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Dictionaries making a “comeback”

Source: WNYC
Story flagged by: Jared Tabor

Ben Zimmer, language columnist for The Wall Street Journal, returns to discuss how dictionaries are making themselves relevant again through social media and other digital tools. Merriam Webster has recently experienced a surge in popularity on social media in response to their tweets about politics and “alternative facts.” As Jesse Sheidlower said in a recent The New York Times article, “In times of stress, people will go to things that will provide answers. The Bible, the dictionary or alcohol.”

Hear the interview on the Leonard Lopate Show >>

Why don’t we write words the way pronounce them?

Source: TED
Story flagged by: Jared Tabor

How much energy and brain power do we devote to learning how to spell? Language evolves over time, and with it the way we spell — is it worth it to spend so much time memorizing rules that are filled with endless exceptions? Literary scholar Karina Galperin suggests that it may be time for an update in the way we think about and record language.

View the TED talk (in Spanish with English subtitles) >>

Esther Schor on the history of Esperanto

Source: WNYC
Story flagged by: Jared Tabor

Poet and scholar Esther Schor joins us to discuss her book, Bridge of Words: Esperanto and the Dream of a Universal Language, which details the history of a constructed language called Esperanto. She tells the story of Ludwig Lazarus Zamenhof, a Polish Jew, who in 1887 had the utopian dream of creating a universal language that would end political and ethnic conflict, and enable everyone to communicate.

Listen to the interview on the Leonard Lopate Show >>

A lighthearted look at what neural machine translation can (but shouldn’t) do

Source: Doug McGowan, Moravia
Story flagged by: Jared Tabor

Alon Lavie, who heads up the Amazon Machine Translation Research and Development Group, said in a recent Globally Speaking podcast, that neural machine translation “makes very, very strange types of mistakes … because it’s not a direct matching between the source language and the target language in terms of the words and the sequences of words…” Thing is, the strangeness can get masked by the smoothness.

Recently I found myself feeding this line of text through Google Translate.

For these products, please use 視覚化 not 可視化 based on the definition at the following URL:

It was aimed at linguists, instructing them to use the term shikakuka instead of kashika depending on context. Both words mean “visualization” but have slightly different nuances. And the results were so humorous I thought it would be a shame not to share them.

The neural cogs went whizzing and immediately gave me this:

Google translate result 1

You might expect that the two Japanese terms 視覚化 and 可視化 in the source would make it through to the target text. After all, there’s no need to translate them. But no. Instead, it produced 視覚障害, a big red flag. Just hit the reverse translate button (always a good idea to do that) to see what it means…

Okay, is this even close to what I wanted to say? Avoid visual impairment? Did I want to discriminate against someone? Of course not. Problem is, the Japanese text is so fluent that it reads like I really mean to be really mean.

Alon was absolutely right. Very strange. What is going on inside those neural networks of theirs? Can I pre-edit the source to help the MT to produce a better output? Maybe that unnatural colon at the end of the sentence is wreaking some sort of unexpected havoc? Let’s change it to a period.

Google translate result 2

Nope. It’s still giving us that problematic 視覚障害 but followed by some different wording.


Uh, yeah. So changing two dots ( : ) to one ( . ) takes us from “avoid visual impairment” to “confirm that there is no visual impairment”. Help!

Read the full article >>

The century of American global domination of language is over, a linguist says

Source: Quartz Media
Story flagged by: Jared Tabor

While some argue that the infiltration of American English is constantly speeding up, Lynne Murphy, an American linguist living in the UK and a reader in linguistics at the University of Sussex, says that in fact the great era of American English as the language of the world was the 20th century, and it’s over.

“American culture (and words) could easily spread in the 20th century because it was hard to produce and distribute recorded entertainment, but the US had the capacity and the economy and the marketing savvy to do so,” Murphy wrote in a recent blog. What’s changed in the 21st century, she suggests, is that the internet has re-formed our relationship with media, making audiences less purely receptive, and more able to seek out the content that interests them. Ultimately, she argues, there’s more “exchange of words between people, rather than just reception of words from the media.”

“[P]opular songs are less universally popular, because people have more access to more different kinds of music on download,” she writes. “Instead of two or three or four choices on television, there are hundreds. And if you don’t like what you’re seeing you can go on YouTube or SoundCloud…and find all sorts of people doing all sorts of things.”

Geopolitics is also involved. During the last century, two world wars and the Cold War saw Americans posted all over the world, “using their slang in the presence of young recruits from other countries,” she writes. American manufactured goods were widely exported and advertised. With the election of Donald Trump as US president, however, the country’s rhetoric has become decidedly more isolationist. Murphy asks both whether its words and its culture will flow so freely abroad as before, and whether the rest of the world will be as receptive to them.

Not everyone agrees. Matthew Engel, author of forthcoming book That’s the Way it Crumbles—The Americanization of British English, argues that America’s cultural and technological strength globally make it hard for other languages—including French, German, and Italian as well as British English— not to metamorphose under its weight.

Jhumpa Lahiri talks about her translation of Domenico Starnone’s “Ties”

Source: WNYC
Story flagged by: Jared Tabor

Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Jhumpa Lahiri discusses her translation of Ties, a new novel by bestselling Italian novelist and screenwriter Domenico Starnone, winner of Italy’s most prestigious literary award, The Strega. “Ties” tells the story of Vanda and Aldo’s strained marriage, when Aldo decides to leave Vanda and their children for a younger woman.

Listen to the conversation on The Leonard Lopate Show here >>

Jhumpa writes about the path to translating Ties in this Literary Hub article.

Jhumpa writes about teaching herself Italian in this New Yorker article.

Using JavaScript to make website localization easier

Source: Jon Ritzdorf, Moravia
Story flagged by: Jared Tabor

Until recently, website localization was primarily approached in three ways.

  1. In the traditional file-based approach, project managers would take their loose collection of files (e.g., HTML, PHP, XML, etc.) and simply hand the content off to translation. Those translated files, once returned, would be passed on to the web developers to build the target-language versions of the site.
  2. Then there was the API “connectors” approach to website localization. Using this method, your web content management system (WCMS) (e.g., Drupal, WordPress, Joomla, etc.) could be connected to a translation management system (TMS) via an application programming interface (API). Source content would be pushed to the TMS through the connector to the translation vendor and routed back to the WCMS through the API.
  3. From about 2010 onward, we saw the rise of DNS proxy or “mirror-based” approaches to localization. No fussing around with APIs—you would get a web mirror where your localized website is stored and managed by a third-party server with a built-in TMS.

Each of these legacy methods have their associated risks and opportunities as well as varying levels of localized content management involvement.

JavaScript to the rescue

Today, with advanced developments in JavaScript extensions, a number of companies are making web localization even easier. You just add the company’s provided JavaScript code to the web pages that you manage, and a sort of “search and replace” occurs of the source language content with the target language content.

In a nutshell, the JavaScript spiders the English content and does a near-instantaneous “switcheroo” with the visitor’s preferred language, provided by your translation service, as the page renders. For those of you who want a more detailed explanation, TAUS has a great article on the subject.

These third-party web localization services have a number of features in common:

  • Simple one-line JavaScript code placed on each page for which you want to have translated content
  • Online editor for translation
  • Option for in-context editing of translated content
  • Option to add machine- or human-translated content


Why freelancers are working more for direct clients

Source: Leon Hunter, LinkedIn
Story flagged by: Jared Tabor

In the last few years, the number of freelancers seeking to work for their own direct clients has increased substantially.

A few years back, I organised a mentoring course for young translators interested in getting more clients. The energy and the enthusiasm arising out of the mentoring courses led to the organisation of two conferences in Madrid and Barcelona (Traduemprende). The topics surrounded getting clients, setting reasonable rates and marketing, and generally helping freelancers to become more business-savvy.

Since then, one of the mentoring students, Lourdes Yagüe, has created a platform to introduce translators to direct clients called Hello Translator.

This is just one example of how translators are getting together to offer their services to end clients.

Leon Hunter is a Spanish to English translator in Madrid and is a member. Read more of his article on LinkedIn >>

The Challenge of Neural MT (podcast)

Source: Globally Speaking
Story flagged by: Jared Tabor

The New York Times is writing about it. So is The Economist and dozens of other prestigious business publications. Why is Neural MT suddenly so important–and critical to language service providers? Check out this three-part podcast from Globally Speaking:

  1. Why neural MT is one of the hottest trends in the translation industry today: The Challenge of Neural MT: Part I
  2. Hear what some of the language industry’s leading experts on Neural MT think about the promises, limitations–and pitfalls–of this revolutionary new technology: The Challenge of Neural MT: Part II
  3. How advancements in neural MT will impact LSPs and professional translators from a practical perspective. Hear why leading experts believe neural MT is a means to support human translation and not an end in itself: The Challenge of Neural MT: Part III

How Translation Gadgets Overpromise and Underdeliver

Source: Slator
Story flagged by: Jared Tabor

You know we are still quite a ways from that fully functioning universal translator when even Microsoft admits that using Skype Translator will result in a “clear negative impact” on conversation. And yet they keep coming, these gadgets and apps that are said to provide simultaneous interpretation or so-called real-time translation.

There was some hype in 2009 surrounding the US Military’s use of something akin to Captain Kirk’s universal translator. The San Francisco Chronicle wrote about it, so did PC World. Called the Phraselator, the handheld device let you pick a phrase from a menu and it would play the pre-recorded version in, say, Arabic; or speak into the device and a matching phrase would play. Hardly universal nor real-time when phrases are limited to a pre-recorded menu.


Open road interview series: Eszter Lelik. Interpreter, translator, winner of a new car

By: Jared Tabor

Eszter Lelik

Eszter Lelik is the subject of this latest installment in the Open road interview series. Eszter is an English to Hungarian interpreter and translator from Hungary, and was also the grand prize winner of a new Nissan Juke. Her win was announced on 10 January, 2017 in a live broadcast from headquarters in Syracuse. Congratulations, Eszter! On to the interview:

Q. First, the most important question: Where’s the first place you will go in your new car?

Well, I wish I could go on a longer trip with the new car but this is a very busy season for me as interpreter and translator so I can think in terms of a short ride only. So I decided to go to Lake Balaton and visit some friends there.

Q. Now, from your website I see that you have over twenty years of experience as a translator and interpreter. What kind of changes have you noticed in your work and in the industry during the course of your career?

In the course of the past 23 years as it is quite understandable many things have changed. When I started my career, a few years after the political transition here in Hungary, very few people could speak and did speak foreign languages. There was a high demand for interpreters and also for translators in my case, as I worked at that time at one of the Big 6 companies mainly due to the privatization processes where all the documents had to be translated into English. Now, more than 20 years later a new generation grew up, these young people, or rather their parents, realized the importance of foreign language skills so the majority of them speak English, but quite often a second foreign language as well. The multinational companies use English as their corporate language (even if it is e.g., a German company), thus the need for translation has greatly decreased. Nevertheless, considering my specific areas of expertise and the fact that I am doing mainly simultaneous interpreting, plus working not only in English but also in German, I am optimistic about my personal perspectives.

Q. You’ve interpreted for some impressive brands and organizations. What do you find most rewarding about your work as an interpreter?

To become an interpreter has always been my dream. Now, more than two decades after the start of my career I am still certain that I have the best job in the world, at least the right one for me. I like independence, intellectual activity, constant learning, and travelling, always meeting new and interesting people. I have worked for/with famous politicians, celebrities, artists and I sometimes I am amused by realizing that most of them have already disappeared from the public life, from the stage, and I am still here.

Q. Are you optimistic about the future of the language industry?

In my previous answer I have mentioned already what I think of my own future, the future of my career. To be quite honest I am not optimistic at all concerning the future of the language industry in general. With all the translation memories, interpreting gadgets and the obsession with saving money on everything to the detriment of the quality, I think in about 10 years’ time lots of translators and interpreters will be left without any assignment, or paid much less than today.

Q. The theme of this campaign was ‘The Open Road’. What is next for you in your career?

Open Road for me means new challenges, opportunities and many new things to explore.  I think in our profession constant learning has to be the first priority. Thus, for me, deepening my knowledge in some specific areas, like medical and legal areas, is very important. Learning the use of CAT tools would be also necessary and also modernizing  my website is there on my agenda.

Eszter Lelik 2

Thanks Eszter for your time, and congratulations once again.

All interviews in the Open road series can be seen at

The challenges and rewards of raising bilingual children

Source: 1843magazine
Story flagged by: Alejandro Cavalitto

Everyone who has learned a language in adulthood knows how hard it is, with the grammar books and the flash cards, the pronunciation problems and the awkward rhythm, never quite getting to fluency. How much better to raise a genuine bilingual.

A century ago, bilingualism was blamed for lower IQ scores among the children of non-English-speaking parents. The culprit was poverty, not bilingualism. Today, the prevailing wisdom has been flipped on its head: researchers now propose a “bilingual advantage”.

The research is contested. Some studies have proved hard to replicate and researchers have, in one study, found bilinguals actually performing worse on a single task. But in today’s distracted world, parents are inclined to latch onto anything that might keep the child focused on that calculus problem and ignoring the nearby smartphone.


Woman found her passion as sign language interpreter

Source: The Hutchinson News
Story flagged by: Alejandro Cavalitto

For more than 25 years, Teresa Schoch has immersed herself in American Sign Language as an interpreter. “I sleep, eat and breathe it,” Schoch said.

Schoch works as a community interpreter, serving wherever the service is needed, while the other main variety of interpreter works in education, in the same classroom with the same people day after day. She said she prefers community interpreting, because of the great variety of experiences it provides.

Being a community interpreter has its occasional downsides, though. Interpreters aren’t only needed in happy and stress-free situations. Medical settings, mental health crises, jails and courtrooms are all situations that sometimes call for an American Sign Language interpreter.


The machine translation year in review and outlook for 2017

Source: eMpTy Pages
Story flagged by:

[...] 2016 was actually a really good year for machine translation technology, as MT had a lot more buzz than it has had in the past 10 years and some breakthrough advances in the basic technology. It was also the year I left Asia Online, and got to engage with the vibrant and much more exciting and rapidly moving world of MT outside of Thailand. As you can see from this blog, I had a lot more to say after my departure. The following statements are mostly just opinions (with some factual basis) and I stand ready to be corrected and challenged on every statement I have made here. Hopefully some of you who read this may have differing opinions that you may be willing to share in the comments.

MT Dominates Global Translation Activity

For those who have any doubt about how pervasive MT is today, (whatever you may think of the output quality), the following graphic makes it clear. To put this in context, Lionbridge reported about 2B words translated in the year, and SDL just informed us earlier this month that they do 100M words a month (TEP) and over 20B+ words/month with MT. The MT vendor translated words, together with the large public engines around the world would probably easily make over 500B MT words a day! Google even provided us some sense of what the biggest languages if you look closely below. My rough estimation tells me that this means that the traditional translation industry does about 0.016% of the total words translated every day or that computers do ~99.84% of all language translation done today.

See the full post in eMpTy Pages here:

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Why a hospital is taking farm workers out of the field and training them as medical interpreters

By: Paula Durrosier

[...] Natividad Hospital, in the town of Salinas on California’s Central Coast, is ground zero. This hospital, surrounded by fields, serves many farm workers in the valley.

Several years ago, you would’ve been lucky to find even a certified Spanish-language interpreter at Natividad. This was a problem — a problem that became clear to Linda Ford when she became the CEO of the hospital’s foundation nearly a decade ago.
“I first went into the emergency department and asked one of the doctor’s ‘is there anything you need in this emergency department.’ And he was so frustrated and just said, ‘I can’t talk to my patients, I cannot talk to my patients.’”

After doing a language assesment, Ford found that four of the language most commonly spoken by patients coming to the hospital were Native Mexican languages. And within those four Native Mexican languages, there were dozens of variants.

Yet finding indigenous interpreters proved to be a challenge. More.

See: PRI

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Native English speakers are the world’s worst communicators

By: Eva Stoppa

[...] When such misunderstandings happen, it’s usually the native speakers who are to blame. Ironically, they are worse at delivering their message than people who speak English as a second or third language, according to Chong.
“A lot of native speakers are happy that English has become the world’s global language. They feel they don’t have to spend time learning another language,” says Chong. “But… often you have a boardroom full of people from different countries communicating in English and all understanding each other and then suddenly the American or Brit walks into the room and nobody can understand them.” More.

See: BBC

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How do you revive a language if tribal elders don’t want you to?

By: Paula Durrosier

[...] Indigenous languages were disappearing. Tribes started noticing there were fewer fluent speakers in their communities. There was a real push across Indian Country to try and preserve these languages — even among my friends. I grew inspired to do something, too.
I went to tribal linguist Stan Lucero with the idea of doing an oral history project together. He knew my grandmother. They were neighbors for years. He liked my project and agreed to work with me. And for a month or so, we saw some progress. But when Lucero pitched the idea to the tribal council, they got spooked — by, of all things, a bunch of boy scouts. More.

See: PRI

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Startup helps Japanese seniors becomelanguage teachers for foreigners

By: Paula Durrosier

With the help of an IT company’s initiative, some Japanese seniors are given a worthwhile and productive role in the community as language teachers for foreigners.

Kashiwa-based IT company Helte Co. recently began employing elderly people living in nursing homes to teach the Japanese language to overseas learners through video-to-video communication.

Instead of just being isolated, the elderly citizens are given a chance to connect with others, while fulfilling the need of foreigners who are in need of learning Japanese with a native speaker. More.

See: NextShark

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NPO offers online Japanese-language classes for resident children from abroad

Source: The Japan Times
Story flagged by: Paula Durrosier

A Tokyo-based nonprofit organization will begin offering online Japanese-language classes this month to children from abroad who need help to keep up in class at Japanese elementary and junior high schools.

Youth Support Center’s YSC Global School in Fussa, western Tokyo, is set to offer instruction provided by language education experts via personal computers or tablets to young foreign nationals living anywhere in Japan. The NPO will cooperate with municipalities and schools without sufficient resources to teach Japanese to such children. More.

See: The Japan Times

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Is it actually harder to learn a language when you’re older?

Source: The Huffington Post Australia
Story flagged by: Paula Durrosier

Whether you are relocating, heading overseas for work — or, hey, maybe you’re just looking to immerse yourself on your next holiday — picking up a new language is both a useful and appealing tool.

But does it get harder as we get older?

“This is not necessarily a fact. If you set your mind to learning a new language as an adult, there is no reason why you can’t be extremely proficient,” Dr Ahmar Mahboob, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Sydney, told the Huffington Post Australia. More.

See: The Huffington Post Australia

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