Sustainable Development and

Having just returned from the ALC 2010 conference in Miami Florida where I was asked to present about developing a sustainable corporate strategy. I had great feedback about the presentation and was asked by the organisation to expand on a few points we covered. Thought I would use our blog to expand on a couple of points (and give those who missed the event a chance to participate). Read more

Number of Non-English-Speaking Households Rises In the US

A newly-released report from the US Census Bureau shows that the number of non-English-speaking households in the US has increased significantly. According to the report, which uses data collected in 2007 as part of the American Community Survey, 55.4 million Americans speak a language other than English when they are at home. This represents a 140 percent increase since 1980.

The study broke the languages down into four different groups: Spanish; other Indo-European; Asian and Pacific Island languages and others. Spanish was by far the dominant non-English language group-62 percent of people living in America who don’t speak English speak Spanish instead. There are about 34 million people currently living in the US who speak Spanish at home, an increase of 211 percent since 1980. Interestingly, many of the Spanish speakers living in the US were born there- about 17 million, compared to 17.5 million Spanish speakers who were born in another country.

However, just because people speak a foreign language at home, that doesn’t mean that they can’t speak English. In fact, a majority (50 to 70 percent, depending on language group) of the people who speak a foreign language at home also said that they could speak English “very well.”

The people who answered that they cannot speak English “very well” are thought to be the most likely to require assistance, such as interpretation or translation. The report notes that these statistics are important because:

“Data on speakers of languages other than English and on their English speaking ability provide more than just an interesting portrait of a changing nation. Routinely, these data are used in a wide variety of
legislative, policy, and research applications. Legal, financial, and marketing decisions regarding language-based issues all rely on information that begins with data on non-English language use and English-speaking ability.”

Related Posts

Translating the Census into 56 languages.

Laz Language on Decline in Turkey

Turkish is the only official language of Turkey, but it is far from the only language spoken there. Unfortunately, many of the minority languages are on the decline. Some, like the Laz language, are slowly but surely moving toward extinction.

Laz is a South Caucasian language that is spoken by anywhere from 200,000 to just 30,000 people in Turkey. The Laz are the descendents of the ancient Colchis empire, where Jason and the Argonauts went hunting for the Golden Fleece.  Now, this ancient language appears to be declining. In school, children are taught in Turkish as required by law, and they speak the Laz language less and less outside of it.

In a recent story, Al Jazeera quoted Laz linguist Ismail Bucaklisi, who helped put together the first Laz dictionary. He describes when he first realized that the language was in trouble:

“The moment when I realised the Laz language was endangered was when I went back home from Istanbul a year or two after I started university, and saw that children were no longer speaking Laz. The Laz language was not taught to them and they were spoken to in Turkish…When I asked people why they spoke in Turkish to their young children – when my generation used to speak in Laz to us – they said that there was no reason, it was a reflex.”

With no public support for the language from the Turkish government, it remains to be seen if the Laz revival that Bucaklisi imagines will come to pass. Here’s what he thinks needs to happen first:

“Prominent Laz people in society, social actors should resume using the language, so that Laz people understand that their language is important, meaningful, and precious.”

Deaf Hip-Hop Singer Snags Recording Contract

Deaf hip-hop artist Sean Forbes just signed a recording contract with Web Entertainment and BMI, according to the Detroit Free Press.  Forbes is the co-founder of the Deaf Professional Arts Network also known as D-Pan, which makes sign-language remakes of popular music videos. Founded in 2006, the network helps people who are hearing-impaired connect with today’s popular music through remaking videos like Fort Minor’s “Where Did You Go?” Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful” and John Mayer’s “Waiting on the World to Change.”  All of D-Pan’s videos feature deaf or hard-of-hearing performers.

While Forbes started out covering other artists’ material, he also plays drums and writes his own music, rapping and signing simultaneously.  He lost 90% of his hearing as a baby, but grew up listening to hip-hop nonetheless. His first single is called “I’m Deaf.” Sorenson Communications, which provides videophone services, plans to use it as “video hold music” for users of its services. The single comes out on Tuesday, May 18th.

According to Charlie Feldman, BMI’s vice president for writer-publisher relations, Forbes is:

“rapping and signing, and he’s spitting pretty impressively, to put it in the vernacular.”

This summer, Forbes is planning to tour bookstores and colleges with collaborator Jake Bass, and his also trying to find musical acts with a similarly light-hearted vibe to open for.

In the Detroit Free Press, Forbes described what the deal means for him and for the hearing-impaired community as a whole:

“D-Pan opened the door for deaf people with music videos, and that opened the door for people with original material like myself,” says Forbes. “I hope this helps create opportunities for more people. … “I hope it shows everybody that deaf people can do anything.”

You can watch Forbes’ videos and get more information about his music on his website.

South African Pharmacy Unleashes Translation Device for World Cup Fans

The 2010 World Cup is set to take place in South Africa next month, from June 11th to July 11th. Teams from 32 different countries will travel to the country to compete for the championship. Of course, with the World Cup will come hordes of foreign football fans, all ready to party. Some of them will inevitably fall ill while in South Africa, perhaps as a result of too much of a good thing.

To prepare for them, South African pharmacy chain Clicks will use computers connected to Yahoo’s Babelfish, an online translation program. This should help break down the language barrier between pharmacists and their foreign customers. Customers will type in what’s ailing them, and Babelfish will translate their symptoms to the pharmacist and then translate the pharmacist’s recommendations back to the patient. Ideally, this process will ensure that patients are prescribed the correct medications and that they know how to use them.

In an article on the Times Live website, Jan Roos, head of Clicks pharmacy operations, explained why his chain decided to use online translation software:

“The biggest thing is to help our customers in their home language, and it is quite important that they understand how to use the drugs that they require.”

This will definitely be welcome news for people  traveling to South Africa who don’t speak any of the languages that are commonly spoken there (mainly Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans and English, although South Africa is such a diverse country that there are 7 other “official” languages).

Of course, machine translation is never perfect. Let’s just hope that Babelfish does a better job translating for the pharmacists than it did at translating my Spanish homework all those years ago…

Shanghai Tries to Clean Up Its Chinglish

For the next 6 months, Shanghai will be hosting the 2010 World Expo. According to the New York Times, the Chinese government is preparing for the event, in part, by mounting a campaign to clean up the muddle of malapropisms affectionately known as “Chinglish.”

Some Chinglish is simply produced by people with limited English skills, but most of it is the result of a computer translation program called “ Jinshan Ciba,” which mangles translations to produce genuinely hilarious results. Here are some the best examples from the New York Times article:

From menus:

“Fried sausage” was translated as “fried enema.” I’ll bet that restaurant sells more of that particular dish now that the translation has been corrected!

I’m not sure what “monolithic tree mushroom stem squid” is supposed to be, but it was too good not to include. Please feel free to leave your guesses in the comments.

“Jew’s ear juice” is the name of an actual Chinese drink. Apparently, there is a certain type of wood ear fungus that is called “Jew’s ear.” Jew’s ear juice is a beverage made from the juice squeezed out of the fungus, along with hawthorn, dates and honey to make it somewhat more palatable.


Are you a size extra large? In Chinglish, that’s a size “Fatso” or “Lard*ss,” depending on the store.


If you need to relieve yourself while on the streets of China, you may find yourself following a sign to the “urine district.”

These are all quite amusing, and some people even defend Chinglish as an essential part of Chinese culture, something that should be celebrated, not corrected.  The New York Times quotes Oliver Lutz Radtke, who is apparently studying for  degree in Chinglish, who says:

“If you standardize all these signs, you not only take away the little giggle you get while strolling in the park but you lose a window into the Chinese mind.”

But is poor translation really a “window into the Chinese mind?” In some cases, perhaps the answer is yes. For example, “Keep Off the Grass” is translated to the decidedly more anthropomorphic  “The Little Grass Is Sleeping. Please Don’t Disturb It. “

However, I seriously doubt that the mistranslation of “fried sausage” into “fried enema” is a window into anything-it’s just the wrong word. These menus, signs, etc are translated into English to help English-speaking tourists-and in many cases, to encourage them to spend their tourist dollars.  The loss of a little “character” is probably preferable to restaurants and closing stores losing business, or to tourists doing something wrong simply because they couldn’t understand the warnings on a sign.

If you need to make sure your information doesn’t fall victim to these kinds of errors, use our professional Chinese translation service.

Dutch or French? The Line Between the Two Threatens to Divide Belgium

Belgium is like two countries rolled up into one-French-speaking Wallonia and Dutch-speaking Flanders. Soon, the tension between the two may split the country apart.

French and Dutch spoken in Belgium

The conflict between the two language groups goes back to when the country was founded in the 19th century. At that time, the country’s ruling class spoke French. In fact, if you wanted to be anyone in Belgium, you had to learn to speak French even if you grew up speaking Dutch. However, the majority of the people in Flanders, a slim majority of the population Belgian population as a whole, speaks Dutch (or Flemish). Over time, the Flemings were able to make Dutch the official language of Flanders, while French remained the official language of Wallonia.

A recent article in The Guardian describes just how fragile this linguistic compromise has become: Walloons and Flemings live apart, work apart and generally don’t marry. In the few bilingual communities, French-speaking students learn in separate classrooms from their Dutch-speaking counterparts. The tension between the two groups has left the government crippled.

The article quotes Jeroen Vermeiren, a Flemish bookseller just outside Brussels, who reassured the newspaper that:

“We won’t fall into madness, like Serbia and Croatia. But it creates great emotions on both sides.”

The Guardian wryly notes that while the two halves of Belgium are divided by language and culture, there is something that unites them: the national debt. The article compares the two sides to:

“a couple trapped in a loveless marriage, eyeing divorce but unable to agree on the mortgage liabilities,” and says that “the Flemings and the Walloons may be stuck together because of the cost of splitting up.”

Shared debt is not a good foundation for a country any more than it is for a marriage. Hopefully, the two sides are able to work something out and move ahead amicably, either as fellow citizens or just as neighbors.

Real-Time Mobile Translation To Be Available Soon

PCWorld has an interesting article posted on the possibility of instant voice translation via your cell phone. At the Mobile Voice Conference last week in San Francisco, two companies displayed products that can turn your cell phone into an instant translator, although neither is available for consumers yet and both have very limited capabilities.

The first company, Novauris, uses software installed on the phone to create the translations. It only works for specific, commonly used phrases, but it will take the phrase you say, translate it into the language the other person speaks, and read the translation aloud to the other person. The standard foreign phrases are designed to make the interaction between you and the person you are talking to as easy as possible-for example, instead of saying “Where is the bathroom?” the software asks “Can you point me to the restroom?” eliminating the need to translate directions from the other language. The software is capable of running on a wide variety of mobile phone operating systems, and it will undoubtedly become a must-have app for travelers once it’s available to the public.

Fluential’s product requires a 3G Internet connection, but it is able to translate more phrases with more accuracy than Novauris’ product. The first version of this product will be aimed at helping nurses converse with foreign patients, supplementing or replacing the use of more expensive medical interpreting services. In tests, Fluential’s product was able to translate 80 to 90 percent of interactions at about 92 percent accuracy.

These are both interesting products, but machine translation is still nowhere near as accurate or flexible as a real, human translator who is fluent in both languages. We have a long way to go before we will have the capabilities to build our own version of Star Trek’s “Universal Translator.”

Vermont Artist Highlights Endangered Alphabets

All over the world, languages are vanishing. On average, 10 languages disappear for good each and every year. Many of these are spoken languages only, without an alphabet of their own. However, even languages that are written down are in danger of disappearing, taking their alphabets with them. Tim Brookes, a Vermont travel writer and artist, is trying to raise awareness of this issue with his new exhibition: 13 rare alphabets carved and painted into real Vermont maple. Some of the alphabets featured in the exhibition include Balinese, Inuktitut (used by the Cree and Ojibwa tribes of Canada), Khmer, Manchu and many others.

The Endangered Alphabets project will be on display in Vermont starting May 7-8th. Each of the 14 plaques has the same phrase inscribed on it, albeit in a different script: Article One of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which reads as follows:

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

The writing samples were collected primarily via email, and once Brookes had a copy of that phrase written out in one of the alphabets, he carved it by hand into sturdy maple and added paint to make it stand out. In an article about the exhibit on, Brookes explained why he chose maple as a material, saying:

“These languages are endangered – let’s create something that’s lasting.”

Since Brookes doesn’t actually speak these languages, he had to trust that the information that was given would be correct. There are some mistakes in some of the plaques-but part of the point of the project is to illustrate how easily a language is lost when people stop speaking it, so the inaccuracies actually add to the impact of the art rather than detracting from it.  The accompanying book is set to be published in June. In addition to describing each of the alphabets in the exhibition, the book will also examine the process by which writing develops and the meanings that different scripts convey.

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