Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Translating my pearls of wisdom.

I've always been fascinated to see where my blog readers come from. I have visitors from Russia and Pakistan, even from Iraq as well as many European countries. My first thought is always that their English must be bloody good.  My second is asking myself why and how they might be interested in what I'm saying.

Isn't it humbling to watch a newscast on TV and they are interviewing people on the street in Russia or Serbia and out comes fluent, perfect English. How many people in Kansas City could come out with ANY words of Russian? I know English is now the world language but shouldn't we at least speak some other languages?

Anyway, things have just got easier for people in far flung countries who want to follow the words of wisdom in my blog. I now have a translate gadget in the sidebar. All you have to do is click on it and you can read what I'm saying in Serbian or Outer Mongolian..

I suppose they must have improved translators these days. I remember an early one being asked to translate the English phrase "Out of sight, out of mind."
It came up with the French "invisible, imbecile."
And when I think of the odd words that appeared on my screen when I had to use speech recognition software, I wonder whether it will give anything like a true translation. So if you're reading this in Russia or Bolivia and you speak both English and your native tongue, please let me know if the translation is good or not.

In fact please chime in and let me know if you're reading this in another country


  1. I just tried the translater and I'm able to report: at least the translation to German hasn't improved very much :-)
    It's more or less a word-to-word translation and thus the german sentences come out quite funny. But I think I would have understood the meaning of the text, even without reading the english original first. So, it's a nice addition to the blog, nevertheless. Greetings from Germany and I hope you will get well soon!

  2. Rhys, I am fascinated by this piece. First of all, as a life-long teacher of German and an advocate for foreign language teaching and learning, I applaud you comments on how shocking it is that so many Americans simply haven't a clue about languages other than English. But that is a long story -- I have written reams about it in a lifetime. However I quickly turned to your translating gadget and read the post as translated into German.I agree with your commenter from Germany, the "sentences come out quite funny." (So do hers when they are translated into German!)There are lots of quite incorrect sentences and some individual words are quite wrong, but the gist is comprehensible. And above all, the idea of having something like this is great. It spurs people on to think of translating and how to improve mechanical translating. Well done, Rhys! Thank you for this.

  3. Hi Rhys,

    I love that people from so many countries read your books. I found today's blog fascinating.

    I'm from Massachusetts (sometimes thought of a country outside the United States) where I was born into the French speaking community in Salem. Although I was born into a tri-lingual household (French; blended Polish/Russian; English) I am not fully competent in any but English.

    It might be important to the discussion of language learning in the US, to understand the history of "other" language suppression in this country. This history is pretty straightforward: English colonization in the area now called the United States, strongly discouraged speaking languages other than English. My Jersey ancestors who settled Salem, Massachusetts anglicized their French names as soon as they arrived. While they were very comfortable on Jersey with their French names, they found themselves suspect in the English colony of Salem.

    Our history shows this pattern repeated in many areas-- either Anglicizing or, if maintaining lingual community and history, finding oneself subject to discrimination. In response to a talk I gave about French-Canadian settlements in Massachusetts, I once had a co-worker in California tell me, "If they won't speak English they should all go back to Québec." By that time, most of the families had become English speaking, and the settlement areas were Spanish-speaking, but he was angry that people would come here and not speak English.

    Even in Tucson, Arizona I occasionally hear people insist that Spanish speakers should "speak English or go back where they came from," despite the fact that Spanish speakers were here long before English speakers and Tucson used to be part of Mexico. Tucson just banned large numbers of books and an entire program designed for learning and sharing cultural and the Spanish-speaker/Mexican history of the area. Why?

    In order for the United States to make a change in language learning, we need to truly value other cultures and languages here and stop bragging about the non-existant American melting pot. It simply does not exist. We are not even a good tossed salad.

    About Google Translator: People can make suggestions for alternate translations. I have done this for a number of French words. It has improved since I've started using it for Danish, the native language of my granddaughter.

  4. Reine--I have seen this same treatment of Spanish speakers in California, when we drove out the original settlers in the 1850s. It's always a question of might is right.

  5. While I think it's important for Americans to learn a second language, I also think it's important for immigrants to whatever country to learn the language of their new country. I'm not saying they need to forget their native language, but it's just part of the assimilation process. A friend of my grandma's once told me how angry she got at a Korean lady (in a bingo hall). The Korean woman had married an American GI during the Korean War and had been living in the States for decades. She spoke English fine, but when Grandma's friend saw her there, she was speaking to some other Korean War brides in Korean and Grandma's friend just thought that was terrible. This is America after all, and they should speak English! So I told her what I thought of Things got rather heated between us. I spent 5yrs in Korea and learned to speak it at an intermediate level. Had I stayed there permanently, I would've become fluent. But when I was with my native English-speaking friends we always spoke in English because of course we felt more comfortable in it. But yeah, there is definitely a problem in this country about expecting people to speak ONLY English. And I have a big problem with that.

  6. I believe strongly that people should keep their own culture and language--raise their kids to be bilingual. But if they are to be productive members of our society they need fluent English. I'd make it like Australia--compulsory citizenship after 4 years and compulsory English classes to pass the test. And everyone has to vote over there.
    Hispanic families who let their kids grow up speaking poor English are condemning them to be gardeners and maids.

  7. Hi Rhys! I'm visiting your blog from Australia, although I can join in on this conversation about bilinguality since I'm originally from Hong Kong and speak Cantonese fluently. My mum had always been very determined that I should be fluent in English as well, so when I moved to Australia at the age of 7, she did all sorts of things to force me to speak English - like not allowing me to go to the bathroom or get food until I ask for it in English! I definitely picked up the language very quickly then. So yes, I strongly believe that if one moves to another country, they should also learn the language, whether it is English or something else.

    Reading Anonymous' comment above reminded me of some shocking behaviour from my classmates in high school, though. Of course everyone speaks in English at school, both because we have rules about that sort of thing and out of politeness (it's just not very nice to twitter on and on in a foreign language). But there are occasions when you meet new people who speak the same mother tongue, and you just can't help yourself, and sometimes you just need to say certain things that are impossible to translate. You'd be amazed how ridiculous some things sound in English; even if it's just a phrase, you have to leave it in Chinese sometimes. It was one of these incidents that a classmate who sat nearby overheard, and I was left slack-jawed when she told me outright, "Stop speaking Chinese, it's rude! I don't understand it!" And it makes me think back to the huge numbers of Australians that I'd met when I attended an Australian international school in Hong Kong for 2 years, the majority of whom did not even bother to attempt Cantonese... They went around everywhere speaking in English and simply expected people to understand them and reply in the same manner. I always think that if you expect other people to speak your language in your country (which is fair enough), you should do the same when you're in another country. That's just polite, isn't it?