Monthly Archives: July 2014

How do I ask for a beer in Slovak?

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All football fans know what it’s like when you travel abroad. It’s a great trip, especially if you win. However, when your team is drawn against one from a country where you know you won’t have a clue how to speak the language, there are certain words and phrases that might be of use. For all those St Johnstone fans travelling to Slovakia next week, here are some of them!

And if you are a fan of any of the other Scottish clubs travelling abroad on football business and would like some help with what to say when ordering a beer, we’ll look to do some more of these kind of helpful translations in the future.

Some useful phrases in Slovak for the Spartak Trnava match!

 “Yes, no, please, thank you”
“Áno, nie, prosím, ďakujem“

“left, right, straight on, behind”
“vľavo, vpravo, rovno, vzadu”

“metres, kilometres, train, bus”
“metre, kilometre, vlak, autobus”

“Do you speak English?”
“Hovoríte anglicky?”

“Where is the nearest bar?”
“Kde je najbližší bar?”

“One/two/three/four beers please”
“Jedno pivo/dva/tri/štyri pivá, prosím” (pivo is beer!)

“I have a hangover. Do you have any paracetamol?”
“Som po opici. Máte paralen?”

“Let’s hope this is a great match”
“Dúfam, že to bude dobrý zápas”

“May the best team win!”
“Nech vyhrá ten najlepší tím!”

“Stevie May is our star striker”
“Steve May je náš najlepší útočník”

“What a great stadium this is!”
“Toto je super štadión!”

“I have missed the bus. How much is the taxi fare to Bratislava?”
“Zmeškal som autobus. Koľko stojí taxík do Bratislavy?”

“I have really enjoyed visiting your country and hope to return again soon”
“Páčilo sa mi vo vašej krajine a dúfam, že čoskoro prídem opäť”



Language changes – LOL – it’s all the fault of teenagers?

We’ve written in previous blog posts about the problems interpreters can encounter when mistranslating a word so that its meaning becomes offensive, and how some literal translations are sometimes just plain wrong. At times, this makes process of language translation more of an art rather than a science.

Consider then, the fact that language is, to use rather old-fashioned vocabulary, not a sedentary beast. That usage of ‘old-fashioned’ conveys an image in the mind; that these are words that most people would not use nowadays even though they are perfectly good English words and their meaning is, we trust, clear. However, you don’t have to go back to the days of Chaucer to see how English has evolved, nor do you need to be a teenager to see how it continues to evolve via the magic of textspeak and acronyms. The classic example of how language changes is the definition of the word ‘gay’. Nowadays, we would hesitate to use this to describe any friends who were lively, vivacious or animated.

Similarly, the increasing influence of the younger generation on language is felt across the world. The changing meanings of English words such as ‘cool’ and ‘random’ and the proliferation of acronyms such as LOL and BTW, mean that the modern translator/interpreter has to keep up-to-date. It also means that (some) oldies get all hot under the collar about not being able to understand the ‘youth-speak’ of the average teenager, and particular about the importation of American trends, such as using nouns for verbs.

We should not be surprised though. Language is not a sedentary beast. Shakespeare (1564-1616) is credited with introducing over 1700 new words into the English language – which makes today’s younger generation look like a bunch of amateurs. He did this by, wait for it, changing nouns into verbs, changing verbs into adjectives and connecting words never used together before (like text and speak!). Not only that, but did you know that Shakespeare was familiar with seven foreign languages and often quoted them in his plays?

Although it might make the job of the interpreter/translator more difficult, this ceaseless ebb and flow of words’ meanings, whether in English or any language, is what makes the job interesting. As the French say, plus ca change!



Cultural matters – why interpretation can be a four-letter word

We are in the business of interpreting and translation. We see the impact of language every day, in our work in the criminal justice system, in the need for technical translation for global businesses and in the everyday banter between our colleagues from many different cultures and different parts of the globe.

Translation has become more important as the globe has shrunk. If you think about it, the Spanish conquistadores or the East India Company merchants must have found it very difficult when they first set foot on the new lands and territories of South America and the sub-continent. Then, the new people, cultures and languages they discovered were totally unknown to them. Today, we have different, but at times no less taxing problems in making ourselves understood. And although there are lots of translators and interpreters, it’s not simply a question of knowing all the words.

Technical translation, which is a key part of any translation company’s business, requires a degree of specialist knowledge. So does interpreting for immigrants with a poor grasp of English and those caught up in the criminal justice system in this country. Anyone with any kind of sense of social justice can see how important this is, yet for most of the public it’s not something that affects them and so is below the radar.

One of the biggest complaints levied by some against immigrants, or incomers of any kind, is that they are from ‘a different culture’. So are we when we travel overseas, but we tend to ignore that, as witnessed by the stereotypical English speaker abroad trying to be understood by talking more loudly! However, for the translator/interpreter, an understanding of the culture of language is crucial. Culture informs language and the way in which people react to comments and conversation. Some words we regard as commonplace are ‘verboten’ in other tongues; some expressions (blasphemy for example) are similarly frowned upon. English is slightly different in Australia, America and the UK, as is French in France and Canada or Spanish in Spain and Latin America.

This last example gives us one of the easiest ways to demonstrate how important local cultural differences are in Spanish. An Argentinian being interviewed by a Spanish interpreter will be enraged if this native Spanish speaker confuses two of the most common forms of the (Spanish) verb ‘to take’.   One of these in Argentina is the ‘f’ word, yet it is used constantly in Spain simply to mean ‘to take’. Whilst perhaps extreme, it illustrates precisely why interpreters and translators must understand not just the words they use but also the culture of the person they are translating for, especially in legal situations or when dealing with refugees, immigrants or anyone who doesn’t understand English and is perhaps scared of what is being said ‘above their head’. It might seem sensationalist to mention the ‘f’ word, but in the wrong context, such as a sexual harassment case, it can send entirely the wrong message and jeopardise the possible outcome, especially if it is then translated incorrectly back to an English-speaking judge or jury.

We need to learn foreign languages – the government puts another record on!

Our MPs have woken up again to the need for Britain to learn more foreign languages. Specifically, the all-party Parliamentary Group on modern languages wants to see a “national recovery programme” which it hopes will improve language skills across the population. The all-party Group believes that our inability to speak foreign languages is costing the economy £50M each year. They stress that it’s not just a problem for the obvious, senior-level jobs in which you would expect a CFO or Director to be able to have a business-level conversation in, say, French or Spanish. The Group claims that in 2011 27% of admin and clerical jobs were not filled because of the ‘language deficit’. Really? Over a quarter of admin and clerical jobs were not filled, during a recession when there were thousands of job-seekers? Perhaps we missed the front page headlines? In reality, as most research on recruitment and employability shows, businesses are more concerned with basic skills of numeracy, writing and reading (see, for example, this report from the CBI in 2012: Tellingly, the Executive Summary in this CBI report doesn’t mention language skills until the very last item. There, it’s noted that 21% of firms think that lack of language skills is, or may be, losing them business. Serious, but not as bad as a basic inability to count, write and speak clearly and coherently. We, the ‘language industry’, are at the back of the queue here!

You’ll excuse our scepticism, but haven’t we been here before? Google any search string containing the words “government, report, concern about foreign languages” and lo and behold you’ll see lots of similar news stories. For example, on the 27th November 2012, the BBC reported a “Widespread lack of language skills could be damaging Scotland’s ability to trade abroad.” Then a year later, on 20th November 2013, the BBC again told us, “Alarming Shortage of foreign language skills in UK.” The CBI report mentioned above was in 2012 and nothing sees to have changed since then.   The all-party Group itself reported in broadly similar terms in 2012 (see:, yet here we are, two years later, and what has changed?

Unsurprisingly, the government says its reforms are “driving a languages revival” in schools. They need to do more.   At the same time as this ‘languages revival’, the BBC report notes that university application figures reveal a 5% drop in language candidates. Clearly there is some ground to make up here. Actions will speak louder than words!

David Orr, Director, Global Connects

Globalisation and the need for translation and interpretation

According to a University of Pennsylvania Department of Linguistics report, there are about 6,900 ‘living’ languages in the world. The recent Wikitongues project (see previous blog post) reckons there are over 7,000.   Even Global Connects won’t have heard of all of them! However, this huge number of different forms of communication shows the size and complexity of the world as it is today, and it’s our job – and that of the other translation/interpretation companies – to provide the means to translate and interpret them as and when required.

The world economy has become more and more interlinked, and this has been speeded up exponentially by the development of technology and the internet. Trade, developed slowly over centuries, has brought new products, foods and services to different countries across the globe. We all drink coffee and tea, imported from abroad; we drive Korean or German cars, our iPads are made in China and our televisions in Japan. Yet we don’t need to be able to speak Hindi or Spanish to buy tea and coffee, nor speak Korean, German, Chinese or Japanese to be able to get our hands on cars and technology. Someone, somewhere, does it for us.

Most people are aware that many of our everyday items come from abroad. They are aware that they arrive in large container ships or in planes. Yet most probably don’t stop and think about the languages that oil the wheels of commerce – at least not in this country because we are fortunate that English is the most commonly used language for business in the world. Yet without translation and interpretation, commerce would be slowed and economic growth hindered.

We are all undoubtedly proud of the success of Scottish companies in developing business around the world. For example, one of the UK’s biggest utilities companies is ScottishPower, which is owned by Iberdrola, a Spanish firm and as such clearly benefits from having its Scottish/UK staff learning Spanish. Similarly, another major Scottish success story is Aggreko, a multi-million pound business providing generators and power across the world, which has a constant demand for translation of documents and business materials from offices around the world. Most people appreciate the success of these companies and the jobs that come with it: few are aware of the importance of translators and interpreters in helping to make this success a daily reality.

Speaking in Wikitongues

As reported in the Herald newspaper this week, the Wikitongues project has now arrived in Scotland.  This is an amazing initiative to document on video every language on earth.   Begun by Daniel Bogre Udell (pictured) and Freddie Andrade, the intention is to archive everything online in an encyclopedic compendium of all of the world’s languages.  Although preserving the rare languages is of importance, their main objective is simply a celebration of the linguistic diversity that exists across the world.

In Scotland, their primary interest will be in Scots and Scottish Gaelic.  It’s not clear whether they will also include regional variations/dialects, such as Lowland Scots and Doric, and interestingly, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the comment columns in the Herald online were preoccupied by these regional differences and, again unsurprisingly, by debates as to what actually constitutes ‘Scots’ as opposed to a Scottish form of English.

Udell, who is an American web developer, began by interviewing people in New York and then publishing the videos on YouTube. However, Wikitongues has some way to go before it can be seen as a definitive database of the estimated 7,000+ languages spoken worldwide.  So far, since it began a year ago, only about 100 languages have been recorded, and as Daniel himself notes, this somewhat slow rate means that it will take over 100 years to finish the project!  However, the good news is that there is now an increasing number of volunteers across the world – from Lithuania, Vanuatu, the US, Russia, Kosovo, Argentina and Italy – who should speed things up. As a firm which makes its living by language, Global Connects wishes them every success. If anyone reading our blog is interested in helping Wikitongues please let us know how you get on.  We’ll be pleased to share your experiences and promote this great initiative.

David Orr, Global Connects