Interesting & varied language stories from all around the world, curated by our dedicated writer. From the topical to the absurd, the grand and the obscure, it’s all here for you to enjoy.

history of Braille

A Brief History of Braille

If you want or need to make your content accessible to everyone in your audience, language alone may not be enough. Braille documents allow the visually impaired and blind to access vital information independently.

But where did these raised dots come from? Today, let’s take a  look at the fascinating history of Braille and how it revolutionised communication for the blind.

Night Writing

Before Braille, there was night writing. French army captain Charles Barbier developed night writing at the request of Napoleon, who wanted a code that soldiers could use to communicate silently and under cover of night. The only problem? Nobody could read it!

Louis Braille began developing the Braille system in 1824 when he was only 15 years old.

Braille, a student at the Institution Nationale des Jeunes Aveugles (National Institute for Blind Children), realized that Barbier’s system was hard to decode because the symbols were too large. By reducing the maximum number of dots per symbol from twelve to six, readers could feel the entire symbol under their fingertips without moving, and then move on to the next symbol quickly.

Other students at Louis Braille’s school were quick to adopt the system. However, it took some time for it to be adopted more broadly. The Institution Nationale des Jeunes Aveugles didn’t begin officially using it until 1854.

Standard English Braille (Grade 2) was developed in 1905.

However, it wasn’t officially adopted in Great Britain or the United States until 1932. By 1960, 50% of legally blind children in the United States were using Braille to read. That said, the percentage of Braille readers has dropped over time.

The first Braille writing machine was invented in 1892.

Called the Hall Braille writer, it was invented by Illinois School for the Blind superintendent Frank. H. Hall.  A more modernised version of the Braille typewriter, the Perkins Brailler, was invented in 1951 by David Abraham of the Perkins School for the Blind.

Today, Braille documents are usually produced on computers using a Braille embosser. Braille can also be written by hand using plates and a stylus, but this is somewhat cumbersome.

Business and Disability Discrimination Act (1995) and the Equality Act (2010)

The Disability Discrimination Act of 1995 made it “unlawful to discriminate against people in respect of their disabilities in relation to employment, the provision of goods and services, education and transport.” It has since been replaced by the Equality Act of 2010, which requires UK businesses to make certain accommodations and adjustments for blind and visually impaired employees and customers.  In some cases, this would include making signs and documents accessible in Braille.

What’s next?

Braille is most commonly used by those who were born blind or lost their sight at a young age. The majority of blind or partially sighted people in the UK have lost their sight later in life. Many of those people don’t use Braille because there is a bit of a learning curve. They might prefer to use large print (if they have enough vision), screen magnifiers, video magnifiers or screen readers that read words aloud.

However, around 18 -20,000 people in the UK do use Braille. And while new audio technologies have made it possible to browse the internet and listen to books without learning Braille, the system still has an important place in the lives of blind and partially sighted people.

For example,  there are definitely some practical applications that can’t yet be replaced by audio technology. Including Braille on packaging, especially medication, can help blind and partially-sighted people identify what’s inside. With Braille, they don’t have to rely on other people to tell them if they aren’t sure.

Meanwhile, last year, the new £10 note rolled out. It features Braille-like raised dots to help blind and partially-sighted people more easily identify the denomination.

Is Braille still necessary?

And while some blind people argue that audio and voice recognition technologies are making Braille irrelevant, others argue that blind people are losing out by not being able to read and write independently. Some educators argue that students educated using Braille are better able to write clearly than students who rely exclusively on oral and audio technology.   Plus, that technology is often expensive to access and not available in poorer countries. At least one study also shows that blind adults who learned Braille in school were better able to find jobs than those who did not.

So, technological advances aside, the need for Braille documents is unlikely to go away anytime soon.

Braille Translation Options for Your Organisation

Need help making your documents accessible to everyone? K International offers Braille translations of all sorts of documents to help you engage with and accommodate customers and employees alike. Want more information on how your organisation can benefit from the same quality Braille translation services used by multiple government departments? Contact us today!

facts about Chinese

10 Facts About the Chinese Language for World Chinese Language Day

Every year, on the 20th of April, the United Nations celebrate World Chinese Language Day.  According to the UN, the purpose of this observance is “to celebrate multilingualism and cultural diversity as well as to promote equal use of all six official languages throughout the Organization.”

With that in mind, here are ten facts about the Chinese language (languages, really) for World Chinese Language Day.

Mandarin Chinese, the most common Chinese dialect, is the most widely spoken language in the world.

There are over 800 million native Mandarin speakers. Around the world, one out of five people speaks the language.

Mandarin is the official language of China. (It’s also referred to as Standard Chinese or Putonghua.) But that doesn’t mean Mandarin is the only language in China.  Far from it! While the many varieties of spoken Chinese are often called “dialects,” many of them are different enough to be languages in their own right.

When you look at all of the Chinese languages together, the number of speakers becomes even more staggering:  about 1.2 billion native speakers, or around 16% of the world’s population.

While spoken Chinese languages and dialects vary across the country, written Chinese has only slight regional variations.

That’s because the Chinese characters are logograms. They represent words or phrases rather than sounds.  As such, they transcend most of the variations in speech found across China. That said, there are some dialectal differences in written Chinese, particularly with Cantonese and Hakka.

Mostly, these differences are apparent in informal writing between friends or online. However, written Cantonese is sometimes used in adverts in Hong Kong, especially in Hong Kong’s Metro.

Chinese writing has over 50,000 characters.

That said, only about 20,000 of them are used today. Meanwhile, it only takes about 2-3,000 characters to read a newspaper.

Most Chinese adults can recognise around 8,000 characters without pulling out a dictionary. Read more

Document Translation Tips: 6 More Ways To Simplify the Process 

When you send your documents off for translation, you’d prefer to get them back quickly and without breaking your budget. To that end, some time back we published a post with our top 5 tips for document translation. Here are six more document translation tips to simplify the process. While our team can handle even complex projects with tight deadlines, the following tips will make the document translation process easier for all concerned.

Use a design that’s easy to adapt.

No matter how the original document is designed or what language pair you’ve requested, our design team can make the translated version look as good as the original.  However, if you know the original document is going to be converted into other languages, you can save time and money if you think ahead and design thoughtfully.

When documents are translated into other languages, the text often expands or contracts (depending on the language pair).  For example, when translating from English to Spanish, it’s not unusual for the text to grow by 15% to 30%. Meanwhile, translations from English into Japanese and Korean often take up less horizontal space than the original. However, Japanese and Korean have more complex characters.  As such, they sometimes require more vertical space to keep everything on the page clear, uncrowded and easy for the end user to read.

Then, of course, there are languages like Arabic and Hebrew. They read right to left, instead of left to right.

So, how can you minimise the amount of re-designing that your document translation project will require? Keep it simple. An uncomplicated, clean layout with enough white space to allow for the text to expand will require fewer adjustments.

If you know that you’ll need to flip the layout to translate into a language like Arabic or Hebrew, consider keeping all the text in the original document aligned to the left. That way,  it will be easy to reverse.

Build a style guide.

Creating a style guide for your documents takes work. But all of that work will pay off, in the end, with a seamless and efficient document translation process.

A style guide keeps your translated documents consistent and reduces the amount of time-consuming guesswork required of your translators.  With a style guide, the translation team has the resources they need to get the translation right the first time. That means less time and money spent on rework, and faster translation times at a lower cost for you.  Read more

Why Transcreation is Important for International Businesses

Want to optimize your marketing and advertising to reach a global audience? Sometimes, translation just isn’t enough. Transcreation is the process of recreating content for a new target audience, changing elements of the material and messaging as needed to keep the same overall emotional impact. (Want to learn more? See What is Transcreation?)

But why is transcreation important? Here are 4 compelling reasons why transcreation is vital for international businesses.

Transcreation is important because different cultures have different cultural touchpoints.

Yes, that sounds obvious. But let’s consider how that could affect a famous advertising campaign like Coca-Cola’s adverts featuring Santa Claus.  The images of a plump, rosy-cheeked Santa Claus are designed to make people who grew up with the myth of Santa Claus feel all warm and fuzzy inside – and then transfer those nostalgic feelings to the Coca-Cola in Santa’s hand!

These ads were obviously a tremendous success for Coca-Cola, even helping to shape the modern image of Santa Claus. And today, they’d work in even most non-Western countries like China and India, thanks to the global march of Western pop culture.

But even today, some countries don’t celebrate Christmas. Not even the secular, gift-giving version of Christmas. And in those markets, ads that feature Santa Claus are unlikely to evoke the same emotional response as they do in cultures where kids grow up associating Santa with magic and gifts. Read more

Website Translation Mistakes: 8 Common Errors You Need to Fix Now

When it comes to website translation, there are plenty of resources out there for the DIY crowd.  And yet, translating your website is trickier than it appears, and a poorly translated website does no favours for your brand or your business.

Is your multilingual site not performing as well as you’d expected? Here are 8 common website translation mistakes that could be scaring off your customers.

You trusted Google Translate.

When you’re on a tight budget, free machine translation tools like Google Translate can seem downright miraculous. But while machine translation has improved quite a bit over the past decade, it’s still not foolproof. Sure, you may not end up with one of these spectacularly embarrassing Google Translate mistakes on your site. However, it’s still common for free online translation tools to result in awkward, stilted phrasing and minor errors in grammar and vocabulary.

You probably either spent a lot of time or paid a professional to get the copy on your English-language website right. Why flush all of that effort down the drain for your international customers?

Your layout got lost in translation.

If you want to make a good impression on your customers, having a well-designed site is important. But did you consider how translating the words on the page would affect the layout?

Different languages take up different amounts of space on the page, both horizontally and sometimes vertically. That means that translation and design must often be considered in tandem. The page layout may need to be tweaked to accommodate the translated text. The translator can also try to minimise text expansion and contraction by modifying word choice and phrasing while preserving the original message.  Read more

What Is Transcreation?

What is transcreation, anyway? Is it different from translation? And how do you know if you need transcreation services for your content?

You’ve got questions; we’ve got answers. Read on to learn about transcreation services and how they can help your business effectively expand into new markets.

What is transcreation? And how are transcreation services different from translation?

Simply put, transcreation is the process of adapting content to a new target audience, changing elements of the material and messaging as needed to keep the same overall emotional impact.

Generally speaking, pure translation involves a more faithful rendering of content from one language to another. Sometimes, this is precisely what you want: information from the first language made understandable to a new audience.  But what if the success of your project depends on more than just information? Or, what if there’s something about the original message that’s keeping a foreign audience from engaging fully?  Read more

french translation services

French Translation Services: 6 Essential Facts for Businesses

French is one of our most-requested languages here at K International, and with good reason. But there’s much more to French translation than meets the eye.  Here are six essential facts that businesses in the market for French translation services need to know.

Some French words should not be translated literally.

Here are just a few examples:

Soutien-gorge: Literal translation: “Throat support.” Actual meaning: “brassiere.”
Amuse-bouche: Literal translation: “Mouth fun.” Actual meaning: “appetizer.”
Pomme de terre: Literal translation: “Earth Apple.” Actual meaning: “Potato.”
Rabat-joie: Literal translation: “Joy reducer.” Actual meaning: “Party pooper.” We all know someone like that! Read more

The Top Languages in Africa: A Guide to the Most Spoken African Languages

When you think of Africa, what do you think of? The iconic wildlife? The horror stories of poverty, hunger, and war? The truth is that Africa is an incredibly large, incredibly diverse and rapidly developing continent.  Whether you’re a business or an NGO, if you’re trying to maximize the number of people you can reach in Africa, you need to study the most spoken African languages in your particular market. Here’s a guide to get you started.

The most spoken African languages by number of native speakers

Because many Africans are at least bilingual, there are two possible ways to determine the most spoken African languages: by the number of native speakers or by overall numbers, including L2 speakers.

By focusing on the languages with the most L1 plus L2 speakers, you can expand the reach of your content.  However, L2 speakers vary in proficiency. And when it comes to marketing, advertising and web copy, people tend to prefer their native language. So, first of all, here are the most spoken native languages in Africa.

Arabic

Number of native speakers: 140 million in Africa, 280 million around the world
Official language in Algeria, Comoros, Chad, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Somalia, Sudan, Tunisia, Western Sahara

Arabic didn’t originate in Africa, but today it’s the mother tongue of over 140 million Africans. As a result, it’s the most common native language on the continent overall.

Most African Arabic speakers live in North Africa, where Arabic is the majority language.  They speak local Arabic dialects, but Modern Standard Arabic is used in writing and in the media.

Written Arabic uses the Arabic script.

Berber (Amazigh)

Number of Speakers: 56M
Official language in Algeria and Morocco 

Berber, or Amazigh, is sometimes referred to as a language, sometimes as a language family. It’s a dialect continuum spoken by the Berber people in North Africa. The dialects (or languages) may or may not be mutually intelligible. Therefore, it’s important to know which variety is spoken in the region you’re targeting.

Depending on location, Berber languages are sometimes written in the Berber Latin alphabet and sometimes in the indigenous Tifinagh script.

Although Amazigh has been displaced by Arabic throughout most of the continent, it’s commonly used in Morrocco and Amazigh activists continue to fight for recognition in other North African countries.

To hear it, check out the video below:
Read more

10 Facts About British Sign Language and BSL Interpreters

Did you know that this week is Sign Language Week? This annual observance is promoted by the British Deaf Association to celebrate British Sign language and the British Deaf Community.

To celebrate, here are ten interesting facts about British Sign Language (BSL) and BSL interpreters.

In the UK, there are around 150,000 BSL users.

70,000-87,000 of these people are Deaf and use BSL as their first language. For children who are born deaf, English is often a second or third language.

The first historical mention of BSL is a record of a wedding ceremony conducted partially in sign language in Leicester, 1576.British Sign Language in History

The groom, Thomas Tillsye, was deaf, and so, according to the Parish Book,

“the sayde Thomas, for the expression of his minde instead of words, of his own accorde used these signs…

First he embraced her with his armes, and took her by the hande, putt a ring upon her finger and layde his hande upon her harte, and held his hands towards heaven; and to show his continuance to dwell with her to his lyves ende he did it by closing of his eyes with his hands and digging out of the earthe with his foote, and pulling as though he would ring a bell with divers other signs approved.”

Thomas Braidwood established the first public school for the Deaf in Edinburgh in 1760.

Read more

5 Powerful Lessons from “The Silent Child” About Deaf Communication in a Hearing World

Did you watch the Academy Awards last weekend? One of the most striking moments was when Rachel Shenton came to accept an Oscar for her short film “The Silent Child,” which won Best Live Action Short Film. “The Silent Child” is about a deaf girl who struggles to get by without sign language. In keeping with the subject matter, Shenton gave her acceptance speech both verbally and in BSL.

In her speech, Shenton highlighted the difficulties that deaf and hard of hearing people often face, saying “This is happening. Millions of children all over the world live in silence and face communication barriers, and particularly access to education.” The film was created to raise awareness of these challenges.

With that in mind, here are five compelling lessons from The Silent Child about deaf communication in a hearing world. Read more

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