Industry News

New South African phrasebook to assist 2010 tourists

A new pocket-sized phrasebook of South Africa’s 11 official languages will be useful for tourists while visiting South Africa in June for the 2010 Fifa World Cup, and anyone who wants to get by travelling throughout the diverse country.

The Hello South Africa phrasebook translates over 600 English phrases into South Africa’s other ten official languages, namely Afrikaans, Ndebele, Pedi, Sotho, Swati, Tshonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu. English is widely spoken in most provinces, but South Africa is so diverse that being able to converse with its citizens in their mother tongue language is guaranteed to enrich the cultural experience of the country.

Tsonga, Swati, Ndebele, Venda and Pedi are widely spoken in Limpopo, home to the Peter Mokaba Stadium. Afrikaans and Tswana are most prevalent in the Northern Cape.

There are also handy tips and hints about everything from finding a good restaurant to catching a taxi, which, like most South Africans know and as the phrasebook says, is done at the tourist’s own risk.

The languages are listed alphabetically and colour-coded for easy access. The pronunciation guide at the beginning of each section will help tourists to master the art of the Afrikaans ‘g’ and the Xhosa click.

The phrasebook was developed by graphic designer Mark Macdonald and a voice and English pronunciation coach, Michelle Macdonald. Contributions were also made by relevant South African experts, including language expert and Emerita Prof. Rosalie Finlayson.

With the Hello South Africa Phrasebook in their pockets, tourists are less likely to be left speechless during the World Cup.

The phrasebook includes a brief history of South Africa and its colourful linguistic heritage, as well as language distribution maps, which show where each language is spoken and where the phrasebook is likely to be needed.

Whether you’re taking a trip up Table Mountain, visiting Cape Point or touring the township of Khayelitsa, being able to speak a few phrases of Xhosa or Afrikaans will be most useful in the Western Cape.

Xhosa is the most prevalent language spoken in the Eastern Cape, where you’ll also find the Wild Coast and the Addo Elephant National Park.

In the Free State, home to the Golden Gate National Park, Sotho and Afrikaans are the languages of choice.

Most of the 11 official languages are spoken in Gauteng, so whether you’re attending a match at Soccer City in Soweto or visiting the Union Building in Pretoria, or The Apartheid Museum and Constitutional Hill in Johannesburg, this phrasebook will help you converse with locals.

While visiting east coast beaches or the Natal Midlands, Zulu is the language most likely to be useful in Kwa-Zulu Natal. If you’re making a trip to see the Blyde River Canyon in Mpumalanga, Pedi, Ndebele and Swati will get you there.

Talk 11 languages on your phone

At last, you won’t need to know even a single word of Tshivenda or isiXhosa in order to communicate with South Africans who don’t speak English.

Thabo Olivier, a South African linguistics expert based in Bloemfontein in the Free State province, has developed a multilingual mobile phone application software to break the language barrier.

The software program, named Amba-Afrika (“speak Africa” in Tshivenda), can translate any of South Africa’s 11 official languages into another. The program is also able to translate French, Portuguese, Arabic and KiSwahili, languages common in Africa.

It has taken Olivier eight years to create Amba-Afrika, having come up with the idea in 2001. By 2004 he had developed Afrilingo, a computer version of the software, which is used in national parliament and business organisations.

“The software has been installed at parliament, at legislatures and some municipalities,” Olivier said. “Various private sector companies have also acquired the application in their endeavour to not only promote multilingualism, but also promote cultural diversity amongst their employees and improve client-customer relations using multilingualism.

“The need for mobility had … many clients [asking] for it to be deployed on a mobile handset.”

It’s easy to use

Amba-Afrika is fairly simple to operate as long as you know your way through your phone. Say you want to translate the phrase “I’m lost” to an isiZulu speaking person. You open the application on your mobile, much like you’d open your Facebook Bookmark, and type the phrase. After a few seconds a recording would say “ngilahlekile”, isiZulu for “I’m lost”, from your phone’s loudspeaker. The program is also able to construct sentences using the Ogden’s Basic English, a simplified English language with just 850 words developed by Charles Kay Ogden in 1930.

“You can cross-reference from any language to any language,” Olivier said. “This allows the Zulu user to translate from Zulu to Tshivenda, for instance.

“Once the translation is reflected on screen, the correct pronunciation is played by activating the play button.”

The 300MB software has been developed on the Windows Mobile platform. Olivier is selling it through his entity Lingo Software from a cellular store in Bloemfontein using the Samsung C6625 as a downloading medium.

“The application is in excess of 300MB and thus makes wireless download extremely difficult. We thus deploy the software by embedding it on the handset before the customer buys it,” said Olivier.

The plan is to create a wide-ranging distribution platform. Olivier is currently negotiating to ensure that mobile phone users in South Africa would be able to access it from their network providers. Phones with GPRS, which is used for sending and receiving data, are able to download Amba-Afrika.

“It will be available in South Africa before the World Cup. The handset supplier I am currently in negotiations with is a global player and they are in a position to take it across the globe.”

The World Cup version

For the Fifa World Cup, Olivier is currently developing a version of Amba-Afrika that will translate the languages of the 32 nations coming to South Africa in 2010. These include Serbian, Slovenian, Slovakian, Korean, German, Italian, Greek, Danish, Japanese and Spanish.

“Would you feel safer going to a foreign country with the assurance that you can communicate in their language?” asked Olivier. “We as South Africans will also be able to capitalise on our world-famous friendliness by being able to greet our visitors in their language and communicating with them in theirs, and they in ours.”

His vision is to design a version for every country in Africa in a bid to ensure that “we are able to preserve even the smallest of languages and give these an entry into the digital domain”.

“The Zimbabwe version will include, for instance, all 18 local languages spoken in Zimbabwe, even Kunda, which is spoken by only 100 000 people.”

Olivier, who speaks six languages fluently, believes that the future of information technology in Africa “lies in the mobile handset” and he has committed himself to doing more research into developing unique mobile solutions “that also cater to the linguistic needs of all those living in our continent”.

He is working with various IT and linguistics companies in his venture, including the Cape Town-based internet development company Fusion Technologies.

“I am blessed to have developed a linguistic software application through the use of IT. I have [also] been fortunate enough to work closely with some of the great linguistic experts in Africa though,” said Olivier.

Olivier, who’s also a councillor of the African National Congress in the Mangaung Local Municipality, was named Top ICT Businessman in Africa at the ICT Achievers Awards in 2005 for creating Afrilingo.

Twelve Ways to Enhance Translation Quality

by Danilo Nogueira and Kelli Semolini

There is no such a thing as perfect translation-and even if there were, we could not be sure it would satisfy the average client or critic. But we have been looking for ways to improve the quality of our translations and we would like to share a few of our findings with you. This is not a How to Become a Perfect Translator in 12 Easy Steps sort of thing, but some of the suggestions may make you think-or perhaps smile, who knows.

1. Avoid Rework

Let’s begin with trying to do things right the first time. Editing and revising are tricky, treacherous and time-consuming tasks. So, try to translate each phrase as if the translation were to be published on real time. The fewer points go into the “later” box, the smaller the chance they will pass unnoticed during editing and proofreading.

2. Keep a List of Dangerous Words

What are the easily confusable of your target language? Principle and principal? What words can be mistyped? We don’t mean words that do not exist and thus will be rejected by the spell checker, we mean legitimate words, such as where and were, both of which are correct, but have different meanings. Keep a list of your “favorite mistakes” and use the search command to see if and when you used them.

3. Run the Spell and Grammar Checker

Always run the spell and grammar checker before editing a text. Before checking spelling and grammar, however, select the entire document, set the language to your target language and make sure the checker is fully active. The information should be somewhere in a tools menu.

Spell and grammar checkers are often ridiculed, because they fail to detect real problems and suggest ludicrous solutions to non-existing problems, but they do find a large number of points that deserve attention and many of the solutions offered are perfectly correct. They do not solve all problems, but save a lot of work.

4. Comply with Target-Language Typography and Punctuation Rules

Different languages have different typographical and punctuation conventions and your translation should comply with target language usage. Far too many of us forget this and impose source-language rules on our target-language text. For instance, we often see Brazilian Portuguese translations where words are capitalized following English rules.

In addition, many of us are simply careless typists or never bothered to learn how to enter text using a computer. For instance, we often find translations…

…where words are separated by more than one space, there are spaces before commas ,but none after( and similar problems with brackets )tabs are used incorrectly and so forth.

This type of text makes life unnecessarily difficult for editors, typesetters, and proofreaders alike. In addition, it leaves an impression of carelessness that does not contribute much to our image.

Don’t tell us this is none of your business: you should try to make your translations so good that editor and proofreader do not have to touch them. You cannot, but you should try all the same.

The above should not be construed to mean that you are to become a typesetter. In fact, to paraphrase a well-known dictum, we have an agreement with typesetters: they do not translate, we do not do typesetting. It means that our work should conform to a few basic rules of “typographical hygiene.”

5. Never use the “Replace All” Command

This is the most deadly and fatal of all commands. We know it can be undone. But we also know that, as a rule, you only notice you have done something horrible half an hour after applying it and introducing another 100 improvements in the text, and then it is too late for control-zeeing it.

6. Don’t Let the Tug of War Spoil your Translation

During translation, source and target language play a game of tug of war, creating an unceasing tension that may enrich our work-or not, depending on how well we can handle it.

And the Winner is: the Source Language!

When the source language wins, we have a piece of translationese, where we can easily see the “print through” of the original.

Sometimes the text is free from grammar errors, but you can see that it is not the real thing. It is correct, but it reads funny. That makes the task of the editor a lot more difficult, because it is impossible to quote grammar rules to prove that the text needs changing, a situation that results in endless mud-slinging matches between translator and editor. In many cases, there is a PM involved who, to make things worse, does not understand a word of the target language.

A good way to determine whether a translation is natural is to read it aloud, but unfortunately we never have time for that. However, you should try to read a paragraph of each job aloud, just to make sure it flows well. You may be in for a surprise.

Ah, don’t tell us that you translate technical stuff and that does not need to read natural. With the possible exception of parts lists, every text should read natural in the target language.

And the Winner is: the Target Language!

Natural style, however, should not be conquered at the expense of fidelity. This often is the result of an editing job done without comparing the target against source. An overeager editor often improves a translation away from the original, so to say-a case where the target language wins.

When the target language wins, we have what the French call a belle infidèle—a translation that reads beautifully, but is not true to the original.

The only way to determine whether a translation is true to its original is to compare them, a task neglected by more than one harried editor, or by agencies that, in an attempt to cut costs, ask editors-proofreaders to refer to the original only when needed, as if there were times when double checking translations against the original was not needed.

Most translators make a point of editing their own work, even if it is to be edited later by someone else, which is very good practice. Some of those translators prefer to edit in two steps: first, compare target and source texts, to check fidelity; then read the target text alone, to see if it flows. Others do it in the reverse order: first check for flow, then for fidelity.

Whatever order you chose, stick to it, or you will never finish that job.

7. Know your Cognates, False and Otherwise

If your language pair has cognates, you probably have already been warned against false cognates, otherwise called false friends, those misleading pairs of equal or very similar words that have different meanings, such as eventual, which means one thing in English and quite another thing in Portuguese, to the dismay of more than one wannabe translator.

These admonitions have often led to the paranoid view that you cannot use cognates in a translation. Why not? Eventual has different meanings in English and Portuguese, but notável often is the optimal translation for notable. Of course, using a less-than-optimal translation when there is a better choice at hand results in unnecessary loss of precision.

8. Be Precise

Precision is a great translatorial virtue, but we often look for precision in nouns and verbs, whereas as often as not, precision lies in adjectives and adverbs. Adjectives and adverbs are the “shading words” par excellence, the little words that fine-tune our thoughts. Years ago, a Brazilian publisher entrusted a local college professor with the translation of a science book for the general public. Either because the translator didn’t like what he read or for some other reason, although nouns and verbs were always correctly rendered, adjectives and adverbs were almost always translated wrong. A groundbreaking study became merely interesting, an obvious mistake became possible and so forth. The “technical terms,” all of them nouns and verbs, were perfect and the publisher was very happy with it, but the translation was very poor.

9. Don’t Fall into the Preposition Trap

Funny how many translators still fall into the preposition trap. Most prepositions do not have a life of their own: they are required by a verb or a noun. A good example is of, which is supposed to translate as de in Portuguese. It so happens, however, that to dream of is sonhar com because the verb sonhar (dream) takes the preposition com in Portuguese.

In those cases, you translate the verb or noun and don’t give a thought to the preposition in the source language: just use the preposition required in the target language. That is, see verb or noun and the respective preposition as a single unit.

10. Check Headers, Footers, Graphs and Text boxes

We tend to go directly to the main text and forget about headers and footers, where more than one grave error lies in hiding. If the source text is an MS Word document, remember that some graphics will show only in print preview mode. And look for text boxes.

We recently got into very hot water with an agency because we did fail to do this and the document had two tiny text boxes, totaling fewer than ten words. But they were key words and the first thing the final client paid attention to.

11. Run the Spelling and Grammar Checker Once More

Before delivering the job, run the spelling and grammar checker once more, just for safety’s sake. We often introduce grammar and spelling errors while editing and this is the last chance to get rid of them.

12. Have a Second Pair of Eyes Check your Work

If you are working for an agency, there is a very good chance your work will be checked by an editor. If you are working for a final client, you should arrange for someone else to read your job. Even if you are very good, a second pair of eyes will find the odd mistake and make the odd improvement that can make a great difference. But be prepared: no translator is a hero to his editor.

BBC debate demonstrates power of machine translation

By Dave Lee
BBC World Service

If everybody in the world could communicate freely with each other, no matter which language they spoke, what would happen?

That question formed the basis for SuperPower Nation Day – an experiment in multi-lingual debate and discussion.
By using a specially created website, users from around the world could post and reply to each other’s messages, even if they did not share the same language.
The experiment was part of the BBC’s SuperPower season, a series of programmes, online reports and events designed to examine the extraordinary power of the internet.

Free conversation

Representatives from more than 20 of the BBC World Service language services translated for people who attended the six-hour event at Shoreditch town hall, or called in by telephone.
Meanwhile, comments online were translated using software created by Google, allowing users to write in their own language before seeing it translated into six others instantaneously.
English, Arabic, Chinese, Portuguese, Persian, Indonesian and Spanish were all supported.
Just before 1pm, local time, the first message appeared.
“We use human translators rather than machines as we believe they are more reliable.
“But let’s give this a go.”
It was an apt comment. Could a machine really break down language barriers?
For the most part, Yes it could. Soon after the experiment kicked off, many users began to express their delight, and surprise, at being able to converse easily using the technology.
“I believe this can work!” wrote Nathana in Brazil.
“This experience is useful to appreciate the beauty of languages in the world. As I said before ‘WAAO!'” wrote Eugene, in Italy.

Messages get through

For Google, it was perhaps the toughest scrutiny of their translation software to date.
While their Translate product has been well-adopted by web users to quickly make foreign language websites understandable, how it would stand up in the face of quickfire conversation – with all the slang and local dialect that came with it – was unknown, even to Google themselves.
“This is the largest translation project I´ve ever worked with,” said Chewy Trewhella, new business development manager for Google.
“There’s always going to be slang, but we´re getting better at it all the time.”
The translations were far from perfect in places, but Mr Trewhella added: “It’s about trying to get the message across… [users] are happy with 80-90% effectiveness.”
Here’s an example. Dowry Allowathb of Khartoum, Sudan, submitted a comment in Arabic on the topic “If you could say one thing to the world, what would it be?” which came out in English as:
“That the budget of one war enough to satisfy the hungry Africa, not to mention the budget arm of one of the major powers.”
Not perfect, but intelligible.

Long way to go

Tom Leitch, development lead on the project for the BBC, was equally pleased with the results, saying it worked “fabulously – better than was hoped”.
He looked forward to trying it out another platform.
“I would quite like to run it on a platform like Twitter so it’s already part of the web fabric, rather than hosting it on our own site,” he said.
Manuel from Vigo, in Spain, commented (in imperfect translation): “Since I say to my daughters that the profession has a great interpreter present, but a black future.”
But Geoffrey Bowden, general secretary of the Association of Translation Companies (ATC), said he was not worried that machine translation would put his members’ jobs at risk.
“It may be the translator becomes more of an editor.
“I think we’ve got a long, long way to go.”
There would always be some things, like company slogans, that could only be translated by humans, he added.
Mr Trewhella agreed.
“We don’t want people to think this is as good as human translation,” he said.
Miles Osborne, a specialist in machine translation based at the University of Edinburgh, noted that some participants opted to type in English over their native language – possibly because they thought they could do a better job than the software.
Prior to the experiment, he anticipated problems between certain languages – particularly with Chinese.
Some users in Beijing reported that the Chinese section of the site had been blocked, but Mr Osborne was left encouraged with the performance of the software.
“I don’t see anyone complaining about the actual translation,” he said.
“In the past [translating] was a really painful thing to do – that’s not true anymore.”

Contact Details

Soror Language Services “SLS”
Johannesburg 2040

Tel: +27 11 793-6677
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