A while back, we discovered this infographic of words that don’t have a direct translation in English. We loved it so much that we decided to see if there were any more words like these and create our own. So here it is – 10 cool words that don’t exist in English. Please do share any other suggestions as we’re sure there are many, many more…
As always, you’re welcome to share this post with friends, or embed the infographic on your own website, if you’d like to.
Infographic created by Alex, who did all the research, and Luke, our fab graphic designer 🙂
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‘How are we going to do that in 41 languages?’
This was the question that Rick Dempsey, senior vice president of Creative Disney Characters Voices International, asked himself when he first heard the ice queen’s song in the new Disney movie Frozen.
Dempsey has the incredibly interesting (if you’re a language geek, like me) job of finding foreign language voice artists for the localised international versions of the movie. As the market for films, TV shows and games has become ever more global, companies like Disney are having to move fast in producing translated versions of their films. No simple task, considering the entire film must not only be translated, but also adapted to the culture of another country.
And, especially with a Disney film, the voices are incredibly important. Idina Menzel, who sings the original English-language songs, has a powerful, rich and warm voice. Part of Dempsey’s job is to find a singer with similar qualities to the actor’s voice in each country. Not only that, but the translations of the songs must be tailored as closely as possible to the animation. If you ever watch dubbed movies in another language you speak, you may notice that what the voice artists are saying doesn’t match up with the English subtitles… This is because subtitlers often have to change, adapt and tailor the language to match up with the actors’ (or animations’) lip movements, body language and what’s on screen at the time.
Watching the multilingual version of ‘Let it Go’, you can see how fantastically both the voices and the words have been matched up with the original animation, and how the singers have been picked to match the character and to sound as similar as possible to the English voice.
Nat and I often have the similar (but on a much smaller scale!) task of picking foreign voice artists for our apps, including Maths and uTalk. Picking someone for the task isn’t a simple matter of whose voice sounds good – although this is important! We also have to check that each voiceover artist’s accent is appropriate for the target country (i.e. not a regional accent, or that they don’t pronounce any words in a non-native or non-RP way), that the voice sounds natural and native to a speaker of the language (some people who have been in the UK for a long time may have slightly lost their native accent), and that the voice suits the product. For Maths, we look for warm, friendly and young voices with plenty of enthusiasm. For uTalk, clear pronounciation and a neutral accent are most important.
So, I’m definitely keeping my eye out for a job with Disney on localising their next movie!
Recently, Alex wrote about the way languages borrow words from each other. She pointed out that in English, we’re always using words from other languages, sometimes without even realising it, with déjà vu, karate and Zeitgeist being just a few examples.
But is this mixing of languages a good thing, or should languages remain ‘pure’?
Hoji Takahashi, a 71-year-old man from Japan, hit the headlines a few weeks ago when he sued the country’s public TV station, NHK, for the mental distress he’s suffered as a result of them using too many words derived from English. A couple of the examples given were toraburu (trouble) and shisutemu (system).
He’s not alone – many elderly Japanese people have trouble understanding these ‘loan words’, and the government has apparently been under pressure for over ten years to try and do something about the dominance of American English in Japan, which has been growing ever since World War II.
The lawsuit is quite controversial, with some dismissing it as ridiculous and others giving Mr Takahashi their full support. But whatever your view, it does raise an interesting question – one that we at EuroTalk often face when translating the vocabulary for our software. Should we go with the word that people most often use, or the one that’s technically correct in the original language?
It’s a difficult decision, particularly when translating for people who want to learn a language, because we know that we have a responsibility to get it right; language learners are putting their faith in us to teach them the correct words, so they’ll be able to speak to people and won’t be embarrassed by saying the wrong thing. But at the same time, the ‘correct’ word might not be the one that they’ll actually need when they get to wherever they’re going. This is particularly the case with African languages, where many words are adapted from French, and indigenous South American languages, where the Spanish influence is very clear. And it can be frustrating for someone who’s just starting to learn a new language to find that half the words are not actually in that language at all.
A few examples:
– In Maltese, the correct word for ‘airport’ is ‘mitjar’, but everyone says ‘arjuport’.
– In Swahili, although ‘tomato’ is ‘nyanya’, ‘tomato ketchup’ is known as ‘tomato’, although the technically correct translation is ‘kechapu ya nyanya’.
– In Tumbuka, when counting to 20, Tumbuka numbers are used, but beyond 20 the numbers revert to English.
There are many more examples, as we’ve discovered over the years and particularly when working on the translations for the new uTalk app. Each new translation is carefully considered and discussed to decide on the best choice from a practical point of view, selecting the word most people would actually use in real life – even if this means some people, like Mr Takahashi, don’t agree with the final result.
What do you think? Should language learning software teach a language in its purest form, or is it better to learn the words that are most commonly used, even if they’re borrowed from another language?
Reading Nat’s post about all the fascinating linguistic differences and difficulties that she and her translators experienced when translating the new uTalk app, I was reminded of some of the similar issues we’ve had in localising the maths apps. What seems totally normal to a three-year-old in the UK might not be all that familiar to a kid in Malawi, for a start! Not to mention the fact that (unfortunately for us English speakers), not all languages follow our grammar rules. Here are a few of the cultural and language localisation issues we’ve come across recently…
In Swedish, there were a couple of interesting language differences, for example: you cannot use the same word for ‘height’ in Swedish for an object such as a house as for a person (Välj det Längsta barnet – choose the tallest child, but Välj det högsta trädet – the tallest tree), whereas in English we can say short or tall regardless of the object.
In Malawi, some of the ‘everyday’ objects featured in the apps probably seemed more than a little strange. In fact, Chichewa is strongly based on words for things that people see and encounter in daily life. Our translator had to get a bit creative and come up with ‘equivalent’ names for objects such as a robot (a doll in the Chichewa version), a turnip (a potato in the app), a dragon (she had to use a description meaning ‘a fierce animal’) or a fridge (replaced by a cupboard). There are also many more ‘technical’ words which don’t exist in traditional Chichewa, such as shapes. These are therefore normally given English names with a slight Chichewa accent (sikweya, trayango, rekitango and so on).
This is quite similar in Wolof: many items simply do not have a name in Wolof, or the words are unfamilar to most young people. Many items are therefore named in French instead, such as animals (giraffe), shapes (cercle) or fruits (banane). Above about 10, Wolof-speakers also tend to revert to French numbers instead of the more complex Wolof system (similar to the Chichewa – 5 and 1, 5 and 2…).
As with the uTalk app, Polish proved an especially problematic language for us too. One of the biggest issues was that in Polish the word for ‘you’ is dependent on gender. The translator mainly dealt with this by saying ‘we’ (e.g. Nauczyliśmy się/robiliśmy – we learned/were learning how to…), rather than addressing the child playing the app as male or female. It is also not usual to use prepositions such as ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ when describing the location of an object. e.g. instead of saying ‘the book is outside the cupboard’, Poles would normally say ‘the book is not in the cupboard’. Similarly to many other languages, some of the objects were also not very familiar: a cricket bat is not a well-known object, so it was translated as kijek – a little bat, and mangoes were translated as owoce – a fruit, as mangoes are not a ‘usual’ fruit in Poland – the same was the case with the Hungarian app, where we translated mango as gyumolc – also a generic word for fruit.
In Portuguese, there is no real way to distinguish between ‘more’ and ‘most’ or ‘less’ and ‘least’. Mais means both more and most, and menos less/least/fewer/fewest. This is also the case in Welsh: ‘bigger’ and ‘biggest’ translate to mwy and mwyaf respectively, but ‘more’ and ‘most’ also translate to mwy and mwyaf. The same goes for ‘smaller’/’smallest’ and ‘less’/’least’ (llai, lleiaf). On the other hand, there are different words for top and bottom shelves. Generally ‘top’ and ‘bottom’ are top and gwaelod but ‘top shelf’ and ‘bottom shelf’ are silff uchaf and silff usaf.
I was also intrigued to find out that in Amharic (an African language spoken in Ethiopia), they have a completely different system for telling the time: ‘1 o’clock’ does not mean lunch time, it in fact means ‘the first hour of the day’, i.e. when the sun comes up, and the rest of the day is counted from there. In fact, “Telling the time’ has been one of the hardest topics to localise, as our ideas of what happens at what time are not exactly international. Our French translator not only found the idea of eating a boiled egg for breakfast rather funny, but also pointed out that schools finish at 5 in France, not 3 as in the app, and a child would eat dinner at 7 or 8, not at 5 or 6! In Spain this is even funnier, as Spanish children regularly eat their dinner at 9 p.m., and go to sleep at 10 p.m. or perhaps later at the weekend or on holiday.
These are just a few of the language and cultural issues we’ve encountered on the maths translation project, and there are sure to be more! We have 10+ new languages ready to be released, and many more in the pipeline, so watch this space!
And also now available (in English only for the time being), Counting to 10, our first maths practice app, is on sale in the iTunes App Store for iPhone, iPod touch and iPad, and Google Play, for Android devices.
Our post today is by Izabella Klein, who’s been working with us to translate our maths apps into Brazilian Portuguese. Izabella’s post is about the importance of getting to know your target audience as a translator, and understanding more than just the words used.
Have you ever read an article, document or webpage in your own language that you can clearly see has been translated from another language? The sentences don’t really make sense, or have wordings that are not commonly used where you come from or where it’s been published. Do you get bored or lose interest because of this? I would say most likely yes!
There are two main reasons for this. One, it has been translated by a translation device. Or two, it has been translated by real people, but they were not careful to take into consideration the target public – you.
Reason number one I will disregard, because I strongly do not recommend this option for translation. But let’s go a bit deeper into reason number two, and look at why many translations are not handled carefully, to catch the attention of the readers, or even just make them understandable.
Let’s take the English language as an example. How many different countries in the world speak English as a first language? USA, England, Australia, some of Canada, some of Africa and even more. But, although it is all English, each one of them has a particular way of communicating; they use different words, they have different local parlance, slang and so on. Spanish is another language spoken worldwide as a first language; take Spain, Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, Chile, Peru, Venezuela and Ecuador for example. And even if we talk specifically about Spain, they still have other variations, such as Catalan and Galician.
So, even if someone is fluent in a specific language, that doesn’t mean they are capable of translating perfectly to that language in any place in the world where this is the native language. You must understand the minimum of their culture, their slang, and how they usually communicate something that you are interested in communicating to them.
I’ll take myself as an example. I’ve been working for Japanese people for the last couple of years as a linguist, using Portuguese and English as source and target languages. In the beginning it was a hard task. Much of what was said or written to me was difficult to understand: their awkward accent, the different words they used (words that are in the dictionary, but I’d never really heard people saying them on a daily basis), or incomplete sentences. So I had to get used to their weird English sentences, sometimes just random words that I had to put together like a puzzle and figure out the missing words. But, in the end, it was just a matter of adapting to their culture, or to JapanEnglish as I call it. Now, I feel 100% confident while working with them. I had to spend a year studing their different habits, and basically dig a way into making myself understandable in their language, in this case JapanEnglish.
You might say JapanEnglish is not really a language, but I argue that it is. It’s just a mixture of Japanese and English, the same way Catalan is a mixture of Spanish and French; and Galician a mixture of Spanish and Portuguese. The only difference is JapanEnglish is not an official language. My point here is that it’s important to realise why you must get to know your target public as deeply as possible, so that your translation work will be accurate.
I can also take my internship at EuroTalk as a second example of my work experience. I worked in app localisation, focused on teaching maths to very young children. Some might say it must have been an easy task. But actually it was not that easy. Children are different from adults, they use different vocabulary and they can easily get distracted. Plus, you can’t use a completely different vocabulary than teachers use at school, because the main idea is to reinforce what they will learn or are already learning at school; otherwise you might just confuse them, which will mean unhappy children and parents.
I know that for most linguists time is money, as it is for most people, but a piece of advice from what I have learned during my career is, take some time and effort to study your market. I believe that if you do, your chances of boosting your career are greater.