From the Editor
Welcome to our November edition of Language Lines.
In this edition of Language Lines, we'll discuss the importance of multicultural talent needed in the global economy, how translation plays a part in language teaching, the complexities of translation and interpreting, and the language capabilities of the iPhone 4S’ Siri App.
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Of course, companies increasingly need multi-lingual employees. But look for "multicultural" to be the recruitment buzzword of the coming decade.
According to recruitment expert Kyung H. Yoon, Founder & CEO of Talent Age Associates, multicultural employees are worth their weight in gold – or more – in the current and future job market.
In a video presentation from the Forbes.com YouTube channel, Ms. Yoon explains how her business finds " innovative, creative and multi-cultural talent" for globally-minded companies.
As Yoon sees it, business will never again be "business as usual." Technology and globalization are continuing to make sweeping changes, and the best employees will be those who are prepared to react quickly to an ever-changing economy.
Successful managers of the future will be multilingual as well as lifelong learners. A multicultural background, whether through family origins or through life experiences, will be an added bonus – and even a necessity for certain positions.
To tackle projects requiring high levels of creativity, Ms. Yoon believes in the concept of “T-shaped people,” or pairing employees from wildly disparate backgrounds, for example literature and science.
Ms. Yoon has a fascinating vision of the job market of the not-so-distant future, where the traditional “career” concept will be replaced by a series of projects.
I highly recommend taking a look at the 5-minute video “Hunting Multicultural Talents to manage a big revolution in business.” It could lead you to look at your own profession in a different manner.
Over the past 50 years or so, translation has been pushed aside as a language-learning method. This could change.
But it fell out of favor in a big way. For example, English teaching methods over the past 50 years or so have featured various forms of “communicative learning” or “direct learning,” where students discover the language in classrooms where only English is spoken.
Of course, in international classes, this approach is necessary.
But in classes where all of the students share the same native language, translation has also been eschewed –but some language teaching experts are now arguing against the “no-translation” approach.
On a YouTube video broadcast on an Oxford University Press channel, Guy Cook, author of the book Translation in Language Teaching, explains that there is a current movement back to bilingual teaching – when it is possible.
Cook considers using translation as a way to recognize and adapt to learners’ cultural and linguistic identities.
In addition, as he explains in an article on the OUP English Language Teaching blog, “Translation is also [a] useful skill in itself. And not just for professional translators and interpreters. In multilingual societies and a globalised world, translation is all around us as an authentic act of communication.”
Of course, when studying to become a professional translator, it is crucial to have extensive practice and training in the field.
But how do you feel about translation exercises as a way to learn a language for personal or business purposes?
The Russian language has a word for light blue and a word for dark or navy blue, but no word for a run-of-the-mill generic shade of blue. So when translators are tasked with converting "blue" from English to Russian, they're forced to choose a specific shade.
It's hard to imagine that this particular choice would have any serious implications, but interpreters are constantly translating concepts into other languages with words that have no exact match.
In his book, Is That a Fish in Your Ear?, David Bellos explores the history, the future and the complexity of translation — from the tangled web of simultaneous translation at the United Nations, to movie subtitles and the text on ATM screens.
NPR's John Donvan talks with Bellos, director of the program for translation and intercultural communication at Princeton University, about the art of translation, and what's lost — and gained — in the process.
On why translation is integral to relating to others
"We translate all the time. If we refuse to translate, refuse to listen to what other people have to say to us, whichever language it is in, we're not living as fully as human beings as we could be ...
"For translation to exist, you have to accept the fact that languages are all different and they don't describe the world in quite the same way. You also have to accept that languages are all the same in that anything you can say in one language can be said in any other. And it seems to me [that the] tension between the incommunicability of difference and ... the sharing of a common set of messages and meanings is ... human. I mean, we all live in that state, that I am not like you. My experience is not directly commensurable with yours, and yet, for us to get on and to be human and to be in a society, we have to also make the assumption that in another dimension, we're all the same. We have the same needs, the same fears, the same desires."
"People ... often have the idea that a translation ... has to be the same as the original that it's translating. And my big argument all the way through the book is no, no — a translation has to be like. And the ways in which it is like its original vary. They vary historically. They vary in the specific language patterns that you're dealing [with]. They vary depending on the kind of text or object that you're translating.
"Likeness is what translation seeks to provide. A good match is what you're after, but sameness ... well, that you just can't have, because even in the same language, no two utterances — even of the same sentence — are actually the same. You know, time has passed and the mere fact of saying it a second time makes it not like saying it the first time. So I think it's this ideology — not very explicit, not reformulated, but [a] quite powerful idea — that unless a translation is the same as the original, then it's no good.
"That's what I'm trying to get people to drop, to abandon, to realize it's much more subtle and much more interesting than that."
On the limitations of automated translation tools
"It's very silly to use Google Translate or any automatic translation service to produce text in a language you don't master completely. ... The output of any automatic translation device needs to be read and corrected by somebody who commands that language completely, because you can often see easily where the mistake is, or you can tell whether it's garbage or not. And if it's garbage, you disregard it.
"[In] the retranslation game, well, if you work for human translators ... the retranslation into English would not be the same as what you started with. It would be fluent English, because the translator's a human being, not a machine. But it would be different in some degree, in some detail, great or small, because language isn't a machine itself ...
"When you use it to take a letter from a Swedish girlfriend and check that you have understood what she meant, that's fine, if your Swedish is a bit ropey. ... Google Translate has many perfectly sensible and viable uses, and it's a most impressive intellectual and technical achievement. But ... Google itself wouldn't think of using Google Translate to produce its publicity literature in the languages in which it sells its services. It uses human translators to do that."
On the flexibility of languages
"Every human language can fulfill all the needs that its users want to make of it. And if it really needs a word to articulate the wrist and distinguish the hand from the arm, well, they'll jolly well invent one so as to do so. And if they haven't invented one, it's because actually their [are] sort of other ways around it, because life is a very flexible thing.
"I'm personally very skeptical of the idea that any language, any of the languages that human communities have, constrains them to talk about the world in any particular way. It may make it easier to talk about the world in some particular ways, but if you really need to make a distinction, well, you invent a word. You do something new. Language is forever changing in response to [its] users' need.”
Apple succeeded in creating its usual monumental amount of online buzz with its announcement of the iPhone 4S and a personal assistant app called Siri, which will respond to voice commands.
You can ask it, for example, "Is it going to rain today?"
But what you won't be able to do is inquire, "¿Va a llover hoy?"
Because while Siri will come with English optimized for the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia and feature support in French and German, it will not, in its beta version at least, be accessible in Spanish.
"The initial supported language for an application many times has to do with the ethnic composition of the founders, how easy they think these features can be implemented, the familiarity of the team with the language and in many cases, available programming resources," said Ariel Coro, founder of Tu Tecnología and author of the upcoming book, El Salto.
"Spanish is a fairly difficult language to interpret for natural voice recognition since there are many variations which sound completely different to a voice recognition software," Coro added.
Apple CEO Tim Cook debuted Siri along with the updated iPhone at an event at its headquarters in Cupertino, California, on Tuesday. The app, which the company worked hard to secure as an Apple exclusive, will let you use natural language to perform tasks like asking for a weather forecast or getting directions, setting an alarm or making a calendar appointment, as well as searching Wikipedia.
But the app, which was used as an example of how the iPhone 4S will usher in a technological leap for mobile phones, will not feature support in Spanish, which Ethnologue lists as the fourth most common language in the world behind English.
Coro added that there is a way for Apple to work around the fact that Spanish is difficult to interpret through natural voice recognition software.
"The way other programs have handled this in the past is by training the application, but as we know, Apple will not sell a product which requires a time-intensive training process out of the box," he said.
"It doesn't mean that Spanish is not going to be supported," he continued. "It just means that they want to see how it goes and might have it scheduled for a future date."
An Apple spokesperson told Fox News Latino that it could not comment on the possibility of Spanish being included in the future. They were unable to offer a date as to when this might happen, either.
Though the capability might be available at a later date, some believe that Apple opens the door for a competitor to capitalize to the emerging online Hispanic market.
"Whatever Apple doesn't offer in Spanish opens a door for the Android OS providers," said Joe Kutchera, author of Latino Link: Building brands online with Hispanic communities and content.
"Google and its cell phone partners are best positioned to attract U.S. Latinos and Spanish speakers worldwide on mobile devices with its acquisition of Motorola in combination with its Android market," he added. "Especially since the search behemoth offers phones at lower price points in comparison to Apple's."
Coro believes that Siri is a significant move, one in which Apple has invested heavily.
"If they can make this feature popular, they can then reshift the attention that has been stolen away by the competitiveness of Android phones," he said. "The new generation of phones like the DROID Bionic, the Galaxy SII and the Photon have many similar features in Android, comparable cameras, processors and bigger and better screens."
But Coro concluded with a swipe at an Apple announcement that featured upgrades and updates, but not the seminal shift to the iPhone 5 that was expected.
"The announcement of iPhone 4S instead of the iPhone 5 was a total and complete disappointment for Apple fans. It's been 16 months since the launch of the iPhone 4 and we were expecting and speculating on an innovative and complete redesign," he said.
"What we got was a phone which looks the same, has a little more horsepower under the hood, a nicer camera and a personal assistant that doesn't speak Spanish."