The Week in Review: September 1, 2023

West Virginia University has surrendered its plans to cut its entire Department of World Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics. In the days following last week’s review, the school faced significant backlash from students and faculty, leading the university to keep a handful of courses and full-time faculty in the department.

Still, the university’s budget doesn’t leave much room for language enthusiasts and linguists-in-training. Read more on the university’s finalized budget below or at The Washington Post.

Meanwhile, we’ve also got press releases and blog posts from Interprefy, Translated, the European Language Industry Association, and more. If you’re looking for some reading to keep you busy over the Labor Day weekend, we’ve got you covered.

Got news you’d like to share in next week’s Week in Review? Send it over to our editorial team here

After uproar, WVU to keep some foreign language classes, but not all (via The Washington Post)

Chinese and Spanish professors at West Virginia University can breathe a sigh of relief — well, a few of them can, at least. 

After the university faced backlash last week over plans to entirely cut the school’s Department of World Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics, the school announced that it would be keeping some classes in the department: namely, Chinese and Spanish courses. However, students will no longer be able to major in any foreign languages, and all but five faculty positions for Spanish and Chinese instruction will be cut.

“This final recommendation will allow students to take language courses as electives and potentially as minors,” the university’s provost said in a statement. “This will also support our students pursuing prestigious scholarships and membership in honorary organizations such as Phi Beta Kappa. We feel this recommendation addresses the continued enrollment decline while serving the needs of our students.”

OpenAI-backed language learning app Speak raises $16M to expand to the US (via TechCrunch)

Speak — the startup behind an English-learning app that claims to have helped 6% of South Korea’s population learn English — announced this week that it raised $16 million in Series B funding. The app, which uses generative AI to help users practice conversational skills in English, could present competition for apps like Duolingo and Babbel as it plans to expand into the United States.

“It’s been incredible to see that the learning experience we spent years honing in a single market, South Korea, has proven to resonate with almost no modifications needed in markets and cultures across the globe,” the company’s CEO Connor Zwick said. “Looking ahead, we plan on bringing our AI-powered tutor to most major markets around the world by the end of this year, and are gearing up for a launch in the U.S., offering English speakers the ability to learn other languages.”

Man gets roasted for complaining about Emily Wilson’s translation of ‘The Iliad’ (via The Daily Dot)

Emily Wilson’s been making quite the splash lately. The British classicist who became the first woman to publish a translation of Homer’s Odyssey into English recently published her translation of the Iliad.

Wilson’s translations have been especially notable for updating the language to be more appropriate for 21st-century readers — she uses a simpler sentence structure and vocabulary that more closely resembles that of contemporary English than the older, more canonical translations of the work. 

Reception has largely been positive, but in breaking from the more highbrow language of older translations, Wilson’s been criticized for oversimplifying things and being too “woke.” The debate over Wilson’s translation culminated in a somewhat drawn-out social media war last week. Read more on that at The Daily Dot.

Google Translate is bringing us a seamless Face-to-Face experience (via Android Police)

If you opened the Google Translate app this week, you may have noticed that the app’s got a few new features. For starters, it looks like Google is integrating “Conversation” mode into a broader “Speech” category. 

Additionally, the update will also include “Face-to-Face” mode, which allows users to converse, well, face to face and read a translation of their conversation partner’s speech in real-time. It’s similar to current Conversation mode, but in this mode, one half of the screen is rotated upside down so that phone can lay flat in front of both participants.

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