Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Can you speak business?

Posted on January 19th, 2010by Michelle
In English, Invented languages, Technology, Words | 1 Comment »

BuzzwordsFollowing up on yesterday’s post about industry-specific terminology, I thought I’d share with you this fun application.

The Business Speak Generator uses standard sentence structures and combines them with the latest lingo to create sentences that sound genuine. Perfect for when you’re stuck and can’t think of anything to add to that almost-complete report, the Business Speak Generator will come up with something that makes you sound smart, without the need to put a lot of thought into it.

Here’s an example:

In an era of discontinuous change, a need to overcome the limitations operationalizes excessive use of previously established frameworks.

I’m not sure that ‘operationalizes’ is really a word, but it sounds great… and scarily like reading a corporate report.


Posted on December 4th, 2009by Michelle
In English, Hints and Tips, Language acquisition, Technology, Words | Leave a Comment »

Yesterday I posted the news that ‘Twitter’ was made Word of the Year.

So I thought it may be interesting to show how far its reach extends now: there’s a Twittonary, or a Twitter Dictionary, providing “explanations of Twitter related words”.

The content of the dictionary is user-generated, and users can also vote on the entries and definitions submitted. A lot of the words seem to include some variety on the words twitter and tweet, such as beetweet and neweeter. The president of the Global Language Monitor claimed language would evolve based on words from Twitter – let’s hope we don’t develop a language based purely on those two words!

You probably know that a ‘tweet’ can be only 140 characters long, so the dictionary may be helpful to you in keeping your message short and sweet.

It could also help you develop language skills – try tweeting short sentences like “I’m going to the shop” to get you used to writing the language you’re learning.

A new language learning tool?

Posted on November 30th, 2009by Michelle
In Japanese, Language acquisition, Research, Spanish, te reo Maori, Technology | Leave a Comment »

A student in New Zealand may have come up with a way to make learning a language easier.

Michael Walmsley, a PhD student, is working on a project to allow learners to read texts in a foreign language interspersed with words in their native language. He’s been awarded almost NZ$100,000 to help fund his research into the idea.

The software engineering student will spend the next three years researching ways to tap into existing online resources, such as Wikipedia and the Wiktionary, to create suitable reading texts for language learners.

Both online resources come in around 170 languages.

Mr Walmsley hopes to develop software to use them to automatically create suitable texts.

At this stage he is focusing on Japanese and Spanish with the hope to one day bring in te reo.

“The goal is to make learning a language fit into people’s busy schedules,” he said. (Source:

The idea is an interesting one, especially as people are increasingly busy with less time to spend on learning a language. It would also take away some of the frustration learners feel when constantly reaching for a dictionary whilst reading a text. My concern is that it would create gaps in knowledge, however, and perhaps even create more hybrid languages such as Spanglish – people could end up merely speaking a mix of their native language and target language rather than becoming fluent.

It’s definitely worth watching out for the results of the project though.

Listening and learning – Part 2

Posted on November 29th, 2009by Michelle
In Hints and Tips, Language acquisition, Spanish, Technology | Leave a Comment »

I was thinking further about yesterday’s post, where I advised trying to understand the gist of a sentence, rather than every word.

Another tip is to listen to a lot of the language you’re studying, even if you don’t understand any of what is said. This can get you used to the rhythm of the language, and how words sound. I like to have Spanish TV or radio on in the background of whatever I’m doing, occasionally tuning in to actively try and listen and understand. It’s helped make the fast Spanish I hear in everyday life a little less scary!

This is backed up by research which shows the best way to learn a language is through frequent exposure to it.

“Our ability to learn new words is directly related to how often we have been exposed to the particular combinations of the sounds which make up the words. If you want to learn Spanish, for example, frequently listening to a Spanish language radio station on the internet will dramatically boost your ability to pick up the language and learn new words.” (Source: Victoria University)

If you’re wondering where you can find an internet radio station in your chosen language, is a great find which has numerous popular languages broadcast in news and podcasts as well as internet radio and television.

Theatre translation

Posted on November 26th, 2009by Michelle
In Culture, Language acquisition, Technology, Translation, Vietnamese | Leave a Comment »

Water puppetsA great way to experience local culture when travelling is to visit the theatre, particularly in countries with a strong theatrical tradition.

For example, when I visited Hanoi a few years ago, I made time to attend a water puppet performance. Water puppetry is a traditional art in this part of Vietnam. However, whilst it was interesting to watch, it was sometimes hard to follow the storyline as the songs were sung in Vietnamese.

It’s a great way to immerse yourself in a language, but what if you want to enjoy the show in your native language?

A British company has come up with a solution – hand held translation devices called ‘AirScript’. These small screens provide a real time translation of what is happening on stage, in eight different languages including French, Russian and Japanese.

Whilst only available at The Shaftesbury Theatre in London at the moment, the devices could become popular with theatre-goers.

I guess using the device is a decision between becoming immersed in the visual aspects of the performance, and knowing precisely what is said. Which would you choose?

An internet language revolution

Posted on November 18th, 2009by Michelle
In Arabic, Chinese, Cyrillic, English, Historic, Technology | 1 Comment »

Chinese keyboardI take it for granted that most of the content I want to view on the web will be in my native language, English, and I merely have to type the website’s name into my browser to navigate to the site.

For speakers of languages with non-Latin based writing systems (including Arabic, Cyrillic and Chinese), this is not the case. To navigate to websites, they need to type in characters such as the ones you see here. And for those unfamiliar with Latin letters, this proves a hindrance to accessing content.

Last month, however, the internet regulator Icann (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) approved the use of different alphabets, ending the dominance of Latin alphabets such as English.

It’s been hailed as a big move which can increase accessibility to the web, especially among those unfamiliar with Latin letters:

The impact will vary by location, with more remote countries seeing the biggest expansion. Rod Beckstrom, Icann’s president, called the step “a historic move toward the internationalisation of the internet … We just made the internet much more accessible to millions of people in regions such as Asia, the Middle East and Russia.” (Source:

With the first official international web addresses expected in 2010, you could perhaps be logging on to 语言-博物院.com soon!

Need glasses?

Posted on November 6th, 2009by Michelle
In Language acquisition, Technology, Translation | Leave a Comment »

Translation glassesI wear spectacles, but they’re nowhere near as hi-tech (or useful) as these glasses invented by NEC.

The company says it is planning to launch spectacles that can aid real-time translation, allowing chat between users to flow freely. Whilst they’re not exactly like specs (they won’t help you see better); they more resemble a headset with a microphone, and this is how they work:

…the microphone on the headset picks up the voices of both people in a conversation, pipes it through translation software and voice-to-text systems and then sends the translation back to the headset.

At the same time as a user hears a translation, they would also get text subtitles beamed onto the retina. (Source: BBC News)

I’m not so sure about having “subtitles beamed onto [my] retina” (sounds painful!) but this definitely sounds like a useful tool. I can imagine as a language learner you could use it to connect with native language speakers all over the world, turning the translation on and off as and when you want to use it. Sadly, we’ll have to wait til 2011 to find out how useful it really is!

Lip reading computers

Posted on October 27th, 2009by Michelle
In Education, Language acquisition, Research, Technology | Leave a Comment »

Reading lipsRecently I posted about the pros and cons of machine translation versus human translation.

It seems computers are also helping people to communicate in other ways – a new study shows they may be more effective at lip reading than humans.

Researchers compared the accuracy of an automated lip-reading machine to that of 19 people who had lip-reading training. The study found that the automated system recognized 80 percent of words, compared to 32 percent for human lip readers.

The machines were also able to read lips on simplistic representations of facial shape, whereas human lip-readers required a video of actual people speaking.

“This pilot study is the first time an automated lip-reading system has been benchmarked against human lip-readers, and the results are perhaps surprising,” said study author Sarah Hilder. (Source: US News)

This could be of major benefit to lip reading learners, and lead to new and improved methods of learning. A difficult to learn skill, lip reading will become more essential as people live longer. Any skill that helps people communicate is valuable – can you lip read?

Computers vs. humans

Posted on October 20th, 2009by Michelle
In Afrikaans, Hints and Tips, Language acquisition, Technology, Translation, Yiddish | 1 Comment »

Computer brain vs human brainOK, that sounds a little ominous, but it’s not the end of the world as we know it (yet).

Whilst learning a language, there are many resources we can use. A good resource should be accurate and reliable. That’s why you need to be careful when using translation websites.

Google Translate for example, currently has around 50 languages, from Afrikaans to Yiddish. Google uses something called statistical machine translation, which is useful for getting the general idea of documents, but may not be completely accurate.

Pros and cons: Google’s computerized approach means it can translate tons of content — and fast. But computers aren’t quite up to speed with ever-evolving modern speech, so reports of translation errors are fairly common.

On the plus side, the service has been vastly improved in the last five years, Och said. Also, Google lets people spot translation errors, suggest new wordings and translate its interface into languages Google’s computers don’t speak just yet. (Source:

Sites such as Babelfish and offer a similar service to Google Translate, and again are machine powered. also offers human translation, but at a cost. So when translating a specific phrase, it’s a good idea to double check the translation – perhaps try cross-translating it into the original language.

The popular social networking site Facebook, however, has a different method. Through crowdsourcing, they are translating their site into different languages using human knowledge.

Pros and cons: People are good at knowing idioms and slang, so Facebook tends to get these right, but there are limited numbers of multi-lingual volunteers who want to spend time helping Facebook translate things.

Also, Facebook’s site is available in many languages, but its human translators don’t touch wall posts, photo comments and other user-submitted items, which is a big con if you want to have friends who don’t share a common language with you. People who use Facebook Connect to translate their sites can choose which text they want users to help translate, according to Facebook spokeswoman Malorie Lucich.

What are your experiences of using Google Translate, Facebook and other machine translators? Do you find them more or less helpful than human translation?

Soz, it was beer o’clock

Posted on September 2nd, 2009by Michelle
In Culture, English, Events, Slang, Technology, Words | Leave a Comment »

Languages are ever-evolving, and English is no exception. That’s why the makers of the Collins English Dictionary have added over 260 new phrases to the 30th anniversary edition, due out on Thursday.

Some of the 267 new phrases added include mankini, Twitter, soz and beer o’clock, with many spawned from the rise in digital culture. Interestingly, a lot of new phrases are coming from sounds and interjections people make as they talk, which are being written down as said; ‘hee’ for example, expressing amusement.

Linguistics expert David Crystal said he was not surprised that the world wide web had played a big part in providing new words for inclusion.

He said: “In the early years, the internet was pretty isolated. If I was blogging, I was doing it on my own and I would have very little idea if anyone was reading my work or not.

“Any new words I tried to introduce may not have been picked up. Even with instant messaging, that was originally just two people and the odds of generating new popular words were possible but unlikely.

“However the surge in social networking sites results in an increased likelihood of new words being used by a wider audience.” (Source: BBC News)

Whilst I think it’s admirable for dictionary makers to keep up with the changes in the English language, I can’t help but feel that words such as frugalista have no place in a dictionary. In a slang or online dictionary, sure, but the longevity of the word frugalista surely won’t be worth its place in a physical dictionary. Perhaps I’m being a snob? I suppose, however, it will be of benefit to future generations who will be able to look back and know that in the two years prior to the dictionary being published, some English speakers were using that word.