Once You Learn a Language, Do You Ever Forget It?

Many people who studied a foreign language in school don’t continue to practice it after they graduate. The conventional wisdom is that if you don’t speak a language, you will forget it rather quickly. As my Spanish teacher used to say: “Use it or lose it.”  But is that really the case?

The results of a new study published on the Science Daily website suggests that when it comes to learning languages, this conventional wisdom isn’t completely true. Even many years later, the brain retains some memory of the languages you used to know. The study looked at native English speakers that spent time overseas as small children and who had learned either Hindi or Zulu during that time.

In vocabulary tests, the volunteers were unable to remember any of the words of the languages they had spoken as children. However, Hindi and Zulu both have phonemes (the smallest unit of sound in a spoken language) that don’t exist in English. When the researchers taught both the volunteers and a control group to recognize these phonemes, the volunteers that had learned the languages as children picked them up much faster than the volunteers who had not.

So, apparently, you never entirely forget a language you once knew. Of course, if you don’t remember any of the vocabulary, remembering what the phonemes sound like doesn’t help much if you need to communicate with someone in that language. However, it is comforting to know that if you try to pick up the language again, you won’t be starting from scratch.

The researchers who wrote the study concluded by recommending that children be exposed to different languages as much as possible, saying that “Even if the language is forgotten (or feels this way) after many years of disuse, leftover traces of the early exposure can manifest themselves as an improved ability to relearn the language.”

Translator Collapses at UN General Assembly

New York is currently holding the UN General Assembly. It has been reported that a translator who works directly for the Libyan leader, Moamer Gaddafi collapsed during Gaddafi’s 75 minute marathon speech.

The translator was struggling with the torrent of words. The interpreter eventually came to the end of their tether and shouted live into the microphone, ‘I just can’t take it anymore’ in Arabic and then collapsed according to the New York Post.

The UN’s Arabic section chief, Rasha Ajalyaqeen, then had to take over for the final 20 minutes of Gaddafi’s speech.

Another UN Arabic Interpreter told the New York Post, ‘his interpreter just collapsed – this is the first time I have seen this happen in 25 years.’

Gaddafi broke UN protocol by bringing his own interpreters rather than using one of the 25 Arabic translators supplied by the UN.

The speech will probably be one of the most memorable speeches of the UN General Assembly referencing issues as diverse as the John F. Kennedy assassination, Philippine migration and swine flu. Whilst Gaddafi was talking many fellow leaders gradually drifted out of the room.

International Translation Day

International Translation day is celebrated every year on the 30th September.

The 30th September is the feast of St. Jerome, the Bible translator who is considered the patron saint of translators, interpreters and librarians. The day celebrates and promotes translation as an essential activity in contemporary society. Translation services have become more popular over recent years as each country finds itself dealing with a multicultural society.

Each year the celebration has a theme. The theme for 2009 is “Working together” and as the International Federation of Translators explains it presents an opportunity to “take a fresh look at why and how it pays to join forces.” K International, a UK based translation services company, is always looking for new and exciting ideas to improve its services and join forces with other individuals and companies in its field to improve client services.

The event is promoted by IFT (the International Federation of Translators) and has been since 1953! In 1991 the IFT officially launched the celebration as a show of solidarity of the world wide translation community and in an effort to promote the translation industry.

World Accent has produced another greetings card for this years event. Download it today.

Bremen, Germany Hosts World's First Festival of Languages

Bremen, Germany is holding a “Festival of Languages” which started on the 18th September. The festival celebrates all of the world’s 6,500 languages. According to this article it is the first of its kind in the world and will last 21 days.

So, what does one do at a “Festival of Languages?” The events scheduled include music, theater and art exhibits, as well as chances to learn important phrases in a variety of languages.

Perhaps the most unusual aspect of the festival is the construction of a “Pyramid of Language” out of 6,500 cubes of wood. Each cube represents one of the world’s languages, and will be decorated with a word or phrase from that language before being placed onto the pyramid.

The finished product will be 6 meters high, and festival organizers say it will take a week to complete. Pretty impressive…but why go through all the trouble?  According to Professor Thomas Stolz of the University of Bremen:

“The idea behind the pyramid of languages is to give the spectators something more concrete and tangible to watch, which helps to convey the enormous linguistic wealth of our world.”

The goal of the festival is not only to celebrate linguistic diversity, but also to raise awareness about threatened and endangered languages. According to the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages, half of the languages spoken today will probably die out within the next century. In fact, endangered languages are disappearing at the rate of one every 14 days!

In the “Pyramid of Language,” all of the wooden cubes are of equal size. As Professor Stolz explained, one of aims of the festival is:

“to show that all languages are equal, no matter how large, politically or economically potent their speech-communities are.”

Talk like a Pirate Day

Avast! Ahoy there all ye heartie land lubbers, swashbucklers and buccaneers! It be International Talk like a Pirate Day on the ‘morrow. Shiver me timbers! Gaarrrrr!

Tomorrow (19th Sept) is talk like a pirate day. This is a world wide event which is very popular in the USA. Check out talklikeapirate.com for more info on events happening in your area.

Arrrrre ye ready for TLAPD 2009?!


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.

Israel to Remove Languages Other Than Hebrew From Road Signs

In a move that may cause confusion among travellers and will surely cause discomfort among some of its Arab citizens, Israel’s minister of transport, Yisrael Katz, has declared that the country will get new road signs-in Hebrew only. Right now, road signs are trilingual, with the names of cities, airports and other destinations spelled in Hebrew, English and Arabic.

Why change the signs? Well, the official answer given by the minister of transport is that having three different languages on each road sign confuses people. Of course, there’s probably a little bit more to it than that…the language used on street signs is often about declaring ownership or establishing  cultural dominance.

In an op-ed piece for the New York Times, Jerrod Kessel and Pierre Klochendler state that “the political motive is ill-concealed.” They quote Mr. Katz as follows: “Some Palestinian maps still refer to Israeli towns and villages by their pre-1948 [pre-Israel] names: Beisan instead of our Beit-Shean. They want to turn the clock back. Not on my signs! We won’t allow anyone to turn Yerushalayim into al-Quds.”

According to the Jewish Daily Forward, there’s also been a bit of a tussle in Jerusalem itself over the trilingual street signs, with vandals painting over the Arabic portions of the signs.  A more moderate group of Jewish “vigilantes” has taken matters into their own hands, placing stickers printed with the appropriate Arabic street names on top of the vandalized signs.

Seen in this context, it’s easy to see why the minister of transport’s actions could make Israel’s Arabic citizens feel unwelcome. According to the New York Times op-ed, one in 5 Israeli citizens is Arabic, and Arabic is one of the country’s national languages.

The rest of the New York Times editorial gets a little nonsensical in its argument, as the writers claim that since “Israel” is spelled “Yisrael” in Hebrew, Katz’ changes “will be literally wiping Israel off the map.”

Adding a “Y” to the name of a country hardly qualifies as “wiping it off the map,” and as far as English-speaking travelers are concerned, well, when you travel to a foreign country you should make an effort to learn how city/street names are spelled in the local tongue. The real concern is that the move will likely increase Israeli Arabs’ sense of disenfranchisement in their own country. It could also have practical consequences for Israeli citizens. For example, the Jewish Daily Forward article quotes cabdriver Muhammed Dabash saying “When I need to take a passenger somewhere, I read the Arabic on the street signs.”  What will he do once the new street signs are up?

Talking Business: How to Avoid a Translation Fail

Some phrases just don’t translate-especially when you are relying on a computer to do the heavy lifting. The International Trade website has published a list of English business phrases that don’t translate well, and it illustrates this point beautifully.

Take, for example, the common English expression “give me a ballpark figure.” Translated into Russian literally, as a computer would do it, you get “Give to me the diagram of the baseball stadium.” Unless you’re in the baseball stadium construction business, that simply won’t do. In Spanish, “We’ll hit the ground running” turns into a phrase that brings to mind an action movie: “We will strike the earth operation.” The best of the bunch is probably the literal Chinese translation of the phrase “We need to get our ducks in a row.” Once translated, it becomes “We need to obtain our duck continuously.” What?!?!

So, how do you avoid sounding like an idiot when you deal with foreign clients? The best course of action is to avoid machine translation if at all possible-it simply isn’t reliable enough yet. If you do need to use machine translation for a business project, write in simple language, avoiding metaphors, figurative language, jargon and colloquial expressions.

Richard Brooks, General Manager of UK based translation firm K International, has the following advice for UK businesses:

“Idioms are common place in workplaces across Britain and its fine (within reason) to use them in your local marketing activities. The tricky part comes in when you need to translate that message for use in another region.

Computers (at the moment) simply cannot understand the real meaning behind these idioms. For copy, that when translated is intended to convert potentially interested parties into sales revenue then a real human being must be used in the translation process.

For the best results recreating your message for use in another country a service such as transcreation should be used which includes incountry testing and cultural focus groups.

Get it right and you’ll have a winning marketing campaign that will spread like wildfire (excuse the idiom) in the blogs and social media networks, get it wrong and people will think you’re an idiot”

Assuming you have a competent interpreter, human-powered translation is always superior because human interpreters recognize expressions like these and know how to translate them appropriately to convey the correct meaning.

NYC French Language Bookstore Set to Close

Librarie de France bookstore in New York City which specialises in French Language books looks set to close after being in business for 74 years. Librarie de France has said it is being forced to close because of the high rental costs that threatened to triple to $1 million a year. According to store owner Emanuel Molho the shop lease ends on the 30th September 2009.

Molho is quoted as saying: “New York is becoming impossible for retail”.

Librarie de France is world famous and is the only bookstore of its kind in the United States. Each member of staff who works in the bookstore can speak at least two languages. The business was started by Molho’s father, Isaac in 1928. In 1935, the shop moved to its current location, the La Maison Francaise building near the Rockefeller Centre skating rink.

It’s a shame that such a specialist language bookstore will go out of business due to the extortionate rents being imposed on New York’s retail businesses.

Nine Year Old Girl Achieves Sign Language Qualification

Tayla Reynold’s mum is hearing impaired and it can be difficult for her to keep up with her girls. 9 year old Tayla has taken it upon herself to improve their communication by doing a sign language qualification.Tayla is now officially the youngest person in Britain to complete the Level 1 British Sign Language test. To pass the test Tayla had to learn 600 gestures in British Sign Language

The British newspaper the Telegraph reports that the little girl took the lessons with 14 adults during a 23 week course. Watching her mum practising in the mirror inspired the youngster to sign up for the course.  Tayla’s younger sister Natasha whose eight years old is due to start the course this week.

Tayla is a very special little girl she has already appeared on ‘This Morning’, voiced a character in ITV animated show ‘Creature Comforts’ and she finished in sixth place in the international Linguist of the Year competition.

Tayla will start the level 2 course next month and if she continues to level 4 she could become a BSL interpreter.

Her mother, who operates the School of Sign Language in Blackburn, is quoted in the telegraph as saying:

“I’m extremely proud of my daughter and it’s wonderful to see her saying ‘I love you’ in sign language. When I was a young girl I was hard of hearing but there was no way that I would admit or except it. I didn’t want to be different so I would try to cover it up.Now with every person who passes the tests, we get closer to getting rid of the horrible label I had to live with, growing up deaf and dumb.”

A spokesman for society the British Deaf Association said:

“We would like to congratulate Tayla on achieving her BSL level 1 at such a young age.”

British Sign Language, used by the majority of Britain’s deaf population, has between seventy thousand and a quarter of a million speakers.

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