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Posts tagged ‘Czech’


What’s in a name?

Today’s post is written by Simona, who’s from the Czech Republic and working with us here at EuroTalk on the translation and recording of the maths apps. Read on to discover how the Czech language names the months of the year, and to find out how you can win a free EuroTalk download or uTalk app…

Most learners of foreign languages encounter months of the year soon after they start studying. If you have ever tried to learn months of the year in German, French, Italian, Spanish or Russian, you probably found it simple because they are quite similar to the English ones. The reason is those words were derived from Latin. This is not the case with Czech and Polish (with the exceptions of marzec [March] and maj [May] in Polish). But as a native speaker of Czech, I will focus in this post on the Czech names for months. Our terms are derived from words connected with weather, cycles in nature and land cultivation. Let us have a look at what the Czechs call months of the year and what the words mean:

Four seasonsJanuary = leden: led means ice in Czech; weather in the Czech Republic in January is severe with average temperatures below zero.

February = únor: in Old Czech a verb unořit se means that frozen land starts to thaw, which usually happens in February.

March = březen: this word was probably derived from an adjective březí which means gravid (used solely with animals) or from bříza, a birch which begins to sprout in the Czech Republic in March.

April = duben: dub is a Czech word for an oak which begins to sprout in April.

June = červenJuly = červenec: červený means red: during those two months all the summer fruits, such as cherries, sour cherries, peaches, strawberries and raspberries turn red.

August = srpen: srp is a sickle used mostly in September to harvest crops.

September = září: zářit means to shine and the verb is often used in the context of sunshine.

October = říjen: říje is a word for the rutting season of deer.

November = listopad: listopad is a compound word which consists of list – a leaf – and pád – a fall. November is the month when trees lose their leaves.

December = prosinec: the word is derived from proso, which means millet. Historically, December was a harsh month for people in my country. They had to rely on their food supplies, which were limited, and therefore usually ate simple meals. One of the commonest was millet mash.

It is noteworthy that although the Czechs and Slovaks were one nation for so long and the Czech and Slovak languages are like two peas in a pod, the Slovaks call months Január, Február, Marec, Apríl and so on, following the Latin model.

Working for EuroTalk has brought me a lot of experience – not just the professional one for my budding translation career, but it also helps me to get some distance from my mother tongue and realise that what we sometimes consider natural and pretty obvious in our language, others from different cultural backgrounds may find interesting. A stay abroad and communication in a foreign language make you look at things with new eyes.


Do you want to win a free EuroTalk download or uTalk app? Here’s your chance…

In your language, are the months named according to the Latin model? If so, can you come up with some more exciting names for them? We’re offering a free EuroTalk download or uTalk app for the most original suggestion (chosen by us!). Post your ideas in the comments below – with explanations – before 19th August to be in with a chance to win 🙂


The challenges of translation

Over the last six months we’ve had our new free app uTalk translated into over 30 languages, and dealt with over 120 native language speakers who’ve either translated or performed the scripts. Along the way we’ve confronted many challenges which really emphasise how one language can be ambiguous whilst another is precise, and vice versa.

In English, for example, we can go to the shop and ask for a pepper without having to specify the colour, or order a boiled egg without stating whether it should be hard or soft; we refer to brothers and sisters without having to qualify their age; we talk about grandparentsuncles and aunts without saying which side of the family they are on and, perhaps most infuriatingly for non-native speakers (those inclined towards a bit of juicy gossip), we can refer to friends and partners without having to say whether they are male or female. We can be elusive and a little bit mysterious through the vagueness of the English tongue. This is not always the case in every language, and here are a few examples of what we’ve learnt so far:

Brother and sister– In Vietnamese, you don’t just have a brother or sister: there is no general word. Instead, you specifically have an older or younger brother or sister. In Basque, too, there is no generic word, but the difference depends on the gender of the speaker rather than age: my Mum’s word for her brother (neba) will be different to my Dad’s word for his brother (anaia).

Danish has two words for a wall, depending on whether it is an outdoor, brick-built wall or an interior wall.

– In Polish, we debated the straightforward English phrase He scores (a goal), which can be translated with a variety of terms depending primarily on whether he scores visibly, in the eyes of the spectators, or definitely, after verification from the referee.

Mandarin has two separate words for a beach, one for a seaside beach and one for a lakeside beach. It also has two words for jellyfish, depending on whether it is the living animal or the edible delicacy.

– The Romanians use two words for snow – one to describe the falling droplets, one to refer to the layer already on the ground.

As well as these difficulties in trying to get different languages to correspond to each other, we’ve come across some interesting stylistic issues which don’t exist in English:

– In languages such as Czech and Slovak, our translators worried over the best way to tell the time, since it is common to express twenty-five past two as five to half past two, a construction which may initially confuse learners who have never encountered it. (English speakers may also be surprised when they first learn the time in many Slavic languages, where quarter past four is, literally, quarter of the fifth, the implication being that we are in the fifth hour).

– In Chichewa, our translators opted for entirely different and equally valid counting systems: one went for the traditional Chichewa way of counting based on the numbers 1 to 5, followed by increasingly complex and lengthy sums which require quick thinking and an aptitude for arithmetic in everyday transactions; the other opted for the commonly used English loan words- twente eiti (28), faifi (5) etc. Both systems are equally used, understood and widespread in Malawi.

– Our Honduran consultant objected slightly to the inclusion of the word ketchup in the Latin American Spanish script, saying that la salsa de tomate would be more appropriate in his country. But this clashed with our Peruvian consultant’s advice, since ketchup is a widespread word in Peru and the salsa de tomate could refer to any other tomato-based sauce. Our Mexican translator chipped in that in Mexico ketchup is indeed commonly used, though catsup would be equally widespread… In the end, we settled on ketchup as the most generally acceptable in the largest number of places.

– In Polish, there is no good way to translate the phrases at the top of the stairs and at the bottom of the stairs: they would just say on the stairs in both cases. Part of the reason for this is the strange repetition you get if you specify at and on – na górze na schodach. The same odd-sounding repetition caused problems in the Spanish translation of I’m leaving tomorrow at eight in the morning, since the words for tomorrow and morning are identical, thus Me marcho mañana a las ocho de la mañana. It sounds so strange that people would prefer to leave out the first mañana.

These are just a few of the little points of interest we encounter on a regular basis in our translation project, and we’re looking forward to finding more and sharing them with you!


uTalk is now available from the App Store – it’s free to download and includes basic words in 25 languages, with options to upgrade for more vocabulary.