Pioneer of Pinyin writing system passes away

Last week, a pioneer in the linguistics world passed away. Zhou Youguang, the father of Pinyin, died on January 14 at the age of 111. In the 1950’s Zhou Youguang lead a  committee that developed a standardized system for romanizing Mandarin Chinese. Since its official adoption by the Chinese government in 1979, Pinyin, which literally […]

Friends don’t let friends use Google Translate – most of the time

We live in an increasingly-automated world. It’s important to see how automation—like machine translation—can make things better / easier / cheaper, but it’s also important to recognize where human input matters. I’ve written elsewhere that friends don’t let friends use Google Translate. Machine translation doesn’t understand nuance. Though increasingly sophisticated, it continues to produce awkward sentences, […]

Trump in translation

Translation is part art, part science. No matter the content, it’s always a fine balance, but this election season has pushed the demands of translation to new heights. Before addressing the translation issue, though, let’s take a look at some of the topics that have kept linguists busy lately. Some have been looking beyond what […]

Control your potty mouth around kids – or swear a blue streak?

Years ago, as my husband and I cradled our newborn baby boy in our arms, we didn’t realize that one of the most difficult challenges ahead of us would be controlling our potty mouths. Of course we didn’t censor ourselves initially, but once he started talking, we were much more careful about what we said. […]

Tesla autopilot translation: the devil is in the details

Cars for me have always been about getting myself and my passengers safely from Point A to Point B. When my young son fell in love with Teslas, I found myself agreeing to chaperone play-dates to the Tesla showroom at our local mall—and gradually falling in love with the car, myself. With the much more […]

Pokémon Go and the art of translation

I say “Pokémon”; you say “pokey-man” In 1999, I began spending hours in the world of anime zookeeping, known to most as Pokémon. At the time, my parents patiently tried to understand what I was doing, but it didn’t help that I was speaking an entirely new language: Pikachu, Pokédex, helix fossil. They tried to engage, but […]

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Roast grandma and other tasty treats

Part of the fun of international travel is exploring local delicacies. The funny part of international travel (at least for language-lovers like myself) is seeing how things are translated—or as often is the case, mistranslated. Got a taste for “spicy and weird soup” or “roast grandma”? Read on. An overwhelming majority of tourists to Korea are from […]

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How to become a professional translator

At least once a week, someone says to me “Hey, I know someone who is bilingual. Are you looking for translators?” As owner of a translation agency in the Chicago area, I feel fortunate to be surrounded by such linguistic diversity. However, while I always appreciate a referral, what most people don’t understand is the […]

Baseball in Translation

I’ve never been interested in sports: playing, watching, reading… I often wished I were more interested, and I frequently marvel at just how many decades a human being could possibly live on this earth while absorbing absolutely nothing about sports of any kind.   Almost ten years ago, I became a mom. And no thanks in the […]

Toasting Mexican independence this Cinco de Mayo? Not so fast.

Ready to toast Mexican independence over margaritas this Cinco de Mayo?  Not so fast. You can still have them on the rocks or blended, but first know why you’re drinking them.  And it’s not for Mexican Independence Day, which is celebrated on September 16 (though you can partake then, too).  Even more surprising for some […]

The transcription agency owner goes barefoot

They say the shoemaker’s kids go barefoot…and similar could be said about the transcription agency owner.   Mixed metaphors aside, once upon a time, I was a graduate student in linguistic anthropology at UCLA. I was conducting ethnographic research among speakers of Judeo-Spanish, a language spoken by Sephardic Jews—descendants of the Jews that were exiled […]

Commanders and Chiefs of Multiple Languages

Multilingual World Leaders It’s common knowledge that US Presidents from past centuries are important historical figures, but American citizens may be surprised to learn several of these English-speaking world leaders were also multilingual. Forefather, Six Languages In addition to his native tongue of English, Founding Father Thomas Jefferson, the country’s second Vice President and third […]

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