Johann von Goethe

Germany Seeks to Enshrine the German Language

What could be more German than the German language? At least, that’s the question being asked by members of the German Christian Democrat political party, which is seeking to change the German Constitution to include the following 6 words:

“The language of the Federal Republic of Germany is German.”

The Associated Press notes that ever since World War II, the German language has been in need of an image makeover.

Long after the last vestiges of the Nazi regime were banished, the German language’s sinister reputation lives in on the accents of Hollywood villains and other aspects of pop culture.

For example, the American rock band Tool included a song in German  called “Die Eier von Satan”  on their album Aenima.

The song uses the popular association of German with fascism to make non-German speaking listeners think they are listening to a Nazi speech of some sort, but it’s actually just a recording of someone reading a brownie recipe in German.

It’s unfortunate that World War II has left a cloud hanging over the language of German Romanticism, and of poets and philosophers like Goethe and Hegel.

So, although Germany is seeing an increase in the population of immigrants, this proposal is presented as being more about rehabilitating German’s image than about making people feel unwelcome. The AP article states that “For many Germans, enshrining the language is more about strengthening the country’s image on the international stage rather than fears about foreign influence.” They also feel that the resolution would make it easier to have German listed as an “official” language of the EU.

Still, the proposal is opposed by Chancellor Angela Merkel and by other German political parties, including the Social Democrats and other opposition parties. For example, according to Speigel Online,

“Others worry that the CDU’s motion could be interpreted as offensive to minorities living in Germany, whether it be ethnic Danes in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein, the Sorbs in Saxony or the roughly 3.3 million Germans of Turkish origin living in the country. Ayyub Axel Köhler, the chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD), told the Hanover daily Neue Presse that the measure was “laughable and small-minded.” “No one doubts that German is the official language,” Köhler added. “It’s obvious that knowing German is a key requirement for integration.”

The whole world speaks Engrish

At a conference in Germany last week I was talking to a Japanese guy who worked for a manufacturer of medical equipment… This is how the conversation went.

Me: Do you translate your material for use in markets outside of Japan?

Him: No… hahaha… there is… er… no… er… need

Me: May I ask why?

Him: because… er… the whole world speak Engrish! [and then he burst into hysterical laughter]

While we make light of this (and to be honest the guy’s laugh did make me laugh as well to the point that we both stood there and wondered why we were laughing together) there are real reasons behind why documents should be translated.

Think about it… if you are a Japanese manufacturer selling your products in Germany and all of your support material is in English, how are you going to generate leads? You are immediately restricting your potential business contacts to people who speak English and do business in Germany.

And there are legal obligations to translate your material into the mother tongue of the country that you are distributing. Without the proper translation to accompany your products you may not attain your CE Mark, making it impossible (and maybe even illegal) to sell in other countries.

Which languages?

Deciding to support alternative languages is the first step, after that you have to pick which ones to support. Given that there are around 6,500 languages spoken on planet earth this can be a daunting task. So we’ll look at which ones will make you the most return for your investment (this will change from market to market – but it is a great starting point).

According to The World Bank the largest economies in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) are as follows (highest first); United States, Japan, Germany, China, United Kingdom, France, Italy, Canada, Spain and Brazil.

They constitute over 70% of the world’s economy (which is $33 trillion combined) consuming the majority of world’s products and services.

So… if you want to communicate with the people who live in these countries you need to do so in the following languages; US English, Japanese, Germany, Mandarin, Cantonese, UK English, French, Italian, Canadian French, Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese.

Translate your material into 11 languages and you can cover $33 trillion of the world’s trade. If you don’t translate your material people who can’t read your material won’t buy your products.

Free Translation of Merry Christmas

Every year we get asked to supply the translation for ‘Merry Christmas’ (people like to put it in their Christmas cards). To make this year a truly multilingual festive season we have included the most popular languages below.

Translation of Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas in Chinese Simplified: 圣诞快乐
Merry Christmas in Chinese Traditional: 聖誕快樂
Merry Christmas in French: Joyeux Noël
Merry Christmas in Hindi: क्रिसमस मुबारक
Merry Christmas in Hungarian: Boldog karácsonyt
Merry Christmas in Irish Gaelic:
Nollaig shona dhuit” (singular) “Nollaig shona daoibh” (plural)
Merry Christmas in Italian: Buon Natale
Merry Christmas in Japanese: メリークリスマス
Merry Christmas in Lingala: Mbotama Malamu
Merry Christmas in Polish: Wesołych Świąt Bożego Narodzenia
Merry Christmas in Punjabi:ਕ੍ਰਿਸਮਸ ਦੀਆਂ ਮੁਬਾਰਕਾਂ
Merry Christmas in Russian: С Рождеством!
Merry Christmas in Somali: Kirismas Wacan
Merry Christmas in Spanish: Feliz Navidad
Merry Christmas in Welsh: Nadolig Llawen

or if you prefer…

Translation of Seasons’ Greetings

Seasons’ Greetings in Chinese Simplified: 顺颂时祺
Seasons’ Greetings in Chinese Traditional: 致以季節的問候
Seasons’ Greetings in French: Meilleurs vœux
Seasons’ Greetings in Hindi: हार्दिक शुभ कामनाएँ
Seasons’ Greetings in Hungarian: Kellemes ünnepeket kívánunk
Seasons’ Greetings in Irish Gaelic: “Beannachtaí an tSéasúir”
Seasons’ Greetings in Italian: Buone Feste
Seasons’ Greetings in Japanese: 季節のご挨拶
Seasons’ Greetings in Lingala: Mbote ya esengo na mikolo ya kopema
Seasons’ Greetings in Polish: Wesołych Świąt
Seasons’ Greetings in Punjabi: ਹਾਰਦਿਕ ਸ਼ੁਭ ਕਾਮਨਾਵਾਂ
Seasons’ Greetings in Russian: С праздником!
Seasons’ Greetings in Somali: Salaamaha Xiliyadaha
Seasons’ Greetings in Spanish: Felices Fiestas
Seasons’ Greetings in Welsh: Cyfarchion y Tymor

One last thing…

May we wish all readers of K International Blog a very Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year 🙂

In a Global World, Localization Still Matters

English is the most widely taught second language around the world. However, new research from Common Sense Advisory has confirmed that even when people are confident speaking English as a second language, they feel more comfortable buying products with labels and instructions in their own language. Although that may seem, like…well, common sense, many businesses don’t think they can justify the increased costs of translating products in areas where most people speak English as a second language.

The research focused on business software, interviewing 351 customers from non-English speaking countries. Of that sample, 80% could speak English as a second language well enough to understand the information provided about the software. However, almost all of the people interviewed were more likely to buy software that “speaks their language,” where both product information and the software interface have been translated. More than 80% wouldn’t fully consider products that were marketed only in English, and 1 out of 6 people surveyed wouldn’t consider buying an English-only product, period.

At least for software, translation seems to be a strong driver for sales. This seems like a no-brainer when you really stop to think about it. After all, no matter how fluent you become in your second language, you’ll always be a little more comfortable using your mother tongue. Software manuals are not exactly light reading, anyway-why would you want to make the effort of translating them to yourself? Most people spend as little time reading software manuals as they can possibly get away with!

However, it’s reasonable to assume that this effect extends beyond software, too. Having material translated into the local languages of your customers signals that you care about those customers, that you’re aiming your product for people who live where they live and speak the language they grew up speaking. No matter what you sell, your customers are more likely to buy it if they feel like it’s aimed at them. At any rate, this study is significant because it questions common business assumptions about the importance of localizing products.

Saving India’s Traditional Languages

India is a large country that contains an incredible amount of cultural diversity. As the country continues its growth into a major economic power, the modern world has begun to creep into its small, traditional villages.

This brings opportunity, but can also cause people to shed their traditional languages and cultural identities in order to fit in and better compete for jobs. This problem isn’t unique to India, of course. It’s happened time and time again, and often the people involved don’t realize how important their language and culture are to them until they have almost completely disappeared.

In India, however, the New York Times reports that Ganesh Devy is leading an effort to try to preserve some rural Indian languages and cultures now, while they are threatened but still relatively healthy. To accomplish this task, he has created a school called the Adivasi Academy. The school serves young adults from adivasi tribes. The adivasi are native Indians who typically live by hunting and gathering, worship trees and elephants, and are known for creating and appreciating art.

Despite similarities between different groups of adivasi, there are also many differences in language and culture. At the Adivasi Academy, students are taught to document and preserve the unique cultural elements of their clans and villages. They create dictionaries of languages that have never before been written down, and record elements of their culture such as traditional foods, clothing, ceremonies, beliefs and stories.

By basically turning students into anthropologists studying their own cultures, the academy helps communicate that these traditional languages and cultures are valuable, and worth preserving even as the adivasi become more connected to the rest of India and the modern world.

Is it working?

It’s too soon to tell how much of an impact the program is having, but most of the students who graduate from it do choose to stay in their villages.
For example, the New York Times article quotes one student, Vikesh Rathwa, who originally planned to leave his village and become a filmmaker.

According to Mr. Rathwa,

“Coming here made me see my household life in a new way. We need to walk in step with our traditions, and with technology, too.”

Small Talk- More than Just Monkey Business

For most primates, grooming is the number-one social behaviour. We’ve all seen nature shows on TV that show a band of chimps combing through one another’s other’s fur.

However, among humans, picking fleas off your neighbour’s scalp is generally considered anti-social behaviour. Instead, we bond by talking, whether it’s about sports, the weather, the news, or the latest round of celebrity gossip.

Now, scientists have found evidence of similar behavior among a species of monkey known as the macaque. Like humans, macaques, especially female macaques, tend to form large social networks. These networks simply consist of too many individuals to make grooming an effective method of bonding. It would just take too much time. The scientists conducting the study theorized that since macaques have such large social networks, they may be using vocalizations as another method of bonding, one that’s equally as important as mutual grooming.

Read more

Chicago Red Jackets

The Chicago Tribune reported on Tuesday that 29 “airport customer service representatives” may lose their jobs as part of the City of Chicago’s effort to reduce its spending.

The problem is that these airport employees are more than just “greeters” or “customer service representatives.” They are also translators for the many visitors from other countries that go through the Chicago O’Hare Airport each year.

The employees are known as “red jackets” because of their eye-catching uniforms, and they have been part of the scenery in Chicago O’Hare Airport for the past four decades. From the article, it appears that each employee speaks at least 3 languages.

Why would the city of Chicago consider throwing away employees with these valuable skills? It all comes down to money. The city is facing a $469 million financial shortfall this year. However, upper level management in the same division as the greeters gets to stay… and they actually get raises.

If you’ve ever travelled abroad in a country where most people don’t speak your language, you know what a wonderful service it is that these greeters provide. When something goes wrong with your travel plans, it’s an incredible relief to be able to find someone who can understand you and who is willing to help.

So, who is going to provide this service now? Stephanie Burzawa, one of the employees quoted in the article, asks:

“How is Chicago going to be there to help travellers, or welcome people to the Olympics here [in 2016], if they are rolling up the welcome mat for people getting off the planes?”

Apparently, Chicago’s Olympic visitors will be warmly greeted by…a phone booth. According to the Tribune article, “the city has placed “translation phones” at five locations at the airports.”

“Translation phones” instead of real people?

Hopefully, the city will reconsider. Even the U.S. Transportation Security Administration chief in the airport is quoted saying that:

“It would be a great loss to the airport . . . to lose this valuable resource.”

Lost in Translation

Last month at the Frankfurt Book Fair, one of the largest international literary gatherings, guess what American publishers lined up to buy?

Work by other American, or at least British, authors.

Apparently, according to the New York Times, large American publishing houses are afraid to buy publishing rights for foreign-language books because they don’t think Americans are willing to purchase literature that has been translated from a foreign language. But are they being given a chance?

Out of 15,000 new book titles released in the US this year, only 330 were from authors that write in a foreign language.

That’s only about 2%!

Sure, a poorly done translation can turn off readers, but great literature is not just limited to the English language.

A good translation of a foreign novel can capture and communicate the essence of the original book, allowing English-speaking readers to enjoy reading books from all over the world even if we speak a different language than the writer.

Why are American publishers afraid of publishing translated books?

The conventional wisdom is that they don’t sell well. However, the New York Times article quoted Anne-Solange Noble, the foreign-rights director at Gallimard in France, as saying that translated books simply don’t get the same marketing and promotion as English-language books, so of course they don’t have strong sales.

However, even highly regarded international titles are usually much cheaper to purchase than work by American authors. Plus, many European governments will reimburse publishers for the translation costs.

With so much great foreign literature going un-translated and unpublished in America, what are Americans missing? In the Times article, Anne-Solange Noble has an answer:

“American publishers are depriving the American readership of the cultural diversity through translation to which they are entitled,”

Ms. Noble said.

“It is what I call the poverty of the rich.”

Native Arapaho Speakers

On Wind River Reservation in Wyoming, the Northern Arapaho tribe is struggling to preserve its language.

As with many Native American tribes, Arapaho children were forced into boarding schools started in the late 1800’s in an effort to make them more “American.” Of course, that’s really pretty ironic if you think about it, considering that their ancestors colonized America thousands of years before the ancestors of the people who tried to “Americanize” them even knew this continent existed.

However, the goal of the boarding schools was to make Native Americans give up their culture and be more like the “civilized” English-speaking whites.

At the boarding schools, traditional Native American hairstyles were forbidden. So was the Arapaho language-students were punished harshly for speaking it. These practices persisted even until the 1940’s and ‘50s. As a result, there are no native Arapaho speakers under the age of 55. Knowledge of the Arapaho tongue has basically skipped a generation, although adults are learning it now as a second language. The New York Times reports that in an attempt to save the language, the Arapaho are opening a school for children where classes will be taught only in Arapaho. At first, the school will teach pre-Kindergarten to 1st grade, but will start taking in progressively older students over time if everything goes according to plan.

Hopefully, the immersion environment provided by the schools will create a new generation of Arapaho speakers. The American government’s attempt to extinguish Native American culture has done some serious damage and left many tribes with a legacy of poverty and social problems.

One interesting tidbit mentioned in this New York Times article was that fluency in native tribal languages has been tied to better academic achievement in Native American kids.

The Cherokee language

In parts of the United States today, including Tennessee, North Carolina, and Oklahoma, road signs are marked with unfamiliar symbols that don’t correspond to English letters. Passing through these areas, you may wonder what the symbols mean.

In all likelihood, you are looking at signs written in the Cherokee language, a remarkable example of linguistic resilience. In spite of 100 years worth of efforts to stamp it out, there are still approximately 22,000 native Cherokee speakers alive today.

How did they manage to preserve their language?

The Cherokee language is unique among Native American languages in that it is both a written and spoken language. Written Cherokee, or Tsalagi as it’s more properly called, has a full syllabary, a collection of symbols in which each symbol corresponds to a sound. Currently, there are two stories of how the syllabary came to be invented.

The most commonly told story and the one with the most historical evidence to back it is that it was created around 1821 by a Cherokee Indian named George Guess or Gist, known as Sogwali in Cherokee and Sequoyah to white people who didn’t bother to get the spelling of his name right. Naturally, Sequoyah is the name that stuck in the historical record. Sequoyah invented the Tsalagi alphabet after seeing how white settlers were able to communicate in writing. He taught it first to his young daughter, then to as many Cherokee as were willing to learn it-eventually educating thousands of his people. According to this generally accepted version of history, Sequoyah also acted as a diplomat for the Cherokees, signing treaties for them.

However, there is a competing version of the story. In 1971, Traveler Bird, one of Sogwali’s descendents, published a book claiming that Sequoyah was not the creator of the Tsalagi alphabet, but actually the last surviving member of a clan of scribes that had passed on the written version of the language for generations. According to Traveler Bird, Sequoyah didn’t invent the syllabary; he just passed on his society’s specialized knowledge to the general Cherokee public. Although some of the symbols used in the syllabary as it’s written today are similar to the English alphabet, Traveler Bird claims this is only because they were “reworked” by white missionaries who wanted to cover up the fact that Native Americans could come up with the concept of writing on their own. However, this account is questioned by many historians because of the lack of corroborating evidence.

Keeping the Language Alive

No matter when it happened or who invented it, the Tsalagi syllabary was a brilliant idea. Newspapers, books and bibles were printed, which helped keep the Cherokee language alive even after many of the tribe became Christian and began living lives that closely resembled those of the white settlers.

It also helped keep the language alive through the tragedy of the Trail of Tears, when Cherokee living in Tennessee and North Carolina were forced on a death march to Oklahoma after the government decided that white settlers deserved the land they were living on.

Since the army didn’t even give the people time to prepare for the trip, somewhere between 4,000 and 8,000 people died en route. Then, in the name of “assimilation,” the government developed the policy of taking Native American children away from their homes and sending them to schools where they were punished if caught speaking their native language.

Given this history, it’s amazing to see signs for the Trail of Tears and other important Cherokee historical sites marked in the Cherokee language. It’s even more amazing that there are still people who can read them.