Who Needs Rare Languages? You Might

Just like ice caps, once rare languages melt away, there's no getting them back.

You may think that rare languages are the province of a few eccentric linguistics professors and that they have no relevance for anybody else, or that there's no more reason to study or preserve them than to learn Klingon. 

When rare languages disappear (which is happening at a quick pace in our ever globalizing world) they take with them the culture and unique knowledge associated with them.  As K. David Harrison, a linguistics professor, explained in an interview with The Economist, wisdom such as "the secrets of how to live sustainably in challenging environments like the Arctic or the Andean Altiplano" can be lost as languages vanish.  In a world where sustainable living is becoming ever more of a priority, expert knowledge on the topic is not something to let slip away.

Another environmental concern on many people's minds, the melting of polar ice, might be aided by one rare language group, the Yupik people who live in the Arctic.  Professor Harrison says, "Their climate science astounds with its precision, predictive power, and depth of observation.  Modern climate scientists have much to learn from it."

Rare languages are one of Translation by Design's specialties.  Translating these languages, many of which are in danger of becoming extinct, is one way in which their traditions and understanding can be preserved. 

Harrison describes letting languages disappear as akin to destroying ancient historical buildings in order to build modern ones.  "We should be similarly appalled when languages—monuments to human genius far more ancient and complex than anything we have built with our hands—erode."

Publishing Children's Books: Fostering Learning and Memories

Reading is an important part of kids' lives. Publishing high-quality books for them is a delicate and important undertaking.

The first book I remember reading was a bilingual title called Ferdinand (or Ferdinando) about a peaceful bull who, unlike all those around him, has no interest in bull fighting, but prefers to sit by himself and appreciate the sweet smell of flowers.

It's been at least a decade since I laid eyes on a copy of Ferdinand, but I still remember this book: it takes me back to my first grade class and to care-free Saturday mornings when I would climb into bed with my mother and read with her. 

Children's books are powerful, both in what they teach and the memories children associate them.  (They are not, as Strong Bad assumes, simple to write just because they are aimed at a young audience).  I never gave much thought then to how the many books I read as a child came to be; I just really loved reading them.

Writing and editing children's books, especially bilingual titles, is actually a process that requires a great deal of effort and expertise.  Translation by Design has experience in publishing, and with children's books in particular.  The company applied that expertise, as well as its translation resources, to revamping a series of bilingual books for Raven Tree Press, which specializes in children's titles.  In spite of a tight deadline, TBD reformatted and revised the books and got them ready for publishing. 

Children's books merit the attention of professionals who love the genre and are experts in tailoring literature to children's needs.  You never know which books will be the ones children will remember decades later.  

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Mind Your Manners: Cross Cultural Knowledge Can Keep You from Getting Egg on Your Face

It's not just what you say, but how you say it: you have to know the culture in order to succeed. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons and the U.S. Army.

Pop Quiz:  Which of these (if any) would you do at the dinner table? 

a) Slurp your noodles loudly.
b) Eat asparagus with your fingers rather than a knife and fork.
c) Reach across the table for a serving dish.
d) Burp loudly at the end of the meal. 

If you were inclined to say "none of the above," you're probably well-versed in American dining etiquette.  But in Japan, England, China and Turkey, respectively, these are totally appropriate table manners, according to a BBC etiquette guide

It turns out that spoken language is only part of what you need to make a good impression on people from foreign countries.  Other components of communication, including body language and cultural awareness, can also make or break an opportunity. 

Navy Seals used Translation by Design's cross-cultural training to efficiently learn the cultural norms and other tools that would enable them to succeed in the sensitive tasks they would undertake as they dealt directly with local people in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

If your organization or company sends its employees abroad, how can you be sure your representatives will know how to proceed in a new culture?  Receiving training by someone from that country who can explain its customs is the best possible preparation. 

TBD's Cross Cultural Training programs facilitate just such an opportunity.  By matching an organization's future travelers with natives from the destination country who provide them with targeted coaching, the programs help individuals representing their companies abroad be prepared to make good impressions, avoid offending their hosts, and accomplish the mission they came to fulfill. 

If you have stories of things you're glad you knew - or wish you'd known - before visiting another country, please share them below!

Q&A with Sandra Delay: Translation By Design and Legal Interpreting

Much is at stake in legal cases. You need to know that your interpreters are up to the task.

Translation by Design's President, Sandra Delay, recently shared some insights on her experience providing legal interpreters for an anti-trust case

What's unique about working on this sort of legal case?

This is a case with lots of players from all over the world.  It's exactly the kind of case that illustrates just how globalized our world has become, and language simply cannot be a barrier in these situations. 

What is your approach to finding the right interpreters for cases, and how does it differ from other language companies' methods? 

We always focus on getting the best interpreters for our clients, who understand the importance of the highest-quality work.  I have to be proud of the interpreters we provide, because they are representing me.  Most companies would simply say, "We can't find anybody," if asked to find an interpreter overseas or in a more rare language, but we thrive on challenges. 

What would you say is your essential guiding principle in selecting and working with legal interpreters?

When it comes down to it, our priority is adding value to our product - that is, our translations and interpretations.  We believe in treating our clients, translators and interpreters well, and establishing long-term relationships with them.  That's how we keep providing the best linguists for our clients.  

To learn more about Translation by Design's high standards for interpreter excellence, please read on here.  

Machine Translation: The (Funny) Nature of the Beast

If only a machine could tell you what Bessie's thinking. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons.

In case you were wondering, after reading last week's blog, how likely it is that machines will soon replace human translators, we decided to share this lighthearted article demonstrating just how far MT technology still has to come before it could possibly replace humans in translation.  There are lots more examples in the article, but a few gems are below.

- "Translation Telephone"  You can still play that beloved elementary school game, even if nobody else wants to, because the computer translator muddles the message up just as well as a bunch of third graders. 

- Biblical phrases are always good for machine translation experiments because of their archaic and symbolic language.  Since even humans don't always understand what was meant by them, it makes sense that computers are even more lost. 

- Animal Translators - Okay, first, this really should be "animal interpreters," since animals have yet to start writing.  Second, it's a joke, so don't get too excited.  Sometimes, though, it seems that we're no closer to truly communicating with other humans using machines than to communicating with animals.  Still, the video is entertaining.  

For the foreseeable future, human translators are the only ones we can trust when we want to be taken seriously.  But for fun and games, machine translators are more than up to the task. 

Feel free to share your favorite funny machine translations with us below!

Kids Reduce Their Carbon Footprint One Language at a Time

Cool the Earth, a US nonprofit runs in 100 U.S. schools to help children and their families reduce their carbon emissions.

Cool the Earth, a US nonprofit, runs in 100 U.S. schools, with the goal of encouraging 75,000 children and their families to reduce their carbon emissions. To date, their programs have reduced carbon emissions by 100 million pounds.

Not even language barriers will stop Cool the Earth from helping the planet. They welcome everyone and will speak their language. When two schools in the Bay Area contacted them and some of the students spoke Spanish and Chinese, they contacted Translation by Design to translate their materials into Chinese and Spanish.

Translation by Design was happy to offer a non-profit discount to support Cool the Earth’s awesome work. Read more about Cool the Earth in the Huffington Post.




The End of Translation As We Know It?

Will computers ever actually replace human linguists?

If someone told you that the translation and interpretation industry as we know it would be replaced by computers in less than twenty years, would you believe them? 

That's what author Ray Kurzweil believes.  Computers are getting "smarter" at a rapid rate, and he predicts that they will reach human levels of linguistic ability by 2029, making them formidable rivals to traditional translators.

Kurzweil explains that translation technology has come a long way and can already accomplish a variety of tasks with reasonable accuracy.   He says in an interview on Singularity Hub that, for less complicated tasks such as routine conversations and business dealings, these technologies may soon be sufficient.  He admits that when it comes to more culturally involved tasks such as translating literature, computers will probably never be up to the task. 

But can computers ever truly replace humans if there are any aspects of human communication that they can’t understand?  Even the most “basic” human conversations may involve not only objective information, but also emotion, humor, cultural references, sarcasm, or other meaning that is hard for computers to comprehend.  Computer interpreters would severely limit users’ ability to interact. 

It's true that translation now is vastly different from what it was a few decades ago, and that technology has played a huge role in those changes.  Nevertheless, all of these technological advances serve only to aid translators in doing their work; none can accomplish the task alone.  Many people doubt that they ever will. 

Even if things play out as Kurzweil predicts, people will need other qualified people to translate and interpret their news, advertisements, business documents, meetings, novels, and other communications for at least a couple more decades – if not forever.  

It’s All English to Me

The two nations have been at peace with one another for a long time, but still can't always agree on how to phrase things.

English isn’t spoken exactly the same way everywhere.  That’s where localization comes in handy. 

This blog recently referred to "Translation: Getting it Right," a useful brochure helping companies wisely go about translation.  This brochure also happens to be a helpful study in the art of localization. 

While its two English-language versions are basically identical, the differences that do crop up between the U.K. and U.S. forms provide and interesting study in how a document can be tailored to a reader's particular needs.

"With translation, the fastest way to get caught out is to wash your hands of the whole process."  The U.S. version instead says "the fastest way to blunder," which will save Americans the trouble of Googling it if they find the phrase unfamiliar. 

To explain that texts are translated differently based on their purpose, the British version says, "An article in The News of the World is not a prospectus for an Initial Public Offering."  While that seems self-explanatory enough, the American version replaces The News of the World with its U.S. equivalent, The National Enquirer, and the phrase has the same meaning and contrast for readers from either region. 

One section is entitled "Horses for courses" in the British version, which is something like the expression "Different strokes for different folks." This, thankfully, was not included in the American version, which opts for the more standard, "What do you really need?" 

These differences are interesting when compared, but a reader viewing the brochure in his or her region's version would never notice anything striking about the language, but would be able to focus entirely on its meaning.  That’s how you know localization has been done right. 


How Important is Translating Your Website?

Customers who find a business's website poorly translated will keep clicking... onto another site.

Say you're a consumer looking to buy a particular product.  Imagine you find the product on one site that is written poorly, or written only in a foreign language.  You also find it on another site that's written well in your own language.  Which site will you use?

If you're like most people, you'll go with the second site. 

A recent BBC News article explains why getting website translation done, and done properly, is essential.   The article states that, "Research commissioned by the European Commission found that 82% of consumers were less likely to buy goods online if the site was not in their native language."  This holds true even for regions where residents are proficient in multiple languages.  Most consumers won't consider amateur or computer translations to reflect "their native language." 

"You need to have credibility. Having spelling mistakes on your front page, it makes you look shoddy," the article quotes one business owner as saying.  Many English teachers won't read an otherwise well-written paper if there are too many spelling or punctuation errors on the first page; similarly, most consumers won't go to the trouble of reading a poorly translated site.  They will simply look elsewhere.  An analyst quoted in the BBC article asks, "If you went to a website with all sorts of grammatical errors about the product and about the payment processes, would you feel comfortable actually doing business with them?"

Your website will likely be your customer's first (if not only) means of contact with your business, so it's imperative that you make the right impression.  To better understand how website localization works and what it can do for your company and its site, read on here.  

Translating Environmental Sustainability into Conscious Living

The boys and girls ages 5-8, began their 10-year challenge, all the way through high school, to work on the international ivory ban

Translating Environmental Sustainability into Conscious Living

I’ve always remembered the profound advice I received from an important mentor when I embarked on my first teaching assignment in a small, private school in the seaside village of Tomales in northern California decades ago. “From the earliest age,” he said, “Teach the children how to think for themselves and to realize they have the capacity to make a difference in the world; never lower your standards and never give up on any of them.

Save the Elephants

The children grew up loving elephants. In the 70s and 80s thousands of African elephants were being killed brutally for their ivory tusks. Heartbroken and passionate, the boys and girls ages 5-8, began their 10-year challenge, all the way through high school, to work on the international ivory ban -- finally signed into law in 1989. They played an important role by going to environmental fairs, distributing fact sheets, answering questions, getting 1000s of signatures, presenting at speaking engagements, designing and selling elephant T-shirts, and raising thousands of dollars to donate to the cause.  The students were chosen to represent the U.S. at the United Nations because of the success of their project. They believed they could make a difference.

Translated into Action

Whether you want to protect endangered animals, the oceans, the environment, alternative transportation, renewable energy, or reduce the carbon footprint, it has to be translated into action.

Get inspired by one of our nonprofit clients: Cool the Earth in Northern CA reaches out to schools all over the globe to educate, encourage, and support them to reduce their carbon footprint. Read more about how we assisted them with their translation needs, or help them to expand by visiting the Cool the Earth website and learn how you can get involved with this amazing program.

Sandra DeLay, President

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