Language translation is the fourth thing done on the internet.

Only 20% of respondents said that they would pay for human translation in China.  They say that this is because current machine translations do not currently reach their expectation.  Can we confer from this that once it is better that even these will be less inclined to rely on a human?  In an ideal world a mix of both would surely be advantageous but only time will tell.

Do we teach langauge to pass exams or experience the culture, thinking and values?

Just had to reblog this in its entirety from i talk you talk…langauges. It sums up the experience of so many children and adults and why some adults feel they are no good at languages whereas what they are is no good at passing exams which are structured so formulaically that if you get the wrong word then you are wrong.

I have emboldened the most interesting sentences that describe this really well, and italicised my ideas or experiences.

Linguistic hospitality – its predicament is that of a correspondence without complete adhesion. (Paul Ricoeur – On Translation, Bayard 2004) pp 19-20

Yesterday, a fourteen year old, (who I have been teaching privately since she was two), showed me her English test results from school. One of her answers had been marked wrong, and she didn’t know why.

The task was to translate into English, a letter from a student telling her friend about her trip to the US.

At the end of the letter, my student summed up the trip with:

“It was a wonderful experience.”

This was marked wrong by the teacher.

According to the teacher, the correct (and only) answer was:

“I had a happy experience.”

My student’s sentence was, in my opinion, more natural, however as it did not match the “correct” translation in the answer key, or the teacher’s expectations, it was marked wrong.

I understand why the teacher did this, and why this is pretty standard throughout English education here. Not all teachers are of the level where they can discern if a sentence is natural (or even correct), and having so many things to do and so little time to do them in, they will go by the answer key, as if they were marking arithmetic tests.

It goes without saying, such education results in stilted, unnatural sounding English, and a belief that there is a correspondence with complete adhesion, a perfect translation, (the literal, direct one of course), and that any deviation is “wrong”. You don’t have to look very far to see that this belief is alive and well in many areas of society.

However, I think it goes deeper than that.

It ignores the whole cultural context behind the languages in question. By encouraging a language to be twisted, contorted and made to fit the confines of another and its cultural context, irrespective of what lies at its core, it fails to acknowledge differences in thinking, culture, communication and values.

It also deprives students of the opportunity to learn about their own culture and values. It is by understanding the Other that we come to understand ourselves.

I don’t think we come to an understanding by hammering the Other into a mould or model of ourselves, (or into the language components that contain our thoughts and perspectives, and so by default contain “us”).

In the words of Paul Ricoeur:

“Just as in the act of telling a story, we can translate differently, without hope of filling the gap between equivalence and total adequacy. Linguistic hospitality then, where the pleasure of dwelling in the other’s language is balanced by the pleasure of receiving the foreign word at home, in one’s own welcoming house.” (On Translation 2006 Routledge pg 10)

So basically, no two languages are reducible to a mathematical-like equation. We cannot have a perfect copy of one in another. Each language carries its cultural context in its words and expressions.

Should children be taught language as if it were a mechanical subject, or even as something which can be stripped of its context and hammered into one’s own, until it becomes a satisfactory “mini-me”, subsumed in one’s own context? Should they be taught that what they have produced in this manner is correct?  Not only correct, but the only answer? The only mode of expression? The only translation?

Fair enough, the teachers have to work in the confines of an education system which is designed to test knowledge and nothing more, but perhaps explaining to the children that there are many ways of expressing the same thought, even in their own native language, would help them see that nothing is set in stone. Ideas can be explained in other ways, often in the pursuit of clarity, even within one language.

I often have to point out to adult students who look at me suspiciously when I translate something that does not use the words or structure they expected, that even in their own language, there are numerous ways to express the same idea or thought. Perhaps their suspicion stems from the kind of education which upholds one and only one answerSo many people complain that it isn’t exactly the same and I feel that this is due to their lack of understanding and almost being scared of languages so they feel uncomfortable with the unknown whereas knowing un,eine = one then they can trust the system. The same is said of machine translations, we try to counteract the feeling of fear by telling people that its about communication no exact translation. Those who take this on board find a more natural way of communication with parents and learners in our experience. 

Ricoeur again:

“It is texts, not sentences, not words, that our texts try to translate…The work of the translator does not move from the word to the sentence, to the text, to the cultural group, but conversely: absorbing vast interpretations of the spirit of a culture, the translator comes down again from the text, to the sentence and to the word.” (On Translation pg 32)

So perhaps, foreign language education shouldn’t consist of translation activities at the word level from the junior high school age. Doing so, at such an elementary level, where students often lack the grammatical and lexical tools and cultural competency to perform translation from text down to word level, can perhaps only result in it becoming a mechanical process from word to text, and with no deviation from the standard answer in an answer key. Particularly so, if the whole purpose of this education is not communication or cultural understanding, but to pass tests which only allow for one correct answer.

So what about those students, who, like the girl I teach, have been learning English for communicative purposes for most of their lives and so have developed a sense for the language within its own cultural context? Or returnees who grew up in English-speaking countries and understand the language better than the teacher? Must they really have that sense they have developed eroded? Must they force their English into the patterns of an unrelated context? What should my student do from now on? Conform? Rebel? – – Yes, what should they do? or what should we do,we who are aware of the problem? It is in our hands.

All I could say to her yesterday, was that this is the way it is, conform on your tests, but understand that is what you are doing, conforming, and speak with me as you always have. What else could I say? Just explain the difference between real communication and tests and their love of language will pull them through, as an adult as they go into the real world as a truly global citizen, maybe they will be the person that helps change the world’s perception of language and take away the fear so that more can experience the cultural, thinking and values of other places and languages.

Thank You in lots of languages

Found this brill site where everyone can help and collaborate with words.  Here is Thank you in lots of languages.

find more at


ALBANIAN faleminderit
ARABIC chokrane
ARABIC (TUNISIAN) Barak Allahu fiik
ARMENIAN chnorakaloutioun
AZERI çox sag olun / tesekkur edirem
BAMBARA a ni kié
BASQUE eskerrik asko (southern basque) / milesker (northern basque)
BELARUSIAN Дзякую (dziakuju)
BENGALI dhanyabaad
BISHLAMAR tangio tumas
BOBO a ni kié
BRETON trugéré / trugaré / trugarez
BULGARIAN мерси (merci) / благодаря (blagodaria)
BURMESE (thint ko) kyay tzu tin pa te
CATALAN gràcies
CEBUANO salamat
CHECHEN Баркал (barkal)
CHINESE xièxie
CZECH děkuji / díky
DARI tashakor
DOGON gha-ana / birepo
DUALA na som
DUTCH dank u wel (formal) / dank je (informal)
ENGLISH thank you
ESTONIAN tänan / tänan väga (thank you very much)
EWÉ akpé
FANG akiba
FAROESE takk fyri
FIDJIAN vinaka
FINNISH kiitos
FRENCH merci
FRISIAN dankewol
FRIULAN gracie
GALICIAN gracias / graciñas
GALLO merkzi
GEORGIAN დიდი მადლობა (didi madloba)
GERMAN danke
GREEK ευχαριστώ (efharisto)
GUARANÍ aguyjé
HINDI dhanyavad
HUNGARIAN köszönöm
INDONESIAN terima kasih
IRISH GAELIC go raibh maith agat (to 1 person) / go raibh maith agaibh (to several people)
ITALIAN grazie
JAPANESE arigatô
KABYLIAN tanemirt
KANNADA dhanyavadagalu
KAZAKH rahmet
KHMER akun
KIKONGO matondo
KIRUNDI murakoze
KOREAN 감사합니다 (gamsa hamnida)
KRIO tenki
KYRGYZ Рахмат (rahmat)
LAO khob chai (deu)
LARI matondo
LATIN gratias ago (from 1 pers.) gratias agimus (from X pers.)
LATVIAN paldies
LINGALA matondi
LOW SAXON bedankt / dank ju wel
MACEDONIAN blagodaram
MALAGASY misaotra
MALAY terima kasih
MALTESE niżżik ħajr / grazzi / nirringrazzjak
MAORI kia ora
MARATHI aabhari aahe / aabhar / dhanyavaad
MICMAC welalin
MONGOLIAN bayarlalaa (Баярлалаа)
MORÉ barka
OCCITAN mercé / grandmercé
OJIBWE miigwetch
OSSETIAN бузныг [buznyg]
PASCUAN mauruuru
PASHTO manana
PERSIAN motashakkeram, mamnun (formal) / mochchakkeram, mamnun, mersi (informal)
POLISH dziękuję
PORTUGUESE obrigado (M speaking) / obrigada (F speaking)
PUNJABI sukriya
QUECHUA sulpáy
ROMANI najis tuke
ROMANIAN mulţumesc
RUSSIAN спасибо (spacibo)
SAMOAN faafetai lava
SARDINIAN gratzias
SCOTTISH GAELIC tapadh leat (singular, familiar) tapadh leibh (plural, respectful)
SERBIAN хвала (hvala)
SESOTHO ke ya leboha
SHIMAORE marahaba
SHONA waita (plural: maita)
SINDHI meharbani
SINHALA stuutiyi
SLOVAK ďakujem
SOBOTA hvala
SOMALI waad mahadsantahay
SONINKÉ nouari
SPANISH gracias
SWAHILI asante / asante sana
TAGALOG salamat (po)
TAHITIAN mauruuru
TAJIK rahmat
TAMIL nandri
TATAR rahmat
TELUGU dhanyavadalu
THAI ขอบคุณค่ะ (kop khun kha) – woman speaking ขอบคุณครับ (kop khun krap) – man speaking
TIGRINYA yekeniele
TONGA tualumba
TORAJA kurre sumanga
TURKISH teşekkür ederim / sagolun
UKRAINIAN дякую (diakuiu)
URDU shukriya
UYGHUR rahmat
UZBEK rahmat
WALLISIAN malo te ofa
WALOON (“betchfessîs” spelling) gråces / merci thank you very much : gråces (merci) traze côps, gråces (merci) beacôp
WELSH diolch
WOLOF djiere dieuf
XHOSA enkosi
YAQUI kettu’i
YIDDISH a dank
YORUBA o sheun
ZULU ngiyabonga (literally means : I give thanks) siyabonga (= we give thanks) ngiyabonga kakhulu (thanks very much)

How would you feel if you could not communicate?

I empathise with this totally. I often hear people being disparaging about translations, interpretations and the irony is that whether using human or machine translations/interpretations or not they miss the point that communication is happening at the right level and at the right time. This at the end of the day is the most important thing for children and adults in classroom situations. For frontline officers in council offices, general offices, police, health authorities if you are the person at the desk and do not speak the language you immediately feel small and helpless. At this point help for both parties is required. This reminds me did you hear R2 a few weeks ago when John Foxwell from EMASUK talked about their hand held translator – wouldn’t it be good in these situations?–i-can-talk-to–brand-new

ICT Resource for Migrants – Worldwide

Has anyone seen this resource?

EMASUK – have a range of resources to support English as an additional language from a resource vault which teachers can download from 24/7, to talking technologies including Talking Tutor, Text Tutor and the award winning Two Can Talk. Their most recent offering is a hand held unit which can be carried around easily and speaks out in a choice of 25 langauges.  See a video here to show their award winning bilingual book called Pip.

They also do bilingual books that support the first days in a new school, Maths and exam preparation. I found it at