Chinese New Year fit for the credit crunch?

Yesterday saw the start of the Chinese New Year, celebrating the Year of the Ox. The festival begins on the first day of the first lunar month of the Chinese Calendar. This calendar far pre-dates the internationally used Gregorian calendar, with evidence of its use as far back as the second millennium BC.

Naturally London will be the scene for several New Year celebrations, including a parade, stalls and dances in central London on Sunday 1 February. Last year’s celebrations saw 50,000 people attend the grand parade and welcoming ceremony in Trafalgar Square. At WorldAccent, we have been busy with various posters and adverts expressing clients’ new year wishes – mostly written in Traditional Chinese for a UK audience.

Once the celebrations are over, what might this Year of the Ox bring us? The Ox is thought to signify prosperity but through fortitude and hard work.

Furthermore, according to tradition, the Ox is never extravagant. One contemporary interpretation of this facet is that an Ox is nervous of living off credit cards or being in debt. In the on-going credit crunch, perhaps this will truly be the year of the Ox?

More into Chinese language

There is mixed news in a new report on languages in secondary schools from the National Centre for Languages (CiLT). They looked at a sample of schools across the UK in a survey they have carried out each year since 2002.

First the good news. State schools in the UK are starting to offer a much broader range of foreign languages than the traditional French or German. Since 2005 the number of schools offering Mandarin as an option has increased from 2% to 14%, while Italian has increased from 7% to 18%. The availability of Urdu, Russian and Arabic has also increased.

With China’s growing influence in the world, making Mandarin available as a foreign language option can only be a good thing. And learning it from an early age is no bad thing either, as some people find it difficult to adapt to the Mandarin pronunciation later in life.

Many also find it difficult to get to grips with the writing system which uses individual characters for particular words or concepts. The examples featured in the Chinese GCSE specification (PDF) I looked at were written in Simplified Chinese, as one would expect for people learning Mandarin with an eye to interacting with mainland China (or more correctly the People’s Republic of China).

This at least reduces the number of characters that need to be learned, although there are still thousands!

And it is interesting to note that many Traditional Chinese characters seem to be gaining currency even in the PRC as the influence of Hong Kong is felt.

There is a down side exposed in the CiLT report though. Although the decline in foreign languages in our schools has bottomed out, this summer saw just 44% of Key Stage 4 (ie 16 year old) pupils sit a language GCSE. Compare this to France where the teaching of English is compulsory up to age 17.

Although many schools are taking up alternative qualifications to GCSE to tempt pupils to learn languages, we still lag some way behind many other EU countries.

My daughter is currently going through the process of chososing her GCSE subject and to try to ensure she takes at least one foreign language I will be directing her here – 700 reasons why it is good to learn another language.

Is Arabic translation of credit crunch a spending spree?

I’ve mentioned before that I am a big fan of Charlton Athletic football club and the past few weeks have been a real rollercoaster for us fans. For a while I thought my separate worlds of football and Arabic translation would be brought together as Dubai based Zabeel Investments made an “indicative offer” to buy the club. Following the take-over of Manchester City by the Arabic group ADUG, it’s no wonder fans’ thoughts turned to Fantasy Football transfers we could expect to see arrive at the Valley.

In the end the deal did not go through as Zabeel are looking to concentrate on investing in property and tourism nearer home. It all made me think about how, in this time of world economic gloom, oil rich Middle East companies look set to try to diversify.

In the United Arab Emirates alone, there is currently around £200 billion worth of active construction projects while the Dubai International Financial Centre aims to massively expand the financial sector with tax, rent and regulatory breaks. Meanwhile the Palm Islands are a massive real estate and tourism development – the largest land reclamation project in the world, increasing Dubai’s shoreline by 520 km. All of this has made the United Arab Emirates one of the fastest growing economies in the world, with some estimates putting GDP growth in 2006 at a staggering 35 percent.

The vast sums of money are not restricted to the Arab world as business opportunities are sought out around the world. So we see Barclays bank raising £7.3 billion from Middle East investors. Other famous names that have seen an influx of Arabic capital include P&O, Aston Martin and Madame Tussauds.

In these times of doom and gloom news stories, it’s no wonder that such growth, investment and let’s face it, plain cash, is catching people’s attention and many other companies have their eyes set on pulling in some of that investment.

All of which probably goes to explain why we have been inundated with Arabic translation and typesetting over the last few weeks!

Welsh translation is out of the office

Another day, another story of the dangers of non-expert translation. Officials at a Welsh council needed a road sign translated from English to Welsh, and unsuspectingly used the Welsh response to their email request.

Unfortunately for them, and to the hilarity of local Welsh speakers, the response was actually an automated “out of office” response.

As Dylan Iorwerth of Welsh-language magazine Golwg commented, “When they’re proofing signs, they should really use someone who speaks Welsh”.

We couldn’t agree more!

How would you answer “Fit like ma loon?”

Me I stood and let my jaw drop, wondering what language it was. In fact it turned out the question was in English. Or at least the variant of it spoken in the north east of Scotland. I was asked the question when introducing myself to a family I was to stay with in a small town on the Spey Valley.

As a Scot myself, growing up in Ayrshire, I had become aware that there was lots of common language there that completely bamboozled English friends. But I hadn’t realised there was such a variation of vocabulary within Scotland itself. After all it is a very small nation which has two distinct languages – English and Gaelic. And while I had occasionally found some accents a bit difficult to get, I had never really had any trouble with understanding vocabulary.

Later in life when I got involved in the business of translation I began to see just how much these regional variations could matter. Spanish is spoken is Spain itself but also throughout a large part of South America. But that doesn’t mean that what makes sense in Madrid will be equally understood in Buenos Aires. Likewise with Portuguese. A Brazilian friend, who always thought he spoke perfect Portuguese, found himself struggling to be understood on holiday in the Algarve.

But I digress. Back to my predicament when meeting my landlady in the north east of Scotland. It turns out – as I came to realise during my stay there – that what I should have replied is:

“Nae sae bad quinie, fit like yasel?”

Or in plain English she asked me “How are you sir” and I should have replied “Not bad, how are you madam?”

Mark International Translation Day with our free card

In what way are language celebration days like buses? You wait for ages and then two come along at once! After last week’s European Day of Languages, this Tuesday marks International Translation Day.

The translation day was established in 1991 by the Fédération Internationale des Traducteurs (International Federation of Translators). The date of 30 September was chosen as it is the feast day of St. Jerome (347-420 AD), patron saint of translators, interpreters and librarians. The day celebrates and promotes translation as an essential activity in contemporary society – but one which too often remains invisible and ignored.

Each year a particular theme, highlighting a different area of translation, is adopted – with this year’s being “Terminology: Words Matter”. As the Federation put it, “the specific need is for words that matter, words that describe a previously identified concept and that contribute to the clarity and effectiveness of communication in a given field of expertise, environment or community.”

As a small celebration of this year’s International Translation Day, here is a greeting card for you. Feel free to also pass it on to your friends, clients or colleagues:

Celebrating Languages across Europe on Friday

This Friday, 26 September, is European Day of Languages when people across the European Union are meant to get together to celebrate language and cultural diversity. The day is sponsored by the Council of Europe and in their words is designed to be:

• A Europe-wide celebration of all the world’s languages
• A day to kick-start language learning
• A chance to raise awareness about the value of language skills

The Day was first celebrated in 2001 and has grown every year since. And the recent expansion of the EU has seen languages such as Latvian, Lithuanian and Romanian added to the languages being celebrated.

And it is not only European languages. In my house what the day has meant is that my daughter, who normally has to wear a uniform to school, is going in dressed in a Punjabi national costume that her aunt brought her from a trip to India. And other girls will be wearing national costumes from across the globe celebrating the multi-cultural, multi-lingual nature of the school and London as a whole.

To help everyone celebrate European Day of Languages, here is a PDF guide to saying “hello” in all the EU’s native languages and some more besides.

Should Italian use English words?

No visitor to Italy can miss the stream of adverts using English phrases, or the now ubiquitous “il weekend”. Today, the BBC news site has a report on a study in Italy about the infiltration of English into Italian.

The study by the respected Dante Alighieri Society [website in Italian] shows that many feel it has gone too far. In fact, the authors call on Italians to reject what they dub “Anglitalianco”. How successful they will be remains to be seen, when even those stalwart defenders of their language, the French, have come to accept borrow words such as “le shopping”.

But the question that occurs to me is: how far should we “defend” a language? Language is a living thing, it grows and borrows quite naturally. English itself is littered with words borrowed from other languages and continues to adopt them. So is insisting on “fine settimana” instead of weekend resisting linguistic imperialism or being a stick in the mud? I don’t know the answer, but as so often with language, it’s a fascinating debate.

Strategy for surviving recession?

It seems like every day there are new headlines of doom, gloom and forthcoming recession. Whilst the American recession has perhaps had less of an impact on the global economy than it would have done in the past, the overwhelming evidence of global recession casts a grey cloud over small businesses.

Earlier this month, an OECD report suggested that Britain’s economy would fare worst amongst those of the G7 in the last two quarters of 2008. This gloomy message was reinforced yesterday when the European Commission also predicted that the UK would fall into recession in the second half of this year.

The web is flooded with “recession help” sites. It would seem that everyone wants to put in his or her piece on how to avoid economic doom, and I’m afraid I’m no exception! But here I want to consider one way of keeping company finances healthy that is often overlooked: translation into one or more foreign languages.

Although the downturn is global it’s by no means uniform – for a small outlay you can tap into an international market, effectively “recession proofing” your company. Even near-by in Europe, you can find more reasons for optimism. France and Italy, for example, look set to be spared recession, while Poland is considered to have one of the fastest growing economies at present, with an annual growth rate of 6.0%.

On top of that, the weak pound may have been painful during our summer holidays – but it makes UK goods and services attractive to global consumers.

It seems almost paradoxical to expand in order to avoid recession, but business strategist Richard Denny disagrees: “When the going gets tough, business owners should step up their sales and marketing activity rather than cut back”. And what better way to do this than to break into a market less burdened with downturn?

Signs of confusion

A newspaper snippet the other day set me thinking about the problems any copywriter or translator can face in getting a wording which is not only accurate but also pleases their client.

It seems Tesco have been having problems with the signs at their express checkouts which are deigned for customers with a small amount of shopping. They have long raised hackles among the grammatically pedantic with the sign’s wording of “10 items or less”. Some argued the signs should read “10 items or fewer” which, while it might be technically correct, sounds clumsy.

Tesco asked various English experts which was right but got contradictory advice. In the end they consulted the Plain English campaign who suggested “up to 10 items” – and this is what Tesco will be using in future.

Sadly, as many people have pointed out, this introduces a new confusion as to whether exactly 10 items is acceptable or not!

If experts in English grammar cannot agree on the wording for something so simple as a sign, it is little wonder matters get even more complicated when another language is involved. Translators often find clients changing their translation to something they feel happier with – regardless of whether the original translation was perfectly understandable or not.

The important point is to negotiate a wording that is clear and that both the author and reader take the same meaning from. The only way to do that is see translation and copywriting as a two way process, where communication is the key to refining a final wording.