8 Stories About Language and Translation for September

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Are you having trouble getting over the hump this week? Could you use some midweek motivation? Why not take a few minutes to catch up on all the news you’ve missed over the past month from the world of language and translation? We’ve handpicked 8 interesting stories, so grab a cup of your favorite pumpkin spice-flavored beverage, sit back, relax and enjoy:

Should you learn a local dialect instead of a global language?

That’s the idea behind this article from Quartz. The article posits that since Google Translate already has global languages covered (yeah, right!), it makes more sense to learn a local language like Welsh or Irish instead.

We’re all for more people learning smaller local languages, obviously. But machine translation still has a long way to go, and it will be a long time, if ever, before being able to speak another global language becomes an “obsolete” skill.

That said, there’s evidence that once you’re fluent in two languages, it’s easier to pick up a third. So, maybe you can have your cake and eat it, too.

Looking for some global language learning suggestions?  See The Top Languages To Learn in 2017

Learning a language could delay dementia

Could language learning be as important to your mental health as good nutrition and exercise are to your physical health? That’s what Dr. Thomas Bak, a neurologist at Edinburgh University, believes.  Studies show that bilingual people tend to develop dementia about 5 years later in life than people who speak only one language.

Dr. Bak told the Times, “Even if fluent you have to maintain your attention all the time so you don’t mix languages. It’s unconscious mental training.”

Exercise could help you learn a new language

Having trouble learning a new language? It’s strange but true: Working out while you study could help! Researchers studied 40 college-age Chinese speakers who were trying to learn English.  They divided them into groups and had one group exercise before and during their English class. The second group remained sedentary.

The results? The group that exercised learned more words, became better at recognizing whether or not the words were used correctly in sentences and remembered what they learned longer than the group that stayed still. 

According to study co-author  Simone Sulpizio, “The results suggest that physical activity during learning improves that learning.”

Bilingual people solve arithmetic problems differently in different languages

Are you bilingual? The way you solve math problems will vary depending on which language the problem is written in, according to scientists. Researchers from the University of Luxembourg had a group of students fluent in both German and French solve both simple and complex math problems in both languages they were fluent in. Their brain activity was recorded while they solved the problems.

The students were able to answer simple math questions easily in both languages. But they took longer to solve difficult problems in their second language. They also made more mistakes and used different parts of their brains.

How 9/11 changed the English language

9/11 changed a lot of things, obviously. But as Business Insider notes, you might not have noticed this small but important way it changed the English language: 

“The innovation is the simple term “9/11” . . . While the term might not seem very special at first glance, “9/11” — pronounced “nine eleven” — defies the way Americans typically refer to calendar dates.  Our independence day is “July Fourth” or the “Fourth of July,” but never “seven four. It also defies how we typically talk about disasters — we remember “Pearl Harbor,” but not necessarily “12/7.”

Twitter’s move to 280 characters evens the linguistic playing field

If you use Twitter, you’ve no doubt heard the big news: 280-character tweets are on the horizon!

But why?

According to Twitter, it’s because some languages use more characters than others. So those of us who tweet in English are a lot more likely to have trouble completing our thoughts than people tweeting in Japanese or Chinese.

As the Washington Post observes, 

As far as your computer is concerned, when it’s displaying text, it doesn’t matter if a given character is a simple Roman letter like “I” or a relatively complex Chinese character like “我” (meaning me/I) — they’re each one character. So the word “elephant” takes up eight characters in English but just one character (象) in Chinese.

In other words, you can fit 140 elephants in a Chinese-language tweet but just 17 in an English one.

Users who tweet in Asian languages like Japanese, Chinese and Korean will not get the extra characters.

This pro-Brexit editorial published by The Sun is a complete translation fail

Well, this is embarrassing . . .  Earlier this month, The Sun published a pro-Brexit editorial written in what appeared at first glance to be German. The article was supposedly an attempt to reach out to German-speaking Europeans and convince them of the virtues of Brexit.

One problem: they apparently didn’t even bother to have a fluent German speaker so much as look at the article before it was published.  Because if they had, surely someone would have clued them into the fact that the whole piece was basically one big translation fail.

According to the Washington Post: 

The ensuing article mangled the German language. There were grammatical mistakes in nearly every line, with some colloquial British phrases translated literally in a way that would make no sense to a German reader (pigheaded intransigence, for example, became “schweinkopf-unnachgiebigkeit”).

Over to you, Captain Picard:


By the way, if you’re looking for professional translators,  we can help with that.

What translation stories did we miss? Let us know in the comments!