Germany, whether it be ethnic Danes in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein, the Sorbs in Saxony or the roughly 3.3 million Germans of Turkish origin living in the country. Ayyub Axel Köhler, the chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD), told the Hanover daily Neue Presse that the measure was “laughable and small-minded.” “No one doubts that German is the official language,” Köhler added. “It’s obvious that knowing German is a key requirement for integration.”

The whole world speaks Engrish

At a conference in Germany last week I was talking to a Japanese guy who worked for a manufacturer of medical equipment… This is how the conversation went.

Me: Do you translate your material for use in markets outside of Japan?

Him: No… hahaha… there is… er… no… er… need

Me: May I ask why?

Him: because… er… the whole world speak Engrish! [and then he burst into hysterical laughter]

While we make light of this (and to be honest the guy’s laugh did make me laugh as well to the point that we both stood there and wondered why we were laughing together) there are real reasons behind why documents should be translated.

Think about it… if you are a Japanese manufacturer selling your products in Germany and all of your support material is in English, how are you going to generate leads? You are immediately restricting your potential business contacts to people who speak English and do business in Germany.

And there are legal obligations to translate your material into the mother tongue of the country that you are distributing. Without the proper translation to accompany your products you may not attain your CE Mark, making it impossible (and maybe even illegal) to sell in other countries.

Which languages?

Deciding to support alternative languages is the first step, after that you have to pick which ones to support. Given that there are around 6,500 languages spoken on planet earth this can be a daunting task. So we’ll look at which ones will make you the most return for your investment (this will change from market to market – but it is a great starting point).

According to The World Bank the largest economies in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) are as follows (highest first); United States, Japan, Germany, China, United Kingdom, France, Italy, Canada, Spain and Brazil.

They constitute over 70% of the world’s economy (which is $33 trillion combined) consuming the majority of world’s products and services.

So… if you want to communicate with the people who live in these countries you need to do so in the following languages; US English, Japanese, Germany, Mandarin, Cantonese, UK English, French, Italian, Canadian French, Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese.

Translate your material into 11 languages and you can cover $33 trillion of the world’s trade. If you don’t translate your material people who can’t read your material won’t buy your products.

Free Translation of Merry Christmas

Every year we get asked to supply the translation for ‘Merry Christmas’ (people like to put it in their Christmas cards). To make this year a truly multilingual festive season we have included the most popular languages below.

Translation of Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas in Chinese Simplified: 圣诞快乐
Merry Christmas in Chinese Traditional: 聖誕快樂
Merry Christmas in French: Joyeux Noël
Merry Christmas in Hindi: क्रिसमस मुबारक
Merry Christmas in Hungarian: Boldog karácsonyt
Merry Christmas in Irish Gaelic:
Nollaig shona dhuit” (singular) “Nollaig shona daoibh” (plural)
Merry Christmas in Italian: Buon Natale
Merry Christmas in Japanese: メリークリスマス
Merry Christmas in Lingala: Mbotama Malamu
Merry Christmas in Polish: Wesołych Świąt Bożego Narodzenia
Merry Christmas in Punjabi:ਕ੍ਰਿਸਮਸ ਦੀਆਂ ਮੁਬਾਰਕਾਂ
Merry Christmas in Russian: С Рождеством!
Merry Christmas in Somali: Kirismas Wacan
Merry Christmas in Spanish: Feliz Navidad
Merry Christmas in Welsh: Nadolig Llawen

or if you prefer…

Translation of Seasons’ Greetings

Seasons’ Greetings in Chinese Simplified: 顺颂时祺
Seasons’ Greetings in Chinese Traditional: 致以季節的問候
Seasons’ Greetings in French: Meilleurs vœux
Seasons’ Greetings in Hindi: हार्दिक शुभ कामनाएँ
Seasons’ Greetings in Hungarian: Kellemes ünnepeket kívánunk
Seasons’ Greetings in Irish Gaelic: “Beannachtaí an tSéasúir”
Seasons’ Greetings in Italian: Buone Feste
Seasons’ Greetings in Japanese: 季節のご挨拶
Seasons’ Greetings in Lingala: Mbote ya esengo na mikolo ya kopema
Seasons’ Greetings in Polish: Wesołych Świąt
Seasons’ Greetings in Punjabi: ਹਾਰਦਿਕ ਸ਼ੁਭ ਕਾਮਨਾਵਾਂ
Seasons’ Greetings in Russian: С праздником!
Seasons’ Greetings in Somali: Salaamaha Xiliyadaha
Seasons’ Greetings in Spanish: Felices Fiestas
Seasons’ Greetings in Welsh: Cyfarchion y Tymor

One last thing…

May we wish all readers of K International Blog a very Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year 🙂

In a Global World, Localization Still Matters

English is the most widely taught second language around the world. However, new research from Common Sense Advisory has confirmed that even when people are confident speaking English as a second language, they feel more comfortable buying products with labels and instructions in their own language. Although that may seem, like…well, common sense, many businesses don’t think they can justify the increased costs of translating products in areas where most people speak English as a second language.

The research focused on business software, interviewing 351 customers from non-English speaking countries. Of that sample, 80% could speak English as a second language well enough to understand the information provided about the software. However, almost all of the people interviewed were more likely to buy software that “speaks their language,” where both product information and the software interface have been translated. More than 80% wouldn’t fully consider products that were marketed only in English, and 1 out of 6 people surveyed wouldn’t consider buying an English-only product, period.

At least for software, translation seems to be a strong driver for sales. This seems like a no-brainer when you really stop to think about it. After all, no matter how fluent you become in your second language, you’ll always be a little more comfortable using your mother tongue. Software manuals are not exactly light reading, anyway-why would you want to make the effort of translating them to yourself? Most people spend as little time reading software manuals as they can possibly get away with!

However, it’s reasonable to assume that this effect extends beyond software, too. Having material translated into the local languages of your customers signals that you care about those customers, that you’re aiming your product for people who live where they live and speak the language they grew up speaking. No matter what you sell, your customers are more likely to buy it if they feel like it’s aimed at them. At any rate, this study is significant because it questions common business assumptions about the importance of localizing products.

Saving India’s Traditional Languages

India is a large country that contains an incredible amount of cultural diversity. As the country continues its growth into a major economic power, the modern world has begun to creep into its small, traditional villages.

This brings opportunity, but can also cause people to shed their traditional languages and cultural identities in order to fit in and better compete for jobs. This problem isn’t unique to India, of course. It’s happened time and time again, and often the people involved don’t realize how important their language and culture are to them until they have almost completely disappeared.

In India, however, the New York Times reports that Ganesh Devy is leading an effort to try to preserve some rural Indian languages and cultures now, while they are threatened but still relatively healthy. To accomplish this task, he has created a school called the Adivasi Academy. The school serves young adults from adivasi tribes. The adivasi are native Indians who typically live by hunting and gathering, worship trees and elephants, and are known for creating and appreciating art.

Despite similarities between different groups of adivasi, there are also many differences in language and culture. At the Adivasi Academy, students are taught to document and preserve the unique cultural elements of their clans and villages. They create dictionaries of languages that have never before been written down, and record elements of their culture such as traditional foods, clothing, ceremonies, beliefs and stories.

By basically turning students into anthropologists studying their own cultures, the academy helps communicate that these traditional languages and cultures are valuable, and worth preserving even as the adivasi become more connected to the rest of India and the modern world.

Is it working?

It’s too soon to tell how much of an impact the program is having, but most of the students who graduate from it do choose to stay in their villages.
For example, the New York Times article quotes one student, Vikesh Rathwa, who originally planned to leave his village and become a filmmaker.

According to Mr. Rathwa,

“Coming here made me see my household life in a new way. We need to walk in step with our traditions, and with technology, too.”

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