Monthly Archives: April 2015

Huge Stone Clusters and Curly Fu – the Chinese are coming!

Stonehenge – Ju Shi Zhen (Huge stone clusters)

As a professional translator/project manager, I naturally take a wide interest in languages beyond my everyday work. I enjoy both the serious and the tongue-in-cheek articles we post here on the Global Connects blog and also the more important messages that underpin many of them, around (social) justice, the importance of languages to business, especially exports and tourism, and also the need to use professional interpreters and translators who understand nuance and tone, rather than rely on machine translation.

A recent article in the Guardian seemed to encapsulate some of these themes, in particular the importance of language to the tourism industry, and specifically how we communicate with the increasing numbers of Chinese tourists coming to the UK.

Chinese is not my language. However, I was fascinated to discover that in China it’s very common to give descriptive names to places and foods, and even to celebrities, which sum up how Chinese people perceive these things. For example, the actor Benedict Cumberbatch is known in China as ‘Curly Fu’.

With this in mind, VisitBritain has embarked on a venture to give Mandarin names to some of our country’s best-known buildings and landmarks. This demonstrates, in a very visible way, how and why languages are important to business. If this campaign helps the British and Chinese to engage and thus encourages more Chinese to come to the UK on holiday, that’s good for our economy, the Chinese economy and indeed the world economy (think of the money spent on flights, clothes and souvenirs which are made round the world, etc.). To put some financial flesh on this, the Guardian reported, “…a record number of tourists visited Britain in 2014. Nearly 20 million people visited the UK between January and July, a rise of 7% on the previous year and a new record – and they spent £11.3bn”. That’s a lot of money.

VisitBritain asked Chinese people, via social media, to come up with names for 101 of the UK’s most popular visitor attractions. Here are some of my favourites.

Stonehenge – Ju Shi Zhen (Huge stone clusters)

Big Ben – Da Ben Zhong

London Eye – Lun Dun Yan

Buckingham Palace – Bai Jin Han Gong (a white, gold and splendid palace, with similar pronunciation)

Shakespeare – Sha Weng (Mr Sha)

Mr Bean – Han Dou (Funny beans)

Oscar Wilde – Wang Er De

The Beatles – Pi Tou Shi (Gentlemen with long hair)

Fish & Chips – Zha Yu Shu Tiao

The Cerne Abbas Giant in Dorset – Bai Se Da Luo Ben (Big white streaker)

Stoke-on-Trent – Wan Bo Tao Ci (Diverse ceramics)

And of course…

The Loch Ness Monster – Ni Si Hu An Ying (The Loch Ness shadow)

The Highland Games – Qun Ying Hui (the strong-man skirt party)

However, one that is missing from the list above is Edinburgh. And given that Chinese people are increasingly travelling the world and visiting far-flung countries like Scotland, what is our country doing to ensure that these tourists are able to enjoy our history and culture when they arrive?  More, in next week’s blog!

Emily Drummond, Translation Project Manager, Global Connects

Why are we so bad at languages in the UK?

A friend has just returned from a week’s holiday in Spain.  He speaks reasonable Spanish, and English naturally.  He has just spent about 20 minutes wondering why it is that you can go into almost any bar in Spain and the waiters there all speak at least two and usually three (or more) languages, yet in the UK this is not the case.

A case in point was a tapas bar in Malaga.  There, the owner is an Argentine.  In the course of my friend’s meal there, people came in from Germany, Sweden, Turkey, France, Scotland (my friend) and Spain.  The owner could speak Spanish, of course, but also fluent English, French and a bit of German – enough to be understood.  The Turks and Swedes all spoke English and my friend a reasonable level of Spanish.  Now imagine this happening  in a bar or hotel in Edinburgh or Manchester.  No, didn’t think so….

Given the importance of tourism to Scotland, not to mention the rest of the UK, why are we so poor at languages?  Answers on a postcard (from whichever country you happen to be enjoying your holidays)…

David Orr, Director, Global Connects

Want to get ahead in Business? Learn these Languages!

We really don’t know how luck we are in this country. We speak the language that roughly 2 billion other people in the world use on a regular basis, to wit, English. However, although 2 billion speak English, only about 500 million are actually native English speakers. Moreover, of those 2 billion who can and do communicate in the world’s most important language, guess where most of them live?* If you don’t know, you may be surprised. I was!

That said, with globalisation shrinking the world, businesses are, slowly, realising the importance of speaking other languages. Yes, you can get someone to translate for you (us for example!), but when you get off the plane on the other side of the planet, it does help if you are desperate for a cup of tea and you can ask for it in the local language.

Equally obviously, the language you might want to learn will depend on where you are doing/going to do business. There is no point in being fluent in Spanish if your markets are in the Far East.

A number of articles, easily found on the web, will point you towards the most important languages for business. One online piece I read recently suggested there are eight languages which really matter for the modern business man or woman.   Apart from English, these are:

Russian – 160 Million Native Speakers. Six countries have Russian as an official language. It’s not the easiest to learn, but as not all Russian businesspeople speak English it is important to do so if you want to do business there.

French – 74 Million Native Speakers. A lot of former French colonies still use the language and there are about 335 million across the world who speak it.

Japanese – 127 Million Native Speakers. Japan is a hugely important economy and technology powerhouse. So if that’s what you do, perhaps you should learn Japanese!.

Portuguese – 202 Million Native Speakers. The enormous number speaking Portuguese is largely due to it being the official language of Brazil (with its population of over 200 million). Portuguese is also an official language in nine countries other countries, including of course, Portugal!

Arabic – 223 Million Native Speakers. The official language of some 27 different countries, Arabic is essential for anyone wanting to do business in the Middle East.

Spanish – 406 Million Native Speakers. The second most common language in the USA, Spanish is a very important world language. Other than in Brazil, it is the language spoken throughout Latin America. Around 20 countries include Spanish as an official language.

Mandarin Chinese – 935 Million Native Speakers. Those 935 million people constitute a big market. Moreover, as China’s reach extends across the world, there are Chinese communities in many countries, from Brunei to the Philippines.

* and yes, the answer to the question of where most English speakers live is China!

David Orr, Director, Global Connects


How many vowels do you want with that?

Finland, where the vowels move in mysterious ways, their language to perform…

Last week it was Squirrels, in German. This week as part of our campaign to get people involved in #welovelanguage, I am returning to the BBC’s Language website’s ‘weird words’ section for another trawl around some entertaining, if not impossible, foreign words. This time, we’re heading north, to one of the most difficult languages on the planet, Finnish.


Finnish is not easy. Well it certainly isn’t when you have a sentence like “Kokko, kokoo kokoon koko kokko”.

You would be forgiven (if you weren’t Finnish), in being a bit bemused by the preponderance of k’s and o’s.   However, and I have checked, it means, Kokko (a surname), gather the whole bonfire together.

Fair enough, but then it gets more complicated. In Finnish, questions are indicated by the ending ‘ko’, so we could actually have, “Kokko, kokoo kokoon koko kokko.” “Koko kokkoko?” “Koko kokko.”   As I am sure you’ll have worked out, this means “Kokko (surname), gather together the whole bonfire.” “The whole bonfire?” “The whole bonfire.”

Another vowel-rich word I rather liked was “hyppytyyny”, which, I understand, means bouncy cushion. If that isn’t enough, how about this; “hyppytyynytyydytys”, which means bouncy cushion satisfaction.

Finally, a nice ‘cute’ one.   One of the people who had commented on the BBC’s ‘weird words’ page, offered us Jäkäläkäpälät.   This word came from a cub scouts’ group and means, naturally, The Lichen Paws. It is indeed a wonderful language.

David Orr, Director, Global Connects

If you’d like to see a few more of these, here’s the link!