Archive for February, 2010

Is that a fish in your ear, or are you just happy to hear me?

Google is working hard on re-creating Douglas Adams‘ famous idea of a babel fish, but will they succeed (source)? They are facing two main issues:

1. Voice recognition – I do not use it on my iPhone, and it drives me nuts in the car. So what grand technological secrets can they possibly have up their sleeve?

2. Translation – No machine translation will ever be as good as a human translator. Or will it? Will I have to go and look for another career? With so much content in so many languages now being posted to the internet, all you would have to do is feed it into a database and somehow map/match phrases or segments. Trouble is, not everyone is a professional writer. So how do you allow for typos, poor grammar and lack of punctuation? Never mind the complexities of human language.

To be continued…


Three percent

Books translated into English from other languages account for no more than 3 percent of the American book market (source). This, to me, can mean only one of two things:

1) There are a lot of original works being published in the US, enough to cover the domestic market. By sheer volume alone, any foreign translations become invisible and do not reach their potential readership.

2) American readers are suspicious of translations. Plus, they don’t want to read anything by non-American authors.

So, which is it? Are readers really aware when a book is a translation and when it isn’t? Thoughts?

Ken Lee

This made me laugh so hard that I absolutely must share it with the world:

A fine example of NOT mastering a language! 😉

Seven thousand languages to reach everyone

I love numbers. So here are some:

It would take 83 languages to reach 80 percent of all the people in the world, and over 7,000 languages to reach everyone. — Evolution and Revolution in Translation Management (source)

Current world population is ~6,830,586,985 (source), or 6.8 billion. Worldwide internet users are ~1,733,993,741 (source), or 1.7 billion. This means that ~25.4% of the world population use or have access to the internet.

So do we need > 7,000 languages to reach these 25.4%? Here is the Top 10 list (source):

  • English
  • Chinese
  • Spanish
  • Japanese
  • French
  • Portuguese
  • German
  • Arabic
  • Russian
  • Korean

No big surprise? Sure, but Arabic had the highest internet usage growth rate of them all – 1,900% growth from 2000 to 2009 (yes, that’s one thousand and nine hundred percent; more than 200% per year), followed by Russian (1,400%) and Chinese (1,000%).

A translator is a person who writes

Some time ago, I came across the quote “A writer is a person who writes,” and it seemed a bit odd to me at the time. Of course a writer writes. Right? Well, it was really hinting at how much hard work writing is, and that talent is just the tip of the iceberg.

I think this is also true of translation (and many other crafts that require a lot of writing). It is one thing to speak a second language fluently. But it’s quite another to truly transport one language’s meaning and flavor into another.

Since practise makes perfect I decided 2 minutes ago to start this blog. So there you have it. Enjoy!

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