Worth Reading: 7 Language and Translation Stories From February

Can you believe it’s March already? Let’s get the first weekend of the month started off right, with a look at some of the top language and translation stories from the past month. Enjoy!

Norway’s Olympic chefs learn the perils of relying on Google Translate

Here at K International, we still get clients and potential clients who ask “Why can’t we just use Google Translate?”

Norway’s Olympic team learned the hazards of this approach firsthand when they accidentally ordered  15,000 eggs instead of 1,500 from a South Korean supplier, due to a translation error.  According to the Guardian, chef Stale Johansen said his team “received half a truckload of eggs.” The chef said there was “no end to the delivery,” and called it “absolutely unbelievable.”

New Google Translate Songs From the Tonight Show


Google Translate is never perfect, but it works better in some languages than others. The Tonight Show recently did another round of “Google Translate Songs,” with Jimmy Fallon and Kelly Clarkson. They translated three songs to Mongolian and back again using the free translation service. Based on the results, I’m assuming Mongolian is not one of Google’s best languages.

“Feel It Still” by Portugal The Man became “I Live In a Boat,” and featured the lyric “Your wood, I have not picked it up yet.” “Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe” turned into “I Have Your Child” and Kelly Clarkson’s song “Stronger” turned into a bunch of gibberish

Do you still think you can trust Google Translate with your business content?
Read more

7 Cool Things You Didn’t Know About African Languages

Marvel’s long-awaited Black Panther movie came out in theaters last month. As a result, African languages and culture are getting some well-deserved attention from the rest of the world.  With that in mind, here are seven cool things about African languages you might not have known, in Black Panther and beyond.

Africa is home to approximately 1/3 of the world’s languages.

Estimates of the number of languages people speak on the African content vary from 1,500 to over 3,000. Around 100 of these are used widely, for communication between people from different tribes and groups. Meanwhile, there are at least 75 languages in Africa with over 1 million speakers.

Why does Africa have so many languages, anyway? First of all, let’s state the obvious: it’s an enormous continent, not a country. There’s long been a tendency for Europeans and Americans to treat Africa as a monolith, but it’s not.

Second, Africa is the cradle of humanity. Humankind evolved there first and then spread across the globe. That means there’s simply been more time for languages to change and for new languages to form.

African languages may also illustrate how translation and interpretation can preserve linguistic diversity.

For example, University of Chicago evolutionary linguist Salikoko Mufwene told the Christian Science Monitor, 

[I]n the case of Europe, you have to factor in the emergence of various empires, and these various empires were assimilationist and they may have driven a number of languages already to extinction . . . Traditional African kingdoms were not as assimilationist as the European empires…say the kings relied on interpreters to translate to them what was coming from territories that they ruled but where people spoke different languages, there is no particular reason why we should be surprised that there are so many languages spoken in Africa.”

Whatever the reason, this means that Africa presents a challenging linguistic landscape for businesses that wish to be understood by the local population. Read more

6 Fascinating Facts About the Korean Language

The Winter Olympics wrap up this weekend. South Korea has been in the spotlight for the past month. With that in mind, we thought it would be fitting to mark the occasion by putting the spotlight on the Korean language. Here are 6 fascinating facts about Korean, its alphabet, and its history.

Korean is the national language in South Korea, North Korea and two jurisdictions in China.

Speaking of South Korea, did you know that the South Korean economy is the 11th largest in the world by GDP? Despite tensions with North Korea, South Korea grew at its fastest rate  in seven years in the third quarter of 2017.  According to Bloomberg, it’s set expand by about 3% in 2018.

And although Korean isn’t one of the top immigrant languages in the United Kingdom, there are thriving Korean communities in London and New Malden.

Korean is a language isolate . . . almost.

If you thought Korean shared a language family with other Asian languages like Japanese or Mandarin, you would be wrong.

Most linguists classify Korean as a language isolate. In fact, it’s the largest language isolate in the world.

That said, it might have one living relative: the Jeju language, spoken in South Korea’s Jeju province.  Jeju is sometimes considered a dialect. However, it is quite distinct and not mutually intelligible with the Korean of the mainland.

The Korean language has approximately 76 million native speakers.

That makes it the 17th most spoken language in the world.

Korean has its own script,  called Hangul.

King Sejong the Great invented Hangul in the 15th century. Before then, Koreans wrote with Chinese characters, called Hanja. But these were difficult to learn without spending years in school, and that put literacy out of reach for most commoners. Read more

international mother language day

6 Multilingual Education Facts for International Mother Language Day

Did you know that February 21st was International Mother Language Day?

UNESCO declared the day a holiday in 1999, but its roots go back much deeper into the past. According to Wikipedia, International Mother Language Day started in 1952 in what is now Bangladesh. At this time in history, Bangladesh was still part of Pakistan. Most of the people in what was then called East Pakistan spoke Bangla, but in 1948, Urdu, a language spoken primarily in West Pakistan, was declared the official language for the entire country.

On February 21, 1952, Students at University of Dhaka and Dhaka Medical College protested the decision. Police fired on the protesters, killing some of the students.

Since then, East Pakistan and later Bangladesh have celebrated “Language Movement Day” on February 21. In 1999, UNESCO made it an official worldwide holiday to celebrate linguistic diversity.

The holiday is celebrated with local celebrations in many communities, and at UNESCO headquarters in Paris. Every year has a different theme. The theme for 2018 is “Sustainable Futures through Multilingual Education.”

This year, Irina Bokova, the Director-General of UNESCO, commemorated the day with a heartfelt statement: 

“On the occasion of this Day, I launch an appeal for the potential of multilingual education to be acknowledged everywhere, in education and administrative systems, in cultural expressions and the media, cyberspace and trade.”

Why is multilingual education so important?

In an age of globalism, what makes multilingual education so vital to sustainable development? Here are six reasons why multilingual education is essential to the success of communities around the world.  Read more

8 Fun Facts about the Chinese New Year

21 Fun Facts about the Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year falls on February 16th 2018. Each year is assigned one of 12 Zodiac signs with an associated animal. 2017 will be the Year of the Dog. The Chinese believe that each sign has associated characteristics, with people born under the dog sign believed to be very loyal. Honest, helpful, and steadfast to the point of stubbornness, Dogs are outwardly popular but often suffer from anxiety.

In addition to designating an animal for each year, the Chinese zodiac also cycles through the five elements of nature: Earth, Wind, Water, Fire, and Metal.

Expecting a new addition in 2018? Babies born this year will be Earth Dogs. According to this Chinese astrology guide,

“Earth dogs are broad-minded, faithful, considerate, well-disciplined and they stick to principles. Also, they are grateful, chivalrous, brave and have the courage to take the blame for what they do, thus it’s easy for them to offend somebody. Earth dogs always have clear goals and they are self-poised towards success and failure, never compromising their conscience to do things. They are persistent and never give up. They believe in the life philosophy of taking their own road in a down-to-earth manner. Although earth dogs are very capricious sometimes, they never hurt others arbitrarily and they respect the other’s position and attitude rather than forcing the other to accept their opinions. Earth dogs don’t like to interfere in the life of others, vice versa.

Earth dogs have the artistic spirit, so it’s not suitable for them to work in industry and commerce circles with fierce competition and internal strife. It doesn’t mean that their physical strength or fighting spirit is inferior to others, but their practice and personality cannot cater to others in this complicated society.”

Previous Dog years include 2006, 1994, 1982, 1970, 1958 and 1946. Famous “Earth Dog” celebrities include Madonna, Al Capone, Billy Idol, and Michael Jackson.

Were you born in the Year of the Dog? Watch out! According to Chinese astrology, 2018 will be unlucky for you.

Read more

Valentine’s Day Around the World: 12 Ways Couples Show Their Love

It’s Valentine’ Day! Today, Valentine’s Day is all about cards, roses, and chocolate. But have you ever wondered why we celebrate love in the middle of February? Or how people celebrate Valentine’s Day around the world? Read on to learn more about the origin of Valentine’s Day, and how people celebrate love around the world.

Lupercalia and the Origins of Valentine’s Day

Like many holidays, Valentine’s Day has both pagan and Christian roots. In Christian tradition, it started out as the feast day of St. Valentine.  Well, one of them, anyway. There are actually three St. Valentines, and a variety of stories to explain why Valentine’s Day is “Love Day.” Some say he was an early Christian priest who secretly married Roman soldiers. Some say he was a bishop, who healed the blind daughter of his jailor and then sent her the world’s first “Valentine” before he was executed.

Regardless, 14 February falls right in the middle of Lupercalia, an ancient Roman fertility festival.  During the festival, Roman women would be gently whipped with goat hides dipped in the blood of sacrificial beasts.  This practice was supposed to make them fertile. Whatever floats your boat, right?  Then, unmarried men and women would be paired up via a matchmaking lottery for a blind date that would last for the rest of the festival or even the rest of the year.

Once the church gained power, you can see why they’d want to tame this wild holiday and turn it into a more chaste celebration of love and friendship!

Many cultures, both Western and non-Western, have special days to celebrate love and romance. Here are 16 ways Valentine’s Day (and other holidays like it) are celebrated around the world.

Valentine’s Day in Italy: St. Valentine has the key to your heart

In Padua, Italy, people traditionally gave each other small metal keys for Valentine’s Day as a symbol of love. Epilepsy was once known in northern Italy and surrounding areas as “Saint Valentine’s affliction.”  So, small children also receive St. Valentine’s keys to ward off epilepsy.  Read more

4 Cringeworthy Social Media Translation Fails 

Thanks to social media, businesses, brands, and celebrities can now easily communicate with followers all over the world. But sometimes, their posts get lost in translation. Need some examples? Here are four cringe-worthy social media translation fails.

These unfortunate incidents demonstrate why knowledgeable translation help is essential for communicating with a global audience.

Maki-san and the Cursed Sushi

social media translation fail sushiIn 2017, Singapore-based sushi chain Maki-san released a special sushi roll called the “Maki Kita”  to commemorate Singapore’s National Day. The first two words of Singapore’s national anthem are “Mari kita.” So, the product name is obviously meant to be a play on words. Unfortunately, changing that “r” to a “k” had a major impact on the meaning in Malay. “Maki kita” means “curse us.”

Can you blame the restaurant’s fans for doing just that?  The Instagram post was removed, but Mothership got screenshots. It looks like it was a rough day for whoever was managing the brand’s social media accounts.

But they really should have checked the translation. Malay is one of Singapore’s four official languages. 13% of the Singaporean population speaks it home.

Probably the best comment came from Instagram user Zaimondok, who wrote:

@rollwithmakisan this is why you need a diverse team. And in the office working on strategy not just the service staff so you can get halal certificates.

Ouch, but . . . He’s right, you know. At least about the need for a diverse marketing strategy team or some translation help. Read more

Medical Translation Gone Wrong: 7 Devastating Medical Translation Errors

“First do no harm” is a difficult promise to keep when language barriers interfere with communication between doctors and patients.  Medical translation and interpreting can break down those barriers. However, quality is of the utmost importance when lives hang in the balance. These examples of medical translation errors show why it’s important to use highly skilled and specially trained medical translators and interpreters.

Is this the most expensive medical translation error? Willie Ramirez and the $71 million word

Willie Ramirez was only 18 and out with friends when he suddenly developed a splitting headache. By the time he got to his girlfriend’s house, he was barely conscious.  They rushed him to the hospital, but he woke up paralyzed. He will never walk again.  A brain bleed left him a quadriplegic for life.

But it didn’t have to be that way. The haemorrhage should have been treatable, but the Ramirez family did not have access to a Spanish interpreter. So, when they told the emergency room doctors that they believed Willie was “intoxicado,” he was treated for a drug overdose. As Health Affairs explains, “intoxicado” is not the same as “intoxicated.”

Among Cubans, “intoxicado” is kind of an all encompassing word that means there’s something wrong with you because of something you ate or drank. I ate something and now I have hives or an allergic reaction to the food or I’m nauseous.

Doctors only discovered the haemorrhage after days of improper treatment. By then, it was too late. The hospital, which should have provided a professional interpreter, is liable for a settlement of approximately 71 million dollars to pay for Willie’s care for the rest of his life.  Read more

10 Language and Translation Stories for January

Can you believe we’re already one month into 2018? So, what’s been going on the world of languages? Settle in, get cozy and let’s find out. Here are 10 stories about language and translation that are worth reading and sharing.

The National Book Foundation adds award for translated literature

Only about 3% of literature published in America is translated from another language.

In response, the National Book Foundation is adding a new award to its list: The National Book Award for Translated Literature. According to Executive Director Lisa Lucas,

“We want American readers to deeply value an inclusive, big-picture point of view, and the National Book Award for Translated Literature is part of a commitment to that principle. The addition of this award lends crucial visibility to works that have the power to touch us as American readers in search of broadened perspective.”

No, Google Translate is not ready to replace humans

A generation that grew up on science fiction is still eagerly awaiting for their universal translators. But Google Translate is nowhere near that capable. Read this article from the Atlantic and follow along as translator Douglas Hofstadter puts Google Translate’s deep neural networks the test. Then, watch as it fails miserably.  Score one for the humans!

Why are so there so many bad menu translations?

When it comes to unfortunate translation mistakes, foreign menus are amongst the most frequent offenders. Everything from roasted children to fried crap has been spotted on translated menus. In this article from Atlas Obscura, culinary translator Emily Monaco digs deep to figure out why so many food translations are simply unappetizing.

Facebook’s machine translation turns “Métis” into “half-breed”

Facebook had to apologize last week after its machine translation program translated the word “Métis” as “half-breed.” The Métis people are a Canadian group descended from First Nations and European settlers, with their own specific and distinct culture. The word “half-breed”, of course, is a racial slur.

Overall, not a great week for machine translation.

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Translating Brand Names for International Success

Should you translate your brand name or business name when you enter a foreign language market? What about product names?  There’s not one right answer, but the following questions can help in the decision.

Is your brand name already a word in the target language?

When it comes to translating company names and product names, one of the first considerations is whether or not the name is the same as or similar to an existing word in the target language. Words that are spelled or pronounced the same as your brand name in the target language bring their own meanings and connotations. These can either work for your brand or against it.

For example, consider the famous case of Clairol’s “Mist Stick” curling iron. It sold quite well in the United States but fell flat in the German market, where “mist” means “manure.

Canadian Mist and Irish Mist whiskeys were also hard to sell in Germany. Nobody wants their whiskey to taste like crap.

Obviously, if your brand name means something offensive or unsavory in the target language, you’ll need to consider renaming it. Read more