Archive for November, 2009


Posted on November 8th, 2009by Michelle
In English, Translation, UK vs US English | Leave a Comment »

Having spent a lot of time overseas listening to different versions of English, I’m always amused to note the differences and similarities to British English.

At the beach recently with an American friend, we discovered that we each had a different pronunciation for the floating device in the water known as a buoy. Whilst he said something like boo-ee, I laughed and responded boy.

I was delighted then, to receive a link to the style guide of The Economist, a weekly British publication concerned with international news and politics. The link led me to a very amusing section on Americanisms. Here’s a sample:

Try not to verb nouns or to adjective them. So do not access files, haemorrhage red ink (haemorrhage is a noun), let one event impact another, author books (still less co-author them), critique style sheets, host parties, pressure colleagues (press will do), progress reports, trial programmes or loan money. Gunned down means shot. And though it is sometimes necessary to use nouns as adjectives, there is no need to call an attempted coup a coup attempt or the Californian legislature the California legislature. Vilest of all is the habit of throwing together several nouns into one ghastly adjectival reticule: Texas millionaire real-estate developer and failed thrift entrepreneur Hiram Turnipseed…

I recommend reading the rest of the entry. Anyone got other Americanisms to add?

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!

Worldwide spelling alphabets

Posted on November 3rd, 2009by Michelle
In Alphabet, English, Spanish, Words | Leave a Comment »

Spelling alphabetRecently I tried to use the spelling alphabet (Alfa, Bravo, Charlie) when I needed to spell something here in Spain (haven’t completely grasped the Spanish alphabet yet). To my surprise, I found out it is not as universal as I thought.

In fact, there are different countries have their own spelling alphabets, as this site (although old) shows. Spain’s spelling alphabet begins Antonio, Barcelona, Carmen, for example.

The alphabet I was using is known as the NATO phonetic alphabet, or the international radiotelephony spelling alphabet. It’s been adopted by many military and civilian organisations around the world, including the Federal Aviation Administration and International Telecommunication Union, which I suppose is why I assumed people would know it here. It’s also been used for art, and a comment on language.

Looking at the various alphabets, it seems that most are based on names, particularly of people. The names appear specific to each country (Désirè for example), which would not be useful for an international alphabet. I particularly like the older English alphabets, which include gems such as Xantippe (British A), Monkey, Nuts (British Royal Air Force from 1924-1942) and Xerxes (British Royal Navy – 1917).

Do you know a spelling alphabet? What words are used?