Archive for the ‘Translation’ Category

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!

Who’s your interpreter?

Posted on October 29th, 2009by Michelle
In English, Language acquisition, Spanish, Translation | Leave a Comment »

Interpreter symbolWith no previous knowledge of Spanish before I moved to the Canary Islands recently, I have found myself relying on other people for translations and information.

As someone who is very independent and capable, I’ve found it quite difficult to depend on others. A recent article brought my situation in to perspective, however. Whilst I am only in Spain for a few months, there are people who move to a new country permanently without speaking the language – and sometimes have to rely on children to translate their everyday needs.

The first woman in this article, Dolores Pedro, has learned two additional languages in order to fit in to her community – first Spanish and now English. Her son says translating for his parents is not hard, as he “speak[s] three languages”.

There is some debate about the effect this responsibility has on children, however, especially when it comes to medical issues.

Whippo said the hospital tries to discourage using children as translators because the child may not have the vocabulary in both languages to fully explain the situation in English and another language. Also, she said, medical information can be a heavy burden on a child. (Source: Garden City Telegram)

A doctor in Tennessee, USA, also wrote an opinion piece earlier this year putting himself in a child translators shoes. He concluded that “children often lack the vocabulary and the psychological and emotional maturity required to communicate health information.” (Source: Education Week)

Luckily, I have no need to rely on children to communicate for me. Much like the woman in the article, I’ve made the conscious decision to learn the local language and improve quickly, so I can depend less on others.

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?

The French and their language

Posted on October 16th, 2009by Michelle
In Culture, English, French, Translation | 2 Comments »

Why French?The French are well known for being protective of their language.

At school one teacher used to tell us that the French hated English and would deliberately make new words as dissimilar to the English as possible, just to make things difficult. I’m not sure how true this is, but they definitely have a lengthy process for introducing new words to the language.

Keeping the French language relevant isn’t easy in the Internet age. For years, French bureaucrats have worked hard to keep French up to date by diligently coming up with equivalents for English terms. Though most French people say “le week-end” and “un surfer,” the correct translations of the terms are “fin de semaine” (“end of the week”) and “aquaplanchiste” (“water boarder”). A “start-up” company is referred to as “jeune pousse,” or “young shoot” (the term pousse is used for vegetable sprouts), while the World Wide Web is translated as “toile d’araignée mondiale” (literally, global spider web).

But technological advancements mean new Anglicisms are spreading over the Internet at warp speed, leaving the French scratching their heads.

Before a word such as “cloud computing” or “podcasting” (“diffusion pour baladeur”) receives a certified French equivalent, it needs to be approved by three organizations and get a government minister’s seal of approval, according to rules laid out by the state’s General Delegation for the French Language and the Languages of France. The process can be a linguistic odyssey taking years.

“Rigor cannot be compromised,” said Xavier North, the 57-year-old civil servant who heads the General Delegation. (Source: Wall Street Journal)

Yep, that’s right. For a new word to get the official seal of approval, it has to go through three organisations and be passed by a government minister, a process that can take years.

The right to French words is enshrined in the Constitution, which states that “the language of the Republic shall be French”. This is further upheld by laws passed in 1994, which stated that work contracts, adverts and all government documentation had to be in French. Government institutions such as la délégation générale à la langue française et aux langues de France (DGLFLF) and the Académie française aim to enrich and promote the language.

I can’t think of any other country or language that does anything similar to the French. With English I think it’s generally accepted that the language is ever evolving and new words are being added constantly, so there’s not enough time to keep track of them all. Even the famous Oxford English Dictionary is often behind the times – their list of new words added each year sometimes reads like a list of words that have been and gone from popular culture.

So, whilst I salute the French for attempting to preserve their language (and there are many near-extinct languages that would benefit from the same treatment), perhaps the length of time the bureaucracy takes to approve a new word may become a hindrance.

Pure Dead Brilliant, by the way

Posted on October 15th, 2009by Michelle
In Culture, Scots, Slang, Translation | Leave a Comment »

Glasweigan adYesterday I posted about dialect poetry and mentioned that dialects are dying out in Europe.

At least one dialect is in no danger of becoming extinct though – a translation company in England have placed an advert calling for Glaswegian translators to help their clients understand the locals when they visit the Scottish city.

Glaswegians, known affectionately as Weegies, speak varying levels of a continually-evolving form of dialect widely known as ‘the patter’.

The speech comprises a range of Scots expressions, vocabulary and humour, as well examples of rhyming slang, local cultural references, nicknames and street language.

“Glaswegian” has given rise to a plethora of phrasebooks, joke books, online glossaries and merchandise, not to mention TV and radio shows. There is even a Glasgow Bible, which relates some biblical tales in the vernacular. (Source: BBC News)

Wondering what Glaswegian sounds like and why it’s so difficult for outsiders to understand? Head through to the BBC article where they have some audio clips of Glaswegians speaking (along with an English translation!). And if you’re wondering about the meaning of the title, read about it here.

Dialect poetry

Posted on October 14th, 2009by Michelle
In Culture, German, Scots, Translation | 1 Comment »

European dialects are apparently much more similar than we think.

Dialects are becoming increasingly rare in Europe, as borders are open and there’s more free movement between states. But dialects help preserve the local language and culture, so some Scottish and German poets have taken up the challenge of translating verse in these regional varieties.

Fitzgerald Kusz, a Franconian poet from Nuremberg, said that in translating Scots poems he was surprised to discover traces of that dialect’s Germanic roots. Kusz has spoken Franconian since childhood and regards his dialect as an intimate and comfortable form of communication.

“On one hand, globalization continues strengthen its hold,” he said, “High German, the unified language, can be heard on television in every village. But there is, in fact, a movement among the people to keep their languages alive.”

And that is one primary goal of dialect literature, he added.

Read the full article on dialect poetry here.

Languages at the UN

Posted on September 25th, 2009by Michelle
In Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, Russian, Translation | Leave a Comment »

I posted recently about the European Union and the difficulties faced with translating their work in to the languages of its member countries.

So how does this work on a bigger scale, with more countries involved? Somewhere like the United Nations for example. This issue was recently highlighted by Colonel Gaddafi of Libya addressing the UN General Assembly in a regional dialect.

With 192 member states and a budget of around US$4 billion, the UN is made up of five main bodies, four of which are based on international territory at the UN headquarters in New York City, USA. The UN has six official languages – English, French, Russian, Chinese, Spanish and Arabic. When delivering a speech at the UN, speakers are supposed to talk in one of these languages.

…U.N. interpreters then translate the lecture into the other five languages. If the speaker doesn’t use an official language—either as a political statement or because he doesn’t know one—the speaker has to bring along his own interpreter. That interpreter then translates into one of the official languages—usually English or French—and the other interpreters translate from that interpretation. (Qaddafi brought his own interpreter.) Alternatively, the speaker can provide a written translation of his speech in one of the official languages, as long as he doesn’t deviate from the text in his remarks.

The United Nations uses simultaneous interpretation, which means translating on the fly without breaks (as opposed to consecutive interpretation, in which the speaker and translator alternate). At any given moment, the U.N. Interpretation Service has a dozen interpreters working six booths—one for every official language. The pair of interpreters in the English booth translates into English, the French booth translates into French, and so on. Attendees can then listen to the interpretations on headphones, clicking across channels for different languages. The job is exhausting, so interpreters will usually switch off every 20 minutes or so. They can also take breaks when the speech is in their language, since no translation is necessary. (Source: Slate Magazine)

To read more about interpreting at the UN, read the rest of the article at Slate Magazine here.

Plane translation

Posted on September 13th, 2009by Michelle
In English, French, Translation | Leave a Comment »

Wrong translationWhen a translation goes wrong, it normally results in laughter rather than anything more serious (see this list of humorous ads for example). But sometimes the incorrect words have consequences, as an airline found out recently.

French passengers on an Aer Lingus Dublin-Paris flight were thrown into panic when a faulty announcement told them the plane was about to make an emergency landing, the airline said Friday.

An English-language announcement 20 minutes after leaving Dublin said the plane was heading into turbulence, asking passengers to return to their seats — but the pre-recorded French version said they were about to ditch.

One passenger told the Irish Examiner newspaper that a French man who was dozing next to him suddenly woke up and looked very startled.

“He translated what had been said to me. The message, he said, was that we should prepare for an emergency landing, note where the emergency exits were and await instructions from the captain.

“As there was turbulence as well I got quite alarmed. The woman behind me was crying.

“All the French freaked out,” he said.(Source: Google News)

Not being a huge fan of flying myself, I can imagine the horror the French passengers felt when they heard this announcement. Let’s hope they saw the funny side of the error in the end!

Cogito, ergo sum

Posted on August 28th, 2009by Michelle
In English, French, German, Latin, Translation | 3 Comments »

EU languagesProbably the most famous of Latin phrases, Descartes philosophical musing (I think, therefore I am or I am thinking, therefore I exist), could perhaps be applied to the European Union.

These interesting articles consider the idea that Latin could be adopted as the official language of the European Union (EU). Comprising of 27 member countries, and working in 23 official languages, the EU currently spends an incredible €1,123 million a year (statistic from 2005) on translating and interpretation. This represents about 1% of the EU’s entire budget. Adding to the complexity is that different EU institutions conduct business in different languages – the European Commission in English, French and German, for example. (Source)

As one translator says:

“It’s not practical if you have to translate the name of an EU program into 23 languages, so if you have a Latin word that can be pronounced in all 23 and means something at the same time, it’s practical,” said Wolfgang Jenniges, a European Commission translator and classical linguist.

Jenniges is referencing is the use of Latin words for some projects and web domain names run by the EU, also mentioned in the article:

The European Court of Justice in Luxembourg has the domain name “curia” – Latin for “court.” The council of EU member states uses the domain name “consilium,” Latin for “council.”

Both those names are sub-addresses of the EU’s web domain, “europa” – the Latin name for Europe.

EU projects are also being given Latin names. A recent translation contest was called “juvenes translatores” (“young translators”), while the EU has a “Tempus” (“time”) project for upgrading universities outside the bloc.

Classical names are even coming back into fashion for EU military missions. In recent years, the bloc has run operations named Althea, Artemis, Themis and Concordia – the goddesses of healing, hunting, justice and reconciliation.

The Finnish showed their support of Latin during their EU presidency, with sections of the EU website being published in Latin.

So, will we one day see our MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) communicating in Latin? Well, probably not. As their website states, a single official language would cut off most EU citizens from their right to an understanding of what the EU is doing. Plus, the EU is committed to multilingualism, which a single official language would go against.

The Rosetta Foundation

Posted on August 27th, 2009by Michelle
In Hints and Tips, Technology, Translation | Leave a Comment »

I recently took a look at the Rosetta Stone and the Rosetta Project, and now there is the Rosetta Foundation.

Based in Ireland, the Foundation aims

to make information accessible to people independent of their social status, their linguistic and cultural background and their geographical location through the development and the deployment of an intelligent translation and localisation environment. (Source: The Rosetta Foundation)

More specifically, the Foundation wants to make ‘life critical’ information available in native languages. As the chief executive of the service provider Welocalize said:

“This initiative could help extend the benefits of the translation industry to the people that most need it. Individuals all over the world are deprived of critical information in their native language that could potentially save their lives. We believe that in order to grow and meet global content demands, we must collaborate to innovate.” (Source: IWR)

The project is being jointly run by The University of Limerick (Ireland), the Centre for Next Generation Localisation (CNGL) as well as the service provider, and backed by the Irish government.

Hopefully it will be as successful as a smaller-scale service run in the UK, which offers translations to questions and answers for medical staff. SignTranslate provides short video clips of questions, and also links to live interpreters for more complex translations. This means that there is no lengthy wait for an interpreter, helping to save lives and lessen distress for patients.

Thankfully I’ve never needed to go to hospital in a country where I don’t speak the language, but this project gives me hope that if I do, I will be able to communicate my needs effectively.