Scottish Siri Issues

Siri Doesn’t Understand Scottish Accents

At its last conference, Apple introduced Siri, a robotic virtual system that comes embedded in the new iPhone 4S.  Right after it was introduced, Apple caught a lot of flack for Siri’s name, which sounds vulgar in both Japanese and Georgian.

Now that the product has been released to the general public, Apple is getting a different type of negative translation-related feedback. Though Siri is supposed to work with all US, UK and Australian accents, it’s apparently giving some Scottish users fits as it doesn’t always understand their commands.

Some Scottish users seem to have more trouble than others. It almost feels wrong to laugh at this poor bastard, for example, as he tries over and over again to get Siri to “create a reminder.”  This gentleman had a little bit better luck, but still had some problems setting appointments and sending messages. Read more

Nokia Translation

Another Week, Another Tech Translation Fail

Last week, Apple was roundly mocked for using the name “Siri” for its new voice-controlled personal assistant.  Apparently, they didn’t bother to see if the name would have any negative connotations in other languages. In fact, it sounds very much like “buttocks” in Japanese and is a particuarly crude way of referring to one’s penis in Georgian.

This week, everybody’s laughing at the expense of Nokia, who recently introduced a new, Windows-based smartphone called the “Lumia.” Sure, “Lumia” vaguely connotes “light” in English, but apparently Nokia didn’t check to see what associations it would bring to mind in other languages. Note to businesses: this is usually a mistake, especially if your company has a global business.

According to MSNBC, the connotations of “lumia” are more shady than they are luminous. The word is apparently a synonym for “prostitute.” Nice! Read more

A Second Language May Delay Alzheimer's

Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most heart-breaking diseases of the elderly, and one of the  most poorly understood.  The causes are unclear; while scientists believe that genetics are part of the picture, they also believe that environmental factors have a role to play in how and when a person develops the disease.

Also unclear is how to prevent Alzheimer’s, though scientists have known for some time that engaging in mentally stimulating activities can help delay the onset.  Research has also suggested that Alzheimer’s tends to strike (or at least to become clinically apparent) later in life in people who speak two or more languages. Now, a new study offers an additional ray of hope, showing that bilingual people do not start experiencing symptoms until much later on in the course of the disease than people who only speak one language. Read more

the team in action

The Swanbourne Endeavour

Yesterday (Sunday 23rd October) 6 brave souls from K International competed in and survived (with only minor injuries) the Swanbourne Endeavour. In the picture above (from left to right) you’ll see, Dave, Jana, Paul, Yvette, Rich and Brian standing next to the bell from HMS Victory which we rang when we completed the race.

Held in the beautiful grounds of Swanbourne School and with patriotic music blasting out of the sound system we ran, crawled, swam and slid our way around the course.

It was all for charity and we raised over £500 for Fundacion Comunitaria de la Frontera Norte, support to Territorial Army soldiers, the Royal British Legion, the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Familes Association and Amara.

In total we recon we ran 7k cross-country and if that wasn’t enough the organisers had us… wading through ponds 4 feet deep, submerged in muddy water, crawling under 50 metres of barbed wire, crawling under nets, crawling through flooded tubes, leaping over burning straw, climbing over 8 foot tall walls, carrying logs and getting the muddiest we’ve all been since we were 6 years old. It was great fun.

Thanks to everyone who sponsored us, thanks to everyone who took part and BIG thanks to the organisers – it was a truly amazing event.

Hope to see you there next year :).

EDIT: Some more pictures are on our facebook page.

10-year-old Speaks Ten Languages

Proof positive it pays to start learning languages young: Northwest England’s newest top young linguist is only ten years old, but she can already speak ten different languages, one for each year she’s been alive!

Sonia Yang was born in Taiwan, but her family moved to England before she began primary school. By that time, she could already speak Taiwanese, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese and English. Once in school, she quickly added to her repertoire,  learning German, French and Spanish.

Then, she decided to enter a regional language competition. To qualify, she had to learn Portuguese and Kazakh. To win the “Best Young Linguist” crown, she had to complete one more challenge: learning the Ugandan language of Lugandan in just a few short weeks. Read more

Braille Keyboard for Tablets

For several years, smooth, sleek touchscreens have dominated the tech gadget world. Touchscreens are said to be more intuitive than other input methods, as even infants instinctively know how to use them.

However, the touchscreen revolution has left one group of people sitting on the sidelines: those who can’t see the shiny screen or its colorful array of icons.  Now, a research team participating in a development competition at Stanford University has created the first-ever touchscreen Braille keyboard.

Stanford Professor Adrian Lew, one of three researchers on the team, told the BBC that the application developed during the competition could be a big help to the visually impaired once it becomes widely distributed:

“Imagine being blind in the classroom, how would you take notes? What if you were on the street and needed to copy down a phone number? These are real challenges the blind grapple with every day.” Read more


Language barriers and mistranslations are fertile ground for comedy. Chinese translations of English seem to be particularly vulnerable to gaffes, possibly due to a shortage of fluent English speakers and a corresponding over-reliance on translation software.

As an aside, it should be noted that English speakers have their own problems when it comes to translating Chinese characters. Also, at least our Eastern brethren’s translation failures seem to be confined to signs and menus as opposed to permanent tattoos. You can always change a sign! Read more

An Irish Translation for “Angela’s Ashes”

Frank McCourt’s 1996 memoir Angela’s Ashes chronicled his childhood growing up dirt-poor and hungry in Limerick, Ireland. In writing it, McCourt tried to capture Limerick as he experienced it- the good, the bad and the ugly (and there was an awful lot of ugly).

The book was a hit with both critics and consumers, winning a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Critics Circle Award among others.  It was less of a hit in McCourt’s birthplace of Limerick, however, as some residents were unhappy with the way their fair city was portrayed in the novel. Here’s how the Globe described it at the time:

“It wouldn’t be Irish if there wasn’t a split, and the split here is between those who see “Angela’s Ashes” as an exaggerated, mean-spirited attack on the city and its people, and those who embrace the book’s art, humanity, and the attention, whether good or bad, it has brought Limerick.” Read more

Amazon's Kindle Now Speaks French

French speakers now have a new option for consuming ebooks and other digital media that speaks their language: Amazon’s Kindle, which was just released in French last week. The French version of the device, which costs 99€ on, is Wifi only and comes with neither a touchscreen nor a keyboard. Still, Amazon is touting the device as “the smallest, lightest and most affordable Kindle ever,” and even a basic Kindle is surely better than no Kindle at all.

In a press release, Greg Greeley, vice president, Amazon European Retail,  had this to say:

“French customers are passionate about books and reading, and just as we’ve seen in the US, UK and Germany, we believe they will love reading on Kindle. We are excited to bring our first French-language Kindle and our new Kindle store to millions of customers. Kindle is already the best-selling e-reader in the world. We kept everything readers love about Kindle-the electronic ink display that reads like real paper, with no glare, even in bright daylight, the convenience of downloading books in less than 60 seconds and Kindle’s ability to disappear in your hands so you can get lost in the author’s words-and made it lighter, smaller, faster, and more affordable than ever.” Read more

The Endangered Alphabets Project

As you probably know, the world has between 6,000 and 7,000 languages, half of which may be extinct by the end of this century. Another and even more dramatic effect of this erosion of cultural diversity concerns the alphabets in which those languages are written.

Writing has become so dominated by a small number of global cultures that those 6,000-7,000 languages are written in fewer than 100 alphabets.
Moreover, at least a third of the world’s remaining alphabets are endangered–no longer taught in schools, no longer used for commerce or government, understood only by a few elders, restricted to a few monasteries or used only in ceremonial documents, magic spells, or secret love letters.

The Endangered Alphabets Project, which I started in 2009 as an exhibition of fourteen carvings (on boards of spectacular Vermont curly maple) and a book, is the first-ever attempt to bring attention to this issue. Read more

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