Travel and Culture

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Vaccine Saves Language and Lives, NPR Reports

Geopolitics, Language, Language in the News, Travel and Culture

Getting vaccinated against covid-19 may do more than save your life. It could also save your language. That’s what Cherokee schoolteacher Meda Nix told National Public Radio (NPR) in an interview last week.

A member of the Cherokee Nation — a sovereign tribal government within the geographic boundaries of the United States — Nix grew up in an English and Cherokee speaking home, then studied Cherokee later as an adult. She is one of only around 2500 people who speak the language fluently today.

Native Americans — including the Cherokee — have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic, according to the US Center for Disease Control, contracting the disease at a rate 3.5 times higher than white Americans. The Cherokee Nation specifically has seen more than 11,000 coronavirus cases and 63 deaths. At least 20 of those who passed were Cherokee speakers, per NPR.

Initially, Nix had not planned on being vaccinated. Then tribal leaders held a Zoom call with covid-19 specialists, urging Cherokees to step up — not just for their lives but for their culture.

Cherokee is a member of the Iroquoian language family. Its writing system does not use an alphabet. Rather, 85 distinct characters represent the sounds used for speaking the language with one character assigned to each discrete syllable found in a word. For this and other reasons, the US Secretary of State considers Cherokee to be a Class IV language. Language classifications refer to the average amount of time required for English speakers to achieve proficiency when studying full time. At 88 weeks, Class IV languages are the most difficult group.

Nix teaches Cherokee to fifth graders, starting with vocabulary she learned from her mother about the natural world — such as the names for trees and birds. NPR reports that “by preserving her language, she is really preserving ‘everything. Our culture. Our beliefs. Our ways.'”

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Terena Bell is an independent journalist who writes for The Atlantic, Washington Post, Fast Company and others. She is former CEO of In Every Language.

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Beijing subway to standardize English translations

Business News, Language, Language in the News, Personalization and Design, Terminology, Translation, Travel and Culture, Uncategorized

If you’re heading to Beijing you may have to put up with conflicting subway station names — at least for a while. According to news site China Daily, the city has “adopted a new set of English translation methods for the capital’s rail transit stations.” Basically what this means is that the municipal transport commission authority is gradually changing the way stop names are localized into English — both on maps and signs. Trick is, the changes aren’t happening across all materials at once: “Different English translations for a same station may exist over a period of time as the replacement of the signs will be carried out gradually and orderly,” China Daily reports. Early maps with the new names are already available. Distribution began late last year. The signage translation work will start in 2021.

The city’s goal is to provide new stop names that not only reflect the geographic location of a place but its cultural implications — and in a way that enlightens foreign travelers. Subway stop names that previously used pinyin — an adaptation method that uses letters from the Roman alphabet to spell out Chinese words based on sound — will be changed to new names that use the Chinese phonetic alphabet. The first word of each stop name will also be capitalized now with all subsequent letters in lower case. Locations will also be marked by compass direction, using abbreviations like “(N)” for north or “(W)” for west. Well-known subway stops — such as those named after places of historic interest — will not change. For example, 颐和园 and 国家图书馆 will remain Summer Palace and National Library — their already globally-accepted English language translations.

In 2014, a revamp of Hong Kong’s subway translations resulted in The Wall Street Journal mocking Beijing’s by using Baidu’s free online translation portal to derive the paper’s own localization of stop names.

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MultiLingual creates go-to news and resources for language industry professionals.

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Appalachia en Español

Globalization, Language, Localization Culture, Personalization and Design, Terminology, Travel and Culture, Uncategorized

When you live in the Appalachian mountains, Spanish textbooks don’t always speak to you. That’s the realization that led Harlan County, Kentucky schoolteachers Chris Anama-Green and Emmanuel Anama-Green to create their own language instruction curricula. “When you read many ‘mainstream’ Spanish textbooks, you find mostly vocabulary and scenarios related to city life,” Chris Anama-Green told Kentucky Teacher, a Kentucky Department of Education news site. In Appalachia, for example, students are more likely to live in houses than in apartment buildings and there are no city blocks or subways. “It’s harder for students to see the importance of learning a second language when the examples provided just aren’t relevant to them,” said Chris Anama-Green. “I wanted a textbook that students could relate to,” he told local Harlan Enterprise newspaper, “When I couldn’t find one, I decided to write my own.”

The two initially partnered on an introductory Spanish I textbook that uses rural scenarios and vocabulary instead of urban ones in order to promote students’ real-world communication abilities. A Spanish II textbook is currently underway. Entitled Viajes desde Appalachia (Travels from Appalachia), the curricula does meet Kentucky World Language and American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages educational standards.

Viajes desde Appalachia references local spots within Harlan County by name and also includes full-color photographs the teachers took during their travels throughout Spanish-speaking countries.

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MultiLingual creates go-to news and resources for language industry professionals.

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Planet Word: a Museum Where Language Comes to Life

Language, Travel and Culture

Where Language Comes to Life is the motto at Planet Word, a museum in Washington DC that opened in October. Nominated for USA Today’s Best New Attraction, the museum brings together language, technology, and ingenuity to create a fun experience for people of any age or literacy level. It features a host of interactive exhibits, many with 3-D and voice recognition, as well as an upcoming word game mystery adventure village.

We spoke with Planet Word Founder and CEO Ann B. Friedman to learn more about Planet Word, the exhibits the museum features, and the journey Ann has taken to bring Planet Word, and language, to life.

Can you share a little about yourself and your team? How did Planet Word come about?

Late in life, I became a teacher and for nine years taught beginning reading and writing to first graders. I began right as I was earning my master’s in teaching, so I was really up to date on methodology. This helped a lot; kids in first grade, you really have to teach them everything, to read, to write, to spell, exposing them to poetry, narrative and persuasive writing, essentially founding their fundamentals in literacy. It is very rewarding to see their eyes light up about poetry and word play. I found it more rewarding than I ever expected.

Then I retired in 2011, and I had this background in literacy and in education, from both my teaching experience and my experience with the SEED Foundation, which runs the nation’s only inner-city public college-prep boarding schools. As chair of the SEED Foundation for six years, I became intimately familiar with the problems of inner-city education and the different techniques for teaching literacy.

So I looked around to figure out what I would do with my background, hoping to discover something meaningful and flexible. I came across a story about MoMath in New York City, a new museum of mathematics that used technology to bring abstract concepts to life in a fun way. I started researching museums, and the phrase informal education kept popping up. I realized that is what I wanted to try, but for words and language. I wanted to find a way to re-engage people of any age with words and language because all the trends in society — in America, in particular — were going the wrong way.

I started jotting down ideas for what concepts were essential and possible to be brought to life. I got to about thirty and realized the possibilities, but I did not know anything about running a museum or even founding a museum. So I went on the web and searched museum consulting. I found the Lord Cultural Resources, which is one of the leading museum consulting firms, and I cold called them.

They assigned me to their team in New York City and really took my idea seriously. They conducted a 90-page market analysis and reached out to professors and visitor services people in DC, and the feedback coming back was all very positive. Once we had that base covered, I still was concerned about the idea for exhibits.

We decided to conduct four focus groups, two with 10-12-year-olds and two with their parents. We asked them what would you think about a place where X happens? We did not call it a museum; we just put the idea out there. Many of the participants reacted with excitement, saying, “Well, you’re talking about a word museum.” The facilitator for these focus groups even said that in her 25 years running focus groups, she had never seen such a positive response to an idea. At that point, I knew we had something special, and I had to keep pushing the idea forward.

I applied for and received non-profit status and founded a board of friends and colleagues with experience in specific areas where I needed help. I knew I needed lawyers, people in real-estate and finance, and museum educators, so I gathered that group together, and they gave me a goal — that in 3 ½ years from that first board meeting, I would find an executive director, launch a website, and find a home for the museum. That all happened well within that time frame.

In 2017, a committee of the board did an executive search with a national search firm to find an executive director, and we found Patty Isacson Sabee, who came from running MoPOP (Museum of Pop Culture) in Seattle — the experience music project — for 10 years, and before that she had been at the Seattle Symphony, where she oversaw the building of the Benaroya Hall. With her experience in overseeing a construction project and running a big museum, we felt very lucky to have her on the team.

By January 2018, I had the lease on the Franklin School — which is our national historic landmark home — from the Washington DC government. We started construction in April 2018, which consisted mostly of hazardous material abatement. The building was 101 years old and had been abandoned and neglected for ten years, so it was full of lead paint, mold, and bird droppings, and it was even raining inside the building when I went in one day. It was in that bad of shape.

We cleaned everything up, and I brought in a contractor, architects, and a fabrication company, and we hired Local Projects – an experienced design firm in New York City — to plan and design the exhibits.

It sounds like you really had your work cut out for you.

Yes, it was quite a challenge. I had built our house and done renovations, and I had come from a family with a real-estate background, so I went in thinking it would be no sweat. However, restoring a national historic landmark and dealing with all the oversight bodies and not being able to touch the exterior and not being able to do everything you want to do on the interior because you have to protect the historic features was another layer of complication. It would have been hard enough to build this museum because the exhibits are extraordinarily complex and high-tech like no one has ever seen before and no one has ever built before. So integrating that into this old building where our construction ideas were limited just added another layer of complication. But here we are. We did it.

I do not know if I shared this with in our email exchange, but in 1880 Alexander Graham Bell sent a message using what he called a photo phone, which was a message using only light from the building. So the Franklin School – our home – was a national historic landmark not only for its innovative architecture, but also because Bell conducted a successful experiment that was basically the birth of wireless. The fact that our exhibits combine education and literacy with technology is such a perfect match for the historic origins of the building.

As someone who grew up in California, I associate an interactive museum experience with places like the San Jose Technology Museum and the San Francisco Exploratorium. You mentioned the MoMath in New York City as one of your inspirations. Did you make your way to the west coast too?

Yes, both of those museums were great role models for me. I had a one-day tour at the Exploratorium with Tom Rockwell, the head of exhibits, and I got plenty of ideas for what I could do with a word museum. But there were also lessons at some museums about what I did not want to do. I wanted to make sure that the technology was always in service to the concept that we were trying to get across.

At a museum in Chicago, I saw kids using a touchscreen table as a bongo drum. They clearly were not getting anything out of it that the exhibit was meant to provide. The technology was beside the point. They did not understand what the exhibit was about, so the fact that it was on this high-tech touch screen surface did not matter. So I really wanted the technology to be in service to what we were trying to get across.

Can you tell me about some notable exhibits at Planet Word?

Our tag line is Where language comes to life. We really achieved that in our library. It is a high-ceilinged space lined with bookshelves, and there is a mirrored ceiling, which magnifies the height of the space. It is quite magical when you come in. If you take one of the books and place it in a special cradle on our central-story table, it comes to life in front of you: a projection begins, and there is a script we wrote for each of our selected books.

There are fifty books that we selected for the exhibition, and we had a different artistic approach for each book. Sometimes it is accompanied by sound effects. There is always a narrator reading a script, but they are not reading the book. We had three types of narrators: the authors themselves, voice actors, and fans of the book who wanted to give testimonials. For some, we wrote what are basically trailers for every book to get people to say I want to read the book. We wanted just to give everyone enough of a sense of the book to make them want to learn more.

Our books span everything from picture books to books for adults. We purposefully did not select classics or anything that someone would already be assigned to read in school. We also wanted them to represent every type of person, ethnicity, interest, gender, sexual orientation, so that whoever comes into the library can find something that represents them and their interests. That is also true throughout the museum: we always have a wide diversity of content so that there is something for everyone. What then seems to happen, though, is that everyone goes from book-to-book to see what unique qualities each book brings to the exhibit.

We also have our iconic gallery, Where Do Words Come From? which is an etymology exhibit that uses projection technology and sound effects to tell the story of English and how words were incorporated into the English language. We built a 40’ x 22’ word wall with over 1,000 three-dimensional words stacked on top of each other.

Using voice recognition technology, we made it possible for a narrator not just to tell this story, but also interact with viewers. We have some different categories; if the narrator says a word like portmanteau, then the different portmanteau words that we selected from the word wall will leap out. When the visitor chooses a word through voice recognition, the narrator then responds with the story of that particular word, and the software provides a multimedia experience with imagery and animation. It is a lot of fun. No one has ever seen anything like this.

The English major and amateur medievalist in me is imagining the Oxford English Dictionary coming to life. Does the exhibit go into the ancestry of Old English and the transformations once French influence came into the language?

It does go into those histories, but only at an introductory level to get the main point across that English — and language itself — is always changing. Besides bringing language to life, the museum is also trying to help people understand and appreciate that language is alive, and that we should not be afraid of that, but celebrate the vitality of language. It is more of a de-scriptive museum, rather than pre-scriptive. We want everyone to be welcome no matter how they talk. We do not say what is wrong and right or try to push grammar conventions. We are simply in awe of what people can do with words and how flexible and enjoyable our language can be.

For the word wall, I knew we needed to map out where words come from, so I sent a list to the exhibit designers that went through different possible origins. It could be anatomical: what sounds can our throats and teeth and tongue make? Or it could be words arriving through war and conflict. We also borrow words from other cultures and languages. We invent words.

We came up with 24 different ways that words have come into the English language, but then whittled that down to eight main origins, from the ancestral languages to the invented or portmanteau words. That is the story we tell. If you sit through that presentation, you will come away remembering those key factors. We are really trying to drive home the idea that language is constantly changing and that there are certain key derivations with the words that we use.

One of the missions of Planet Word is to promote linguistic diversity. Can you talk a little about how you do this?

Our largest gallery is called The Spoken World, and we have 28 language ambassadors and two signers, who teach visitors many lessons about their respective languages. We have chosen the most unique characteristics of each language that would be fun for people to learn. The language ambassadors appear on iPads and interact with you through voice recognition. They teach you about their language and encourage you to try and say a word or phrase in that language over and over again.

The dominant feature of the gallery is a 12-foot diameter globe hanging from the 22-foot ceiling and covered with 4,800 LED’s. At the end of the mini lesson, the iPad will say look up, and the LED’s will display something related to the lesson you were just learning. For the Hebrew lesson, for example, the last part of the lesson is on the chet, glottal sound. The narrator encourages you to say L’chaim, and when you do, the globe above you displays two champagne glasses clinking together.

In that way, it is another example of something unique coming out of each lesson and the positive reinforcement that makes you want to try another language. Not only are people learning about these languages, but they are also getting the chance to try speaking them. We have a wide variety of languages, like the more common Spanish, Russian, and French, but also Click languages, Indigenous languages, and some endangered languages. We also tried to incorporate languages from the immigrant communities most represented in DC, like Korean and Amharic.

Our goal is to intrigue you enough to want to pursue these languages further once you leave the museum.

Obviously, it is impossible to know what is going to happen a week from now in our present moment, let alone a year or more, but what are you looking forward to in 2021?

We technically opened on October 22 of this year, but we are not done. We still have parts of the museum coming online, hopefully by late spring 2021. We also have a restaurant called Immigrant Food coming in to work with us, which has a fusion menu with cuisine from different immigrant groups.

And then we have whole gallery that will be a paid experience called Lexicon Lane, which will be a word-sleuthing adventure village. It will be built out to look like an English village with shops, a park, and a university. Participants will receive a case, and inside the case will be a word mystery adventure. There are 26 cases representing a particular letter, which will lead to its own word game mystery. This whole village is being created by a game company from Seattle, and it is really going to appeal to the word game community. There is nothing technological at all; it is all analog. There are places where you can sit and solve these word puzzles in a very unique space.

We obviously cannot use our auditorium, and all the programming, classes, and field trips that would have kept the museum buzzing  until we are through the pandemic. Right now, we are planning a lot of virtual events. Our education coordinator has been conducting several virtual field trips for school groups every day, and she has 14 within the next six days. People are hungry for programming on the language arts and humanities, which very few museums in Washington offer, so we are filling a void.

If our readers wanted to follow Planet Word, how could they find you?

We are on all social media platforms at the following links: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and you can access our website here. You can also sign up for our newsletter or our membership program to receive benefits. Keeping up with us is very easy.

One exciting piece of news that came out of the blue was that we were recently nominated for the USA Today Best New Attraction in the US, so visit their site before December 21 and vote for Planet Word! Follow this link to vote, and vote more than once!

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MultiLingual creates go-to news and resources for language industry professionals.

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Federal police presence in Portland highlights fragmented American cultures

Travel and Culture

Portland, Oregon, is known for its bicycle culture, its book culture, and its general funkiness. It has a reputation among many of its residents and visitors as a safe city — and indeed, its violent crime rate (5.27 per 1,000 residents) is lower than Dallas, Texas (7.76 per 1,000) and less than half that of Anchorage, Alaska (13.13 per 1,000).

The city is often painted differently in right-leaning media, however — Fox News, for example, recently described the city in terms of “violent protest” that is “destroying businesses, infrastructure and quality of life in Portland.”

This doesn’t sit well with many residents of the city. “I am consistently confused by the Fox News narrative every time they talk about my city because it’s literally never unsafe here. I could walk my kids down every single street in downtown at any time,” said longtime Portland resident Tori Douglass of the protests.

On Monday, President Trump claimed that Portland had become so violent that he’d had to send federal forces to quell protests. However, nationally-shown videos of “riots” are localized to a small portion of the downtown, according to Portland residents like singer-songwriter Asher Nathan Weinbaum.

The impact of protest on businesses has been virtually nil, said Weinbaum — Portland looks like any other US city in the middle of a pandemic. Many businesses had been working from home for months, given the situation with COVID-19. Localization company Welocalize has a substantial workforce in Portland, for example. The company had already moved to working from home, and is currently operating as business as usual.

Although Portland protests have been ongoing since May, the oft-overbearing local police tactics did not contain them. Residents said the protests, which encompassed tens of thousands of people, were largely peaceful until unbadged federal forces showed up in fatigues, started beating people, deploying teargas, and even grabbing protestors off the streets — and then, said residents, Portland started fighting back for real. On Sunday, the state’s attorney general, Ellen Rosenblum, announced that she had filed a lawsuit against the federal agencies that had descended on Portland. Rosenblum said the tactics of this ad hoc occupying police force infringe on the civil rights of protesters.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has additionally requested that the federal forces vacate the city, but the White House ignored that request. “What they are doing is sharply escalating the situation,” Wheeler told CNN. “We want them to leave.”

Protests have indeed escalated since federal agents started fighting civilians. Some protesters lit the Portland Police union headquarters on fire, and the protests grew to 2,000 people Monday night. “As a Monday tradition, we are all waiting to be assaulted by federal agents,” conflict journalist Robert Evans, who covered the war in Iraq, quipped on Twitter.

The question remains: if the city was relatively safe, why did President Trump choose Portland as a testing ground for the deployment of federal troops against civilians?

The long history of protest in Portland

Quite separate from its crime scene, Portland has a long history of protest, and specifically, protesting Republican policy. In the 1990s, it earned the nickname “Little Beruit” for the protests against the First Gulf War that greeted George Bush Sr. upon his visit to the city. The city gentrified extensively in the following decades, trading punk music venues for whacky donuts and swank coffeeshops. But an underlying leftist streak remained. In the national mind, the city still represented an upstart, anti-authoritarian ethos that had been blunted in other coastal cities like Seattle and San Francisco when the tech giants moved in. Where Portlandia celebrated the weirdness of Portland, Frasier toasted the intelligentsia of Seattle.

And importantly to Republican leadership, anarchy, as a belief system, was alive and well in Portland. Anarchists believe that society should ultimately be free from the rule of any government, and for Portland, that took the form of shared housing, activism for the houseless, and resistance to neo-Nazi presence. Evans, a gun-rights activist and journalist who has trained federal agents, has written about how cozy far-right groups are with Portland police, and how this has led to clashes between police and Portland residents.

A small riot in 1993 helped set the stage for what is currently happening in Portland. Protesters from the scene described tactics that have become familiar in many viral videos in recent months: police in riot gear surrounding a crowd they deemed suspicious — in the 1993 case, concert-goers who had exited the once-famous X-Ray Cafe music venue — refusing to let them leave, and then arresting them en masse when chaos ensued. Many of the concert-goers were self-described anarchists. Five were charged with felony riot.

Oregon law states that “A person commits the crime of riot if while participating with five or more other persons the person engages in tumultuous and violent conduct and thereby intentionally or recklessly creates a grave risk of causing public alarm.”

The riot case was dismissed in 1994 because the judge deemed the statute to be overbroad — “a grave risk of causing public alarm” could mean just about anything, including the current actions of police themselves. However, the decision was reversed on appeal, and the statute is still in place in Oregon.

Being charged with rioting does not necessitate that participants engaged in otherwise illegal activity. Merely being in the vicinity of other people who vandalize property, for example, is enough for a riot charge, legally speaking. In Portland, protesters snatched off the street by federal police describe not knowing why they were being held, and not even necessarily being charged with anything.

The language of political opinion

The presence of federal agents in Portland cuts to the heart of a growing divide in America — a divide so deep, the factions speak different languages. For example, the claim that “Portland is full of anarchists” is true in one sense, and untrue in another. Language does not exist outside of historical precedent, and historically, worldwide, anarchists of various persuasions have been committed to fighting fascists — perhaps most notably during the Spanish Civil War, when they fought against dictator Francisco Franco. Most anarchists define their propensity for violence in the same terms that the average American would define it: fighting is only appropriate if it’s against tyranny or in defense of the vulnerable.

If you define anarchism as a belief system protected by the First Amendment, Portland is indeed full of anarchists. But if you mean that Portland has committed itself to crime, lawlessness and burning down businesses, this is untrue. The challenge lies in the different cultural meanings of “anarchy,” and the way language such as this is used to justify political policy.

“Our city has not been decimated by anarchy and violent upheaval. And for those of you outside Portland that believe that it has, you are being fed a repulsive and profoundly dangerous false narrative,” said Portland resident Johnna Wells. “My city is under siege by a federal ‘army’ that the President of the United States has unleashed. A fascist move that I fear will carry forth into other cities as well.”

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Katie Botkin, Editor-in-Chief at MultiLingual, has a background in linguistics and journalism. She began publishing "multilingual" newsletters at the age of 15, and went on to invest her college and post-graduate career in language learning, teaching and writing. She has extensive experience with niche American microcultures across the political spectrum.

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Latvia’s linguistic journey

Language, Travel and Culture

Tourism is popular the world over, as MultiLingual’s new issue on tourism can attest to. And Latvia is no exception.

Once, at a resort in Whistler, British Columbia, I was surprised to meet a trainer with AirBaltic, the flag-carrying airline of Latvia. The trainer told me that when AirBaltic started flying in 1995, its flight attendants only knew Latvian and Russian. This was unfortunate when it started expanding its route system throughout Europe. Additionally, the seat-back pocket safety instruction was in Latvian and Cyrillic Russian, which did little good for a Frenchman traveling to Latvia for the first time.

“To survive, Latvia had to become more than a bilingual society,” the trainer told me. Before Latvia’s independence in the early 1990s, you needed Russian to get ahead — and aside from Latvian-Russian schools, all other bilingual schools were shut down under the Soviet regime. But after independence, English became the second language in Latvia, especially for the younger generation. And then Latvia joined the EU, and with the adoption of the euro it could attract tourists from all over.

The translation issue to promote tourism became apparent during my first trip back to Latvia in 1989. There were no translation companies and most translation was done by Baltic speakers in their countries. I know — I translated the franchise agreements for Coca Cola and others into Latvian while living in the US.

The OECD now reports that tourism is booming in Latvia. In 2012, for example, “The top source markets for international tourist arrivals were the Russian Federation, Lithuania, Sweden, Germany, Estonia and Finland, together generating nearly 70% of the total overnight count.”

Latvia finally realized that tourism means economic development, and a Latvian tourist development agency was formed in 1997. The tourism campaign came up with the recent slogan “Explore Latvia slowly,” focusing on road trips. I like this slogan better than that of neighboring Vilnius, Lithuania: “Nobody knows where it is, but when you find it, it’s amazing.” You can use your imagination as to what this latter slogan is referencing, or you could watch the John Oliver clip about it.

My two favorite places in Riga, Latvia, are the Riga Central Market and the Occupation Museum. The Occupation Museum shows what happened to Latvia during two totalitarian regimes: Nazi Germany and then the USSR. Its mission, explained in Latvian, English, Russian and German, “is to remember those who perished, were forcefully deported, or fled the terror of the occupation regime.”

Latvia Translation tourism

Interactive map of Latvia from Latvia’s tourism site.

Today, translations are everywhere in Latvia. To attract foreign investment, the Latvia development agency where I served as the US representative for 16 years has a website (www.liaa.gov.lv) in Latvian, English, Russian, Japanese and Chinese. Russian firms are coming to Latvia, and perhaps the most notable is Stolichnaya Vodka (Stoli), which now makes much of its vodka in Latvia.

To deal with some of the issues that researchers found in foreign language availability, the Latvian government set up a travel portal that provides maps and booklets in a variety of languages for each of the four regions of Latvia. This is pretty amazing given that Latvia is not a huge country — and the documents are localized for different demographics. For example, Booklet about Latvia is in Korean and Chinese, and Cycling Routes in Latvia is in Latvian, English, German, Russian and Dutch.

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John Freivalds runs an international communications firm and is the Honorary Consul for Latvia in the US State of Minnesota.

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Nuances and niceties

Travel and Culture

It’s been at least five years since I traveled to a place where I did not know the language, but the upcoming LocWorld40 has taken me to the west coast of Portugal for ten days.

I grew up in the Netherlands and traveled to 20 countries between 2006 and 2016. I am now settled in Sandpoint, Idaho, as part of the MultiLingual team. Before heading to the LocWorld conference center in Estoril, I stay in Parede for a few days, a small town lodged between Lisbon and Estoril. The Airbnb housecat is named Puski, which I’m pretty sure is funny in any language, and the Russian women in the room adjacent to mine hang their underwear to dry in the shared bathroom.

Just a few hours after getting off a plane and 30 hours after leaving my house, the rain stops and I go for an evening run. In Idaho it is early afternoon, so I don’t feel quite like a zombie. I run a few miles along the promenade. I then follow the railroad to the Parede station, dip through the tunnel and pop out in the shopping center. I decide to get some food at the store while I’m here. It’s the kind of store that makes me miss Europe — it has everything I need, but is only a fraction of the size of an American store.

Quickly, the produce department air conditioning and having stopped running cools me down. I self-consciously undo my sweater from my waist to put it on. I feel painfully aware only because I know a proper European wouldn’t even be in this situation. They would have thought to get fully dressed before they walked into the grocery store. In fact, they would never be wearing their running clothes here in the first place! Running clothes are to be worn for one occasion only: running. You then go home, shower and put on your normal clothes to get a bag of lettuce. I awkwardly pull my Icebreaker over my head among the kiwis and bok choi. Two old ladies who stood chatting fall silent.

Pretending to be oblivious, I stare sheepishly at Portuguese food labels, the sheep-effect of which is only enhanced by my not wearing my glasses.

The checkout lady says “boa noite” in greeting. I repeat it back as best I can, only to be sized up from over her rims, followed with a blank stare and a cold “hee-ello”. Guess I didn’t quite get it right. Besides the running clothes, I now carry the confident swagger of an American, complete with near-permanent smile. I wish I could simply flip the switch and localize my body language back to Europe, but having been away for so long, that is hard to do.

I need a bag to take all the things I got excited about (like the box of fresh olives for 78 cents). Portuguese quite often reads a lot like Spanish, but sometimes not at all. In pronunciation I’ve noticed the “s” and “c” become a prominent “sh,” making the language sound less Latino and more Slavic. I imagine a bag might be bolsa and sound like bolshia. I give it a go. Another dead stare. I sweetly ask what the name for bag is and realize too late that I am only adding to the American stereotype. It’s “saca.” People in line begin to sigh. Bing translator later tells be “bolsa” was just fine.

I want them to know I am not an American. I want to look everyone in the eye and explain I grew up in the Netherlands and unabashedly beg for their approval — not because I am ashamed but because I am cursed to understand the feelings they have toward Americans. At the same time I ache to explain what an amazing place I live in, not a MAGA trailer park next to a gun range.

I want Europeans to understand there are pockets of amazing people who have gathered to live their unique subculture of passions. That we move about the country freely, mostly between age 18 and 35, to find a place that fits us best. This freedom paired with an inherited thirst for exploration creates an entire continent of people who localize themselves according to passion, age, heritage and belief.

Part of me wants to point out their silly superiority complex an how much they complain and ask why they don’t like it when people over 55 go dancing in a silly costume if they happen to feel like it. That bullying is not OK and catcalling is very 2006. That, maybe when they would look farther than the tips of their nose, they could develop a better understanding of what goes on across the big pond beyond what they see on Jersey Shore and The Apprentice. The average person from the United States does not make it onto television.

So here I find myself lost between two shores, as Neil Diamond put it. I will continue to talk about nuances in all cultures and how important it is to understand these. Europe is not a utopian place where everyone is gorgeous, gets along and all are accepted. In turn America is not a filthy bunch of trigger-happy hillbillies represented by one person in an oval office.

The thing I love so much about our industry is that it is precisely about that effort to understand each other. Most of us straddle more than one culture and are able to see the subtleties of other ways of life. See you at LocWorld!

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Marjolein realized early on that the Netherlands was too small for her. After traveling to 30+ countries over the span of 10 years she moved to the United States in 2014. She holds a degree in Communication from the University of Rotterdam and has long had an affinity for creative writing.

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Nyepi and global internet

Travel and Culture

The entire island of Bali, Indonesia, grinds to a halt one day a year. No planes may arrive or depart from the airport, and all commerce ceases. Even checking in and out of hotels is forbidden. The streets are deserted aside from patrols ensuring that everyone stays inside. The holiday takes place in March and sometimes April, depending on the lunar calendar. It is Nyepi, the Balinese New Year, a Hindu holiday and the national day of silence and self-reflection.

Inside their homes, people nap, pray and sometimes fast, resting from the festivities of the night before. On the eve of Nyepi, villagers parade ominous paper mâché giants through the streets, carried by grids of young men holding bamboo poles.

The giants are called Ogoh Ogoh, and often represent characters from Hindu mythology, particularly demons. However, each team of locals has their own take, collaborating together to produce creatures that can easily reach over 30 feet. One Ogoh Ogoh in a small village not far from the picturesque Tegallalang rice terraces is a giant “monkey king,” according to its creators, with prominent muscles and fur made from plant fibers. A tattered tarp protects it from the rain while the villagers wait for the festivities to begin.

Oogh Oogh nyepi
Villagers direct traffic around an Oogh Oogh north of Ubud, Bali.

In the town of Tampaksiring, known for producing intricate bone carvings, local artists have gone all-out, elaborate creations on every corner. One Ogoh Ogoh gives the crowd a gilded middle finger, snarl fixed on its painted face. In Ubud, a cartoonish topless woman careens out of control on her yellow moped — a different kind of monster.

The Ogoh Ogoh are believed to represent the evil spirits and malevolent forces plaguing human beings. Building them, ceremoniously presenting them throughout the town and finally burning them is thought to purify the natural environment in preparation for the new year. As the villagers carry Ogoh Ogoh through the streets, musicians play percussion and gongs in a traditional gamelan Baleganjur style, the same eerie cadence across all the villages in the region.

The parade is a community affair, often requiring careful navigation of power lines, which villagers prop up with long forked poles. Locals follow the Ogoh Ogoh or watch from the sidelines dressed for the occasion in sarongs, with long-sleeved lace shirts for the women and white head wraps for the men. Girls may carry torches in twin lines behind the paper mache creations. Officials direct traffic, waving lone mopeds through the crowd or stopping cars on the main road for long periods of time — roads with parades may be closed to traffic, and for some villages, this can be a significant portion of the town.

Girls pause during a Nyepi parade in Ubud, Bali.
Girls pause during a Nyepi parade in Ubud, Bali.

The actual date of Nyepi changes every year, being based on the Balinese lunar calendar. This year, it fell on March 8, ending at 6 am March 9. Next year, it will fall on March 25 and similarly continue throughout the night.

On Nyepi itself, tourists hole up in their homestays and resorts. Some resorts offer food services, and otherwise guests will (hopefully) have been warned in advance to stock up on snacks.

The air is clean, free from the smog of traffic. Because lights are also forbidden, when night falls, the sky is resplendent with stars — unless, like this year, the sky is cloudy.

Internet outages around the world

There are few instances when the internet of an entire island, region or country is deliberately shut down. Most of the time, the action is taken to silence dissent, or potentially even to stop cheating on tests. But limited, slow internet in certain locales has similar effects — one reason John Yunker, in our upcoming issue of MultiLingual magazine, advises global websites to slim down so pages can load quickly during times or places of poor connectivity.

Whatever the reason they’re happening, internet delays and outages can become a localization issue. Much of what we talk about in our industry is internet-dependent, with the underlying assumption that in this day and age, the internet is available to everyone all the time. I had been in the industry for a decade before I learned that one day a year, on the regular, the internet disappears in Bali. And I didn’t learn that until the actual day the internet was shutting down, as I was trying to send work email and getting a mysterious message in Indonesian.

At the least, Indonesia, in the interest of localization, maybe consider translating this message into English for the poor tourists text time — maybe even give them a heads-up the day before the outage so they can send any imperative emails.

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Katie Botkin, Editor-in-Chief at MultiLingual, has a background in linguistics and journalism. She began publishing "multilingual" newsletters at the age of 15, and went on to invest her college and post-graduate career in language learning, teaching and writing. She has extensive experience with niche American microcultures across the political spectrum.

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What the localization of travel websites can tell us about the future of tourism

Localization, Travel and Culture

localization of travel websitesWe all know that North America, Western Europe and East Asia have long been popular markets for the tourism industry. But we also know that people living in these places aren’t the only ones who want to explore the world. Companies are recognizing the value in marketing to emerging markets and lesser-known regions. Where else in the world is tourism expected to grow?

We thought of an interesting way to answer this question. Our team conducted a study of ten leading tourism websites to determine which of these companies make the most effort to the localize their website in different languages, and what that can tell us about where the tourism industry is headed.

We took a look at a variety of tourism websites to try to get a good feel for the market. We could not consider every tourism website out there, so these are the results for the sample we selected. The results of the study are as follows:

  • Leading the pack in our sample is travel fare aggregator and lodging reservation website Booking.com with 43 languages, including Thai, Polish and Malay.
  • In second place is Agoda, Asia’s leading online hotel reservation service, which operates in 36 languages and has a site localized in Brazilian Portuguese.
  • com comes in third with 34 languages.
  • Trivago comes in fourth with 32 languages.
  • Tripadvisor and Skyscanner both fly in at fifth place, with 28 languages each. Skyscanner also has three localized websites in British English, Latin American Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese.
  • Seventh place belongs to Kayak with 22 languages.
  • Expedia and Accor Hotels are in eighth place with 18 languages.
  • Couchsurfing, a website that connects travelers and hosts for homestays and events, comes in at tenth place with nine languages.

Not surprisingly, the study revealed that the most popular languages appearing on each of the ten sites were English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Mandarin. However, what’s interesting is looking at which other languages appeared on the websites.

The next most popular languages are Russian, Dutch, Japanese, Polish, Indonesian, Korean, Swedish and Thai, with nine translated sites. On eight websites you’ll find Turkish, Traditional Chinese, Danish, Norwegian and Finnish. Seven sites are localized in Vietnamese and Greek. Six are localized in Czech, Hungarian, Arabic and Hebrew. Five sites are translated into Ukrainian and Malay. Romanian, Croatian and Slovak appear on four websites. Three sites were translated into Catalan, Bulgarian, Latvian, Estonian, Lithuanian, Slovenian and Serbian. Only two are translated into Filipino and Icelandic.

What does this mean for the tourism industry?

Our test data shows that the popular sites are noticeably present in the developed markets of Western Europe, North America and East Asia. However, digital tourism giants are identifying growth engines and are beginning to show their presence in the emerging markets of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet bloc countries, along with East Asia and the Middle East. According to our estimation, this phenomenon will only increase.

Thanks to a growing middle class in developing countries enjoying rapid economic growth — due in large part to technological advancements — more people are able to spend their time and money on travel. This was either an unlikely or impossible reality for people living in these regions 20 to 30 years ago. Furthermore, customers are reaping the cost benefits of technological innovations in the aviation and tourism markets as companies continue to lower their prices.

What does this mean for the translation industry?

There’s a good reason why all of these companies (and they’re not the only ones) are localizing their websites. Localization can help an entity greatly expand their market reach, whether they operate in the tourism space or not. Furthermore, it can be done at relatively low costs.

Many businesses translate large quantities of content with hybrid translation, which combines neural machine translation (NMT) with the expertise of human editors and testers. In some cases, hybrid translation can lower traditional translation costs by 50% — theoretically, without compromising quality.

We’ve developed a translation quality score (ONEs) which evaluates NMT systems on a quarterly basis. The Q3 2018 score rates the translations for the travel and tourism sector above 90%. With such a high score, it’s evident that the need for human post editors is reduced to a minimum, and only minor fixes are required to bring texts to human-level quality.

We estimate that within 6 to 12 months, most of the travel and tourism industry, starting with the high-volume travel websites, will stop using traditional human-only translation services.

MultiLingual will devote the last issue of 2019 to tourism, so if you have direct experience with emerging trends in tourism localization, get in touch!

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Yaron Kaufman is a cofounder and CMO of One Hour Translation. His main interests are localization technologies, online advertising, SAAS and entrepreneurship.

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Kicking off the Year of Indigenous Languages with Endangered Alphabets

Language, Travel and Culture

The United Nations has declared 2019 to be the Year of Indigenous Languages, with an official launch event taking place at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris on January 28.

The world does not have a great track record on indigenous languages. More than 90% of the indigenous languages of both the United States and Australia, for example, are extinct or endangered.

We don’t even have a great track record on committing to support indigenous languages. In 1996, for example, a Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights was drafted at a major conference in Barcelona, proposing that all languages should have equal status and rejecting terms such as “official,” “regional” or “minority” languages, but despite widespread support, it was never adopted by UNESCO.

So 2019 represents an opportunity, or perhaps a challenge.

It especially represents a challenge to me as the founder of the Endangered Alphabets Project, a nonprofit based in the US state of Vermont — I exhibited some of my carvings at LocWorld in 2016 in Montreal, 2017 in Barcelona and 2018 in Seattle.

As a way of kicking off 2019, I approached the Vermont State House and proposed an exhibition of my work that would run through the month of January, ending February 1. The state’s curator agreed, and I began planning which carvings to include. I’ve carved pieces of text (poems, proverbs, phrases and even individual letters and words) from indigenous and minority writing systems from more than 50 countries, so which ones made the most sense for the Year of Indigenous Languages?

Endangered Alphabets
Article 1 in Tifinagh, a script used to write Berber languages.

Given the fact that this exhibition would be in a venue of lawmakers, I assembled 14 carvings that each quoted, in different languages, Article One of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

Even as I started getting these pieces ready for installation, though, I realized I was about to make a common and serious mistake. I was about to show people what was going on elsewhere in the world, but nothing about what is going on in their own back yard.

The fact is, it’s far easier to complain about someone else’s treatment of indigenous peoples than to do something for one’s own. Virtually every country makes sure its own indigenous population is out of line of sight, out of the news and out of the history books.

Two years ago it struck me that, despite my work on a global scale, I had been guilty of the same partial blindness. I had not carved anything in Abenaki.

The Abenaki are indigenous to Vermont — and in fact to an area spreading from modern-day upstate New York to Maine, and across the border in Canada. Decimated and scattered by colonization, infectious disease, warfare and, in the 20th century, enforced sterilization, they are largely ignored and almost invisible. There are almost no college courses in Abenaki history, language or culture, for example. Their language is one of the most endangered in the country.

I was ashamed to know so little and to have done nothing about what was happening in my own back yard. So over the past two years, with the permission and encouragement of some of the tribe, I’ve done several carvings that are on display in regional tribal headquarters and I’ve done one for presentation to, and display in, the State House.

Even the design of the letters to be carved was an issue. Just as a number of sub-Saharan African nations have developed post-colonial non-Latin scripts of their own, it didn’t seem right to carve Abenaki words in someone else’s graphic tradition.

Luckily, my designer Alec Julien and I were able to work with Elnu Abenaki member Melody Walker Brook, former chair of the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs. She in turn reached out to a team of representatives from the Abenaki Nation of Missisquoi, Mohegan and Elnu, as well as other Abenaki, for input. The result is a font that incorporates Abenaki motifs from traditional artwork and beading — a custom Abenaki font.

“We’re a living, breathing culture — and there’s a message here that we have been able to translate that oral tradition to a script,” Brook explained to our local paper. “Your culture is your language — when you lose your language you lose much more than words.”

indigenous languages
The carving now in the State House exhibition says “W8banakiak” — that is, “People of the Dawn Land,” the Abenaki description of themselves.

The carving now in the State House exhibition says “W8banakiak” — that is, “People of the Dawn Land,” the Abenaki description of themselves.

As the focal point of the exhibition at the Vermont State House, I’m going to be giving a talk there at 4 p.m. about the Endangered Alphabets on January 17, accompanied by members of the Abenaki people.

The event is also going to be the occasion for the unveiling of my online Atlas of Endangered Alphabets. For the past six months, my tiny team has been researching more than 120 indigenous or minority writing systems that are struggling to survive, and the Atlas, at www.endangeredalphabets.net, introduces these scripts and, more importantly, the organizations and individuals working to preserve or revive them.

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Tim Brookes is the founder of the Endangered Alphabets Project. Born in England, he now lives in Vermont with an outspoken cat, a fearless rabbit and a lot of wood.

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